Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Change. A small recipe.

I pledge to go beyond the hour!

A lot of folks will now follow the Earth Hour movement. On 26th of March, food will be cooked early, folks returning from work (yes, like Blogadda, many work on Saturday), will either return before 8:30 pm or after 9:30 pm. Folks will light candles, and organize balcony and terrace parties, those under pressure of studying for exams, will enjoy the official respite, and most folks will continue fanning themselves will newspapers and hand fans, trying to swat away the omnipresent mosquitoes that now feature themselves in various varieties in Mumbai, thanks to the perils of "development" . At 9:30 pm. there will be a rush for the TV remote as there is a tussle between the World Cup watchers, News watchers and Saas Bahu types.

I have never really been a fan of mass projects like this. I know someone who once suggested a voluntary effort cleaning up parts of a nearby lake which was attacked by viral weeds, and now dry, was easier to clean. A couple of hours in the early morning , and a handful of folks turned up, with another few chipping in with tea for the tired folks. Cut to a time when folks held placards and chained themselves to each other, and stood on the shores of the lake, screaming about the saving, filmed by TV cameras, and a huge number of folks turned up in their protesting best. The viral weeds continued to propagate.

I have since then felt, that this has to be a lifestyle change. At some small level, at least. By each one of us.

And so we come to the story, of my friend B.

Women in Maharashtra, celebrate Makar Sankranti in January, and among other things Haldi Kumkums are held for ladies during the following period . The tradition is, that along with anointing the foreheads with Haldi, Kumkum, applying swabs of Indian attar on their wrists, and sprinkling the invited ladies with cool rosewater from specially designed traditional sprinkling holders, the ladies are also gifted, a symbolic amount grains, pulses, and even fruit, to signify the winter harvest time.

A special feature of these Haldi Kumkums in Maharashtra is the giving away of something like small new utensils, plates, glasses, bottles , plastic containers and other useful items. As a child, I would tag along with my mother and her friends , and get excited about these giveaways, which were literally called "loot" in Marathi.

B. works, and is a busy lady, and very fond of traditional forms of everything. She has a massive collection of cottons and silks, with a small collection of synthetic sarees that come out during the monsoon. A family member of hers was stuck in the huge cloudburst flooding that happened in Mumbai on 26th July, and ever since then she has made it her life's mission to reduce plastic and convince others to reduce their use too. It's easier said than done.

She was once inventorying her synthetic sarees, and decided to retire a few. What she did was managed to find someone who agreed to stitch bags for her. It was a lady who had a sewing machine at home, and was glad of the extra income. between them they designed bags, that were stitched in one piece, so that the handle was part of the main body. B got several unwanted but good synthetic sarees cut up and made into such bags. The material was soft, thin, but strong, there were few joints which could rip, and the bags were very colorful, thanks to her choice of sarees. One could fold many such bags into a small size and carry them in one's purse.

On the day of the haldi kumkum, in addition to the usual "loot", ladies were presented these bags, and requested to avoid taking plastic bags from the vendors of fruit and veggies. No utensils were gifted to the ladies.

B. even took several set of these bags to her office, and presented them to many people. So many ladies got this idea and went and contacted the lady who stitched them, till it became too much for her. So they got hold of someone else and convinced her to stitch these kind of bags after learning from the original lady.

It's a small effort, but besides reducing the consumption of plastic, it has introduced a new way of thinking, a new mindset in the folks using these. These bags are easily washable, dry very fast and so convenient; besides every woman has some sarees she doesn't like.

In my childhood, we always carried our cloth bags. Plastic bags were rarely offered; and then they were hoarded by us for their fancy printed designs. We, as a people were not polymerised then. A trip to the main vegetable market, would involve hiring a sturdy fellow with a huge tough cane basket, who would carry your vegetables for you. He earned, you saved your back, and the vegetables got home without being crushed and scratched.

Recycling of stuff was a lifestyle , and not a topic to organize conferences on. Packaging something showed your affection and not your ability to splurge on fancy papers and clips. And yes , plastic bottles, were a complete rarity. So our garbage smelt different, our seasons were well defined and according to expectation, and although we had to take preventive inoculations in school from time to time, we didn't have epidemics on the scale and variety that we see today, with every year sporting a new strain of some old disease. It was about living a biodegradable lifestyle.

Today, we live in a plastic world, with even plastic minds, which are so easy to mould and bend. The creation of plastic has its roots in the use of petroleum. Which really is the energy we need to save today. Electricity creation needs petroleum products, transportation needs petroleum, our various industries need it too. The least we can do is reduce unnecessary usage of plastic. And save that energy.

It will not happen by someone passing legislation about acceptable "microns" of plastic for bags. It will not happen by creating mounds of plastic garbage and then complaining about it not being cleared. We all know what clogged the storm drains across Mumbai, when the terrible cloudburst happened on July 26th in Mumbai. And it will not happen by hyping a particular hour on a particular Day, and then everyone jumping on a temporary bandwagon.

A small lifestyle change. Something easy to do , for everyone, in a society where tailors are available, and many homes have sewing machines. There are suburbs of Mumbai, where such things are now strictly practiced and shops have signs saying "we don't give plastic carrybags". It will take time, but I am sure there will be a change.

There is much to be done, addicted as we are to creating e-waste today, as needs have been shoved aside and they've become hobbies. We have become people who pay obeisance to obsolescence. But that's a story for another day.

The father of our Nation would be horrified at us today. I think he suspected what would happen , when he said that "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed".

He also said “Be the change you want to see in the world.

This was just a small idea , to make a change in your life and the world, beyond the Earth hour......for all the remaining 364 days, and more.....


  1. very apt! high time everyone realizes the perils of plastic or misuse or abuse of resources and pull up their socks! we have limited resources and the way everyone is behaving these days in India or elsewhere, there will be none left for us or our future generations either..
    you know i am famous in our vegetable mkt as the 'madam who despises/doesnt accept plastic bags' all the stores/ vegetable vendors know i carry my own huge bag and refuse their plastic bags! and i tried converting them but they said the customers themselves insist on plastic bags every time! so i told them stop stocking up simple. they will automatically learn to get a carry bag next time from home! but anyways, like you said the change has to happen by us in all the areas/aspects we want to see change taking place!

  2. I agree with you and am pleased to see more and more cloth bags on the bus.

    I had never heard this: "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed".

    How true!


  3. Wow...lovely post and yes that idea of saree into carry bag is done by my ma also...she gives the bags to us and we do make a consicous effort to take the bag with us when we go shopping...infact with R we used cloth diapers made out of pa's dhotis to avoid using too much of disposable diapers....though washing those cloth diapers were quite a pain..still something to save the environment :)

  4. wonderful post! i love that idea of stitching cloth bags from sarees... for the last few years, we have been gifting people cloth bags for navaratri haldi kumkum, and when i see someone actually using the bag, it feels great!

  5. I've a saree bag too....someone gifted me. :) :)

    U wrote it more beautifully, than I would've been able to explain - of course, one legislation or one Earth hour cannot make a lot of changes - it can only be used as a starter to such campaigns.

    The change has to happen in the minds of ppl...then earth hours will happen automatically on a routine basis, without anyone initiating it.

  6. o wow..lovely and awakening post
    we surely need more awakening than just one hr..but then i believe everything counts.

    And yes..i have one such bag which i carry all the time in my purse. We can buy such bags here for very low price and ofcourse it reusable till we loose it :)

    First time visitor here...will surely come back !

  7. Interesting and enjoyable reading ,thank you ! Appreciate the inspirational quotes . Especially liked the phrase 'obeisance to obsolescence !
    i grew up during The War when very few things were wrapped. If you went for fish and chips you had to take your own basin ! It was also the pre plastic era although it was wonderful later on to replace all the zinc and heavy old pottery contains with the lovely lightweight colourful inventions.
    Just a pity it got out of hand

  8. My mother, as an activist, used to make and distribute saree bags, or sell them outside temples! We use them too! I think it is a wonderful idea!
    Lovely post :)

  9. What a wonderful way to make a difference! I remember in my childhood the old synthetic and cotton sarees became not just 'bhaaji' bags, but also curtain sheers and cushion covers.(the old "china silk" stuff was hand embroidered). Old newspapers were used to cover books.

    Loved this post and many others. I am happy to have discovered your blog through your comment on my post. You are an amazing personality.

  10. i got the saree bag as a gift from a relative in mumbai 25 years bag. They make these in jamshedpur too except that they use new fabric.i think I'll suggest that old synthetics be used. i agree with you that we need to do our bit in our own quiet way,not just on special days marked out for them.

  11. Such a simple and useful idea. And B differs in actually acting on her idea instead of mere armchair activism.
    I also have my misgivings about the human chains and such demonstrations - mostly they just end up troubling common people and nothing more.
    I should rummage my mom's cupboard...

  12. I have a lot of cloth and canvas bags that I take with me to the grocery store. We do recycle plastic bags and there is a big barrel to deposit your used bags in at the entrance to the store.

    I try to never use a plastic bag and making such bags out of old clothing is a double recycling effort that I heartily applaud.

  13. I agree, practical ideas, small changes are easier to incorporate into our life styles. We carry our own bags for shopping.
    I once bought pretty, colourful cotton bags and gifted to my friends too, I hope they too fold them into almost fist size and keep them in their bags when they go shopping.
    Many residential complexes and institutions ban plastic bags inside - that is also a help.

  14. Thank you dear Suranga tai for your kind comment on my post. It was this wonderful post that inspired me to write for the blogadda contest for earth hour.


    Added another initiative that we have in our building community for recycling.