"Look over there on the other side of the river," said Mukal. "I grew up in a small house behind that tall blue building and my school was near the other, smaller yellow building you can see just a short distance away. After school and at weekends we would play in a small park nearby and sometimes swim in the river. The park is gone now. It's become a rubbish dump. The water wasn't filthy then and it didn't smell. People still drank from it. In the watermelon season we would swim out to the boats bringing fruit from Barisal. The workers would sometimes give us a watermelon which we'd take ashore and eat immediately".
"How long ago was this?" I asked. "About twenty years" he replied. "The streets were not filled with rubbish, and I don't remember this amount of dust. It was a good place to live but it's all lost now."
As we walked along the riverbank, we waded through discarded household items, rotting vegetables from the market and other detritus. We passed a small boy, perhaps eight years old, maybe less. He was collecting plastic items from the garbage to take for recycling in return for a few taka*. He was alone.
Mukul had a persistent cough and regularly cleared his throat by spitting out phlegm in the street. "It's the dust," he said. As we turned to go back, he bought a bottle of water to combat the dryness. In the car, he took the water in three gulps and cleared his throat again. He opened the window, spat and threw the empty bottle out. As we pulled away, I noticed the small boy again. He'd seen the bottle hit the ground and was coming to collect it.
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* taka = Bangladeshi currency. 100 taka = approximately £1. In Sylhet, collectors reported receiving 5 taka for one kilo of plastic.