Sunday, June 06, 2010

Discovering a Sensible Me

(Submitted for the Blogadda Conserve. Recycle. Discover’ contest)

Conserve, Recycle, Discover.

These three things are heavily interrelated, closely connected, and taken together, they remind me of a lifestyle half a century ago, when we were, not, such a environmentally “pseudo developed” nation, either in thought, or civic habits.

We never did “Environmental Studies” in school, because we lived them. Water was drunk from traditional glasses made out of either steel, or copper. Plastics were not only unfashionable, but even basically unavailable. And what were available, occasionally in the form of containers, were innovatively reused. Trash and Garbage was so interwoven with life, it was never then a subject for having conferences on.

It is possible even today to follow some of the tenets we followed then. If we have the will.

Conservation and Recycling must start with our way of thinking. You do not “conserve” anything by subscribing to the use and throw philosophy, so avidly imported from the West.

I’ve seen staff in a small bank , on a green campus, looking forward to the midmorning tea break, as someone came around with plastic cups filled with masala tea. Really, the staff strength, did not decree this, and the bank could surely afford two dozen glasses or china cups, and someone to wash them. Better still, staff could rinse their own cups.

A local lake , getting silted, and weedy , dries up in the summer, and a project was initiated (by those living on its banks) to get together and clean out the weeds before the monsoons, on a daily Shramadan basis. While some dedicated types attempted this, there was more response to something where human chains stood lakeside, for miles together, holding plastic banners, lugging Bisleri, folks in their “protest” best, with fancy glares and outfits, 4-wheel drive gas guzzlers rushing the organizers around as they sacrificed a Sunday speaking to television folks.

A visit to any rural area, is an education in how you can organize environmentally decent mass celebrations. Leaf plates are used for meals , which are then collected , and the local cows have a field day partaking of them. No heaps of paper plates, plastic spoons overflowing from bins, waiting to clog up the city drains. These leaf plates are available even today, in places like the Reay Mandai (vegetable market) in Pune, and possibly at many places in Mumbai. In keeping with the times, there are even bowls made from these. Historically, Prasad from temples, was often given in such leaf containers.

Conservation and Recycling can also be part of your cooking. In the big excitement of precut veggies available in air conditioned supermarkets, we have forgotten that each part of the plant has a use.

Peels and scrapings of things like lauki, karela may be transformed into delicious and nutritious chatnis, by sautéing and mixing with roasted coconut, til, and jawas. Left over extra water from cooking veggies can be incorporated seamlessly into sambars and for making chapatti dough. Raw mango seeds , left over after using up the rest for pickles, may be used to make raw mango soup.

In today's high-rise- lifestyle, one often sees water flowing through pipes that come down from the top, whenever the cistern is full, or when terrace water is channeled down in the monsoons. How many times have we seen water wastefully flowing in the compound, while someone raises a hue and cry about shutting off the water supply somewhere ? Buildings even have pipes that collect balcony washing water and channel it down through incremental pipes. A little extra length of pipe, that leads into the garden area, would ensure that this water energizes the plants and enriches their soil, as opposed to flowing wastefully on concrete.

Shopping for food today results in a massive collection of low density plastic bags, which caused havoc in Mumbai in July 2005. A lot of us have switched over to cloth bags. And I would like to applaud something a friend of mine did regarding this. This lady had a large amount of polyester sarees she wanted to get rid of. She engaged an alteration tailor to cut these up and make shopping bags out of the lovely prints, with long handles and stuff. She presents these to her work colleagues and anyone who visits her , including fellows who come to sell things. They use up very little space when folded, can be carried in a bag or purse, wash and dry easily. The whole effort probably costs her less than the cost of one fancy saree, but her ability to help save the environment by the reuse and recycling of sarees is applaudable.

And lets not even talk about vehicles. From a childhood where I spent my entire high school and college years bicycling , to school, college, extra curricular activities and friends, we have now reached a stage in society, where people change cars every two years, because they must keep up with standards. Probably those of the manufacturers of the cars. And the proverbial Joneses. The bigger car, the better you are considered to be in the scheme of things. You have come up in the world. Slowly you get get sucked up into what I called the e-jungle, where you keep updating your phones, computers, music systems, toys, and contribute your share to the e-waste that is the next big environmental issue.

And this will continue, unless you discover something. Not a gadget in the real sense; there are too many of those.

We need to discover what may be called a “Sensible Me”.

Someone, who insists of turning off, replacing leaking taps in the house, who can resist installing AC’s , that run full blast through the summer, because of energy concerns, who doesn’t mind getting hands dirty in the mud, someone, who gets upset when plastic is thrown out of a running vehicle, goes up to the person, and tells him off.

Someone , who doesn’t care being unpopular….


  1. yes we make these mistakes..we know the outcome of it, still the attitude of "if one person uses plastic, it won't change anything"..the irony is that each one of us thinks this way!

    I have used cycle till my 10th..then it was time for walking as college was nearby, or bus-train to save as much pocket money as possible to go and watch a movie..

    we need a personal auto and cab when we commute..instead, if we take the share auto, it will help in so many ways - it will be cheap, less air pollution, less noise pollution and less traffic!

    vegetable multi use we do too thanks to our grannies still around..

    I still remember, after my results in the school, at the end of each year, my father used to remove blank pages from my half/almost used note books, make new notebooks out of them and we used to use those as tution books/rough books..

    there are so many things we do even today to save environment..wish we do it..

    PS: i still find a newspaper cover cooler than the khaki covers which we get in the market :)

  2. Hey, Neha, thank you for the comments, but how come you haven't submitted a contest entry.... ?

  3. There are so many things all of us can do and here in Seattle they are very conscious of the need to recycle almost everything and they do a pretty good job. It does encourage people to get into the habit. I'm always amazed when I visit my son in Texas where the cities make no effort at recycling whatsoever! Great post as always! Hope you have a lovely evening! I've been meaning to tell you, I love your new header!


  4. I could think of these recycling points only after reading your post..until then all I could see was computer recycling bin! will try and participate for sure :)

  5. Your article is nice.

    it's got a old world charm to it.

    but please stop for a minute to think in a different manner.

    there i a tendency to describe plastic as ultimate evil polluter .

    many a times i see activists adopt 'anti-plastic' agenda.

    in my opinion that will get us no where.

    we have to accept that plastic is a wonderful invention.

    in the very same computer (or any electronic device) we use, how much is plastic? your food, cosmetics, your glasses, breathing pump , syringes, airplane, vehicles, heart valves, switches, light weight medical equipments, fire fighting equipments... shall i go on?

    so, banish all that too? bring back our 50 years old lifestyle? is that the answer?

    if that is the case why go back just fifty years , lets go back to 500 years old lifestyle.

    pathetic state of health care. rampant diseases, lack of quick transport, no electric power etc.

    the real way forward is to accept plastic as some thing that will NOT go away and to try and find some agent which can help in faster degradation of plastics.

    THAT is the right way and it will take our combined effort in mobilising mass opinion to pressure the scientific bodies in finding such a solution.


  6. Great post! In so many respects the earlier ways of doing things were more environment-friendly!

    Yes, as you have mentioned, many of our environment-unfriendly ways are due to an attempt to 'keep up with the Joneses'!

  7. This so called modern living has changed our lifestyle. Simple living is a thing of the past. Conservation, recycling is considered so 'middle class'. We had natural resources in abundance as we grew up, and we were taught to use it wisely. I still cannot figure out where and when the change happened. For the worse. Nice post.

  8. I am stopping by from Sylvia's blog to congratulate you for a wonderful job and makeover of her blog.

    I am for go green and recycle and water conservation. I hope everyone would take their heart for it.

  9. Like Ebie I have just popped over from Sylvia's blog to say how much I enjoyed the beautiful header you made for her. It is truly lovely! I also enjoyed reading your post very much. It reinforces my own efforts to recycle and to reduce buying anything that is made of plastic. So hard to do because everything seems to have some kind of plastic these days but I will redouble my efforts. I wonder how long it will be before we can do away with plastic altogether, to be replaced by something that is totally bio-degradable? Hopefully not too long down the road. Thank you for such a very interesting post.

  10. Very motivating!! I follow these too... another little thing that is healthier and eco friendly is consuming home made chutneys and dips instead of ketchups etc. Basically cutting down on packaged foods.

    I also feel that the government needs to do a little more to encourage ideas like yours, about letting a slightly longer pipe unto the gardens in societies. We had built a vermiculture where we lived, pit to avail of a discount in property tax :)

    I bought colourful bags from eco-mela in Pune and gifted them to friends too, we use it for buying even daily veggies. I throw the bag down and the vendor fills it and brings it up to our floor. I had expected him to laugh when I suggested this - but it seems this is done very commonly, and each time atleast five thin plastic bags are avoided.

  11. Sylvia I hope we in Mumbai become more aware of recycling , reusing and conserving, soon. Has to be done.

    yrumad Thank you. And the charm might appear to be old world, because that was my world.

    I am talking about plastics being used when other recyclable materials are possible. I have nothing against plastic spare parts of machines, and implants etc. The cost benefit analyses of those things have been done, given their specialized use. There is no such analyses done for plastic bags, cups, plates etc, and alternatives are available.

    manju Thank you....

    radha This whole thing of 'class' really messed up a old green ethos of everyone does it for fashion...

    Ebie Thank you. And welcome to my blog ....

    Denise Thank you, and welcome to you too ....

    IHMYou mentioned throwing down a cloth bag to the vegetable guy who brings it up to you. I remembered what my late mother used to do. She lived on the 1st floor, and in her eighties, going up and down the old style stairs was a big pain. So she had a pulley fixed on the balcony ceiling, and a rope went around it with a cloth bag at one end. She would simply pull the rope in the balcony to bring up the veggies, bananas, and even mogra flowers by weight (for puja).....

  12. Hi,
    Again you have missed my point entirely.

    What I want to say is this:
    Plastic abuse/overuse IS reality. No amount of moaning/shouting/preaching is going to help curb the wastefulness.

    We can try to work around the problem by creating some substance which helps in quicker degradation of plastic.

    Yeah, it's a tough job & that's why I don't see many taking up this issue.

    Let's see your response.


  13. @yrumad:
    If all "reality" as you call it is settled, then we might as well stop thinking.

    Moaning/shouting/preaching not only is not useless, it is the only thing that works. Name one change that has occured anywhere in the world without someone first having an idea about it.

  14. @yrumad

    (This particular post was written as part of a competition organized by Blogadda, where certain things were specified.)

    You know what, we need all types.

    The moaners/shouters/preachers, the innovators, the researchers, household practitioners, implementers of rules etc etc. Even those who philosophize and theorize.

    Yes plastics overuse is reality. One way to tackle that is as mentioned in my post. I know people who cut up plastic bags into strips, braid them and make mats for waterproof use in the house. I also remember reading that there is research on how plastic pieces may be used with road construction materials in appropriate form to produce road surfaces that face extremes of temperature and moisture better.

    So there are people working on the subject of plastics-degradation, and we need to give everyone some time.

    What I write is not a policy statement amount plastics use/overuse.

    Its a statement of how recyclable materials can be nicely used instead of plastics in daily life, by ordinary folks.

    I am not antiplastic. I am just pro-earth.

    On another note, it would have been interesting to read your blog profile, which appears unavailable.

    Finally, I always "respond" to comments on my blog. Most of those who comment and often disagree are not in the habit of "challenging" for a response.

    This is not badminton or tennis, but sure feels like it from the tenor of your comment.

    In that case, consider this the last smash from my side.

  15. Dear Ms. gappa:

    I am sorry if my tone felt like a challenge.

    It was just a hurried typing.

    From what I know about you and your blog (through blog awards), you have come across as quite modern in thinking even though you are of older generation( that's a complement,sure ).

    So, naturally I wanted someone older (older than me, again , don't take it in a wrong way) to think about this plastic pollution in different manner apart from what usual anti-plastic brigade does.

    I see many anti pollution activists saying don't waste, don't over use, don't this, don't that.. but do they realise that those who don't curb the use of plastic are not going to do it even after all the repeated pleading/warning/shouting/moaning etc.

    You may be reusing the plastic bags/bottles/cups etc.. but it's evident that the majority is not doing it.

    Are they ignorant? Have they never heard about harmful effects of plastic wastage? they surely have: in TV; in Print; from others..

    Still, if the plastic wastage has not stopped ,why chase the same idea over and over again?

    Overall: You are interested in curbing pollution right? or are you interested in curbing pollution YOUR way?

    Rather, how about taking a different approach? How about making something totally unique which can make plastic degradable.

    I am not saying you have to get a chemical degree and invent stuff yourself.

    If you search enough, you will find that there are number of people working in that direction. Their work is not in main stream right now. It may take few more years to come in public domain.
    What can be done is to acknowledge the solid idea behind it and show your support in various media.

    Ok, enough of my rant.

    I will not bother you anymore and don't have a blog BTW and please don't assume anything like what you just did.