All I got in response was a big grin. It was not the sort of apologetic grin exhibited by someone who realizes that she was caught red-handed doing something idiotic. I may have construed it to be a defiant grin, but considering her case I resolved that it must be a grin that stemmed out of ignorance. The only tool I know to eradicate ignorance is proper education, which I then attempted to impart.
"You smile," I said, "but mine was a serious request. Plastic ought not to be burnt."
The grin only got wider, and this time it was accompanied by a glint in her eyes. The look on her face resembled that of a professional flutist who is informed that a flute ought not to be used as a musical instrument. Her features seemed to be shouting out to me that she knew best, that she had been burning plastic since time immemorial, that there was absolutely nothing wrong in doing so, and that she would keep up her excellent work; besides, nobody (else) had ever voiced an objection.
"You are certainly aware," I continued my efforts, "that the city corporation deploys garbage collection trucks?"
"Yes, sir," she replied with a smile. I was glad to have found an entry point. It's always easier to start with something one already knows and then proceed to teach the unknown stuff.
"Perhaps you are also aware that they maintain two separate containers: one to collect organic waste, and the other to collect inorganic disposables?"
"Yes, sir," came the concise response accompanied by the familiar smile.
"Do you know why they separate the two?"
"No, sir." The smile vanished.
"Most inorganic matter such as disposable cups and plastic bags that we discard can be recycled: used to manufacture new cups and bags. Apart from the obvious commercial value, burning plastic is not a good practice: it harms the environment as well as our health. When you set fire to all those items, all of us - starting with you - are forced to inhale the unhealthy fumes."
She seemed to seriously consider my tutoring for a few seconds. I thought she understood when she said as much, adding, "I was not aware it's bad for health."
All that had transpired only yesterday. "It's no use," said one of my colleagues when I told him what had taken place, "You just wasted your time and efforts explaining all that stuff to her." A few minutes ago, he called me out to show me something. I saw - in a small sand pit right next to the office building - a warm fire consuming a decent sacrifice of plastic cups and bags, exhaling dark smoke all the way up to the partly blue sky. Our lady stood by its side, poking her offerings with a long stick.
I rest my case.