There’s a particular tint to the plastic buckets in Calcutta that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. A green plastic bucket in Calcutta is not the same green that you will find in Delhi or Bombay or even Madras, close as the South Indians are to the Bengalis, brothers in intellect under the skin. Perhaps the light has something to do with it, the lush, humid greenness that haunts the shanties of Bengal during the monsoons. Nothing else is so green, so bound around with thunder and cloudbursts and so fretted with fungus. Some fortunate bucket maker took that color and molded it into plastic—the neon, wet-green sludge of the authentic Bengal, curved round and handled with shining aluminum.
On the right day, a green plastic bucket can look like the underside of a curved palm leaf, every vein shining through in the sunlight. Perhaps maids, clustered at tubewells, hold up their buckets to the clear blue sky and the golden sunshine and think of the green roofs of their lost villages, huddled forever under the dripping thunderclouds. Perhaps, in the right light, there is happiness to be found in the molded curve of a green plastic bucket, the kind of which you can’t find in any other city in India. There is happiness in the sweet, non-recyclable smell of wet-green plastic. Plastic is sweet when clean and new, with the kind of no-smell of a wet-green leaf.
It’s strange how plastic green leaves can look when the sun catches them at the right angle. Anything with a shine can be faked at a distance, from green leaves to plastic leaves to starched, silken leaves. It’s odd how unnatural nature can be when you try to pin her down. I think that, somewhere in the heart of Bengal, there lurks a manufacturer who will make buckets like green leaves, stiffly curved and effortlessly elegant as a leaf is. There’s an aesthetic insanity about them that Tagore would have understood, standing in his rust-brown robes in the dark green shadows of Shantiniketan.
You won’t find a green plastic bucket like this anywhere else in the country. Delhi buckets are heavy and fundamental, basically unimaginative. So are Bombay buckets, though with a little more luxe about them: you might find a Bombay bucket branded with a fake Cartier logo, impressive in its molding, almost real, if there was such a thing as a Cartier bucket. But a green plastic bucket in Bengal is a different invention altogether. Everyone knows what color you mean when you talk about a green plastic bucket in Calcutta. They nod their heads wisely and roll it down immediately from the farthest levels of their shelves. A child can roll a green plastic bucket like a ball, watch it bump and rattle down the stairs, and laugh, thinking what a fun game, then walk away without worrying about the color.
I sit on a white veranda, and the green leaves around me wave and shine and turn to plastic.