Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Green Tradition

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This is the campaign line of most green societies today wanting to emphasize on how we can save the environment by following these three R's. This made me think about how we have done this in the past and for ages in India.

This is about the time when you would leave that one last mound of rice and dal on your plate complaining that you could eat no more, and your tummy would burst!! And mommy, would always say, "Don't waste food. There are people in the world who don't get enough and here you are wasting it. If you don't want so much, you should have taken less." Bingo! The concept of Reduce, right from scratch.
Then, there were always times when we would be admonished for leaving the fan or the light on in the room, when we were not in the room ourselves!! This was a lesson well learned and till date, i feel guilty if i forget to switch off lights or other electricity-eating equipment. We learned this early and maybe it had to do with the fact that when we were growing up, the power cuts were quite often a regular feature. There were no inverters or generators to save you then. Also, i remember feeling at times, that if i left the lights and fans on without reason, and there was a power cut in the evening, i would feel dumped in a well of guilt and if-only. I firmly believed that if i had not misused it then, i would have it now. And isn't that what it is about after all? Responsible usage of resources to ensure that you have enough to last the future generations as well.
I've read accounts about how the foreigner who comes from the land of bathtubs and showers find themselves inconvenienced by the use of a bucket and mug to take a bath. But look at it this way, it is definitely a way of reducing the water that you use for a bath. I mean a whole bath tubful of water going down the sewage pipe is definitely a lot more than a bucketful of water.
All these traditional ways of 'reducing' the misuse of resources is something that everybody across the length and breadth of this country has grown up with.

In the days of my childhood, we would reuse the Kissan orange squash bottles as water bottles. Those bottles were glass, then, and helped keep the water cool. We would always gets refills for pens. It was not a time when one could buy a pen for five rupees and throw it away and get another one soon after. It was a time when anything and everything that could be reused was reused. I remember how we used old calendars with their glossy blank side to cover books and copies in school. How Mommy used the various Kissan (again..:)) jam glass bottles and ketchup bottles to store masalas and pastes. Those beautiful glass bottles were always good for storing things inside the fridge and also outside it. :). And then there were the holidays - long summer holidays and the shorter winter ones. We would happily save all the New Year cards and cut and paste out of them to create our own new year cards to send to aja and bapa and mausis and mamus. It used to be such fun!! And believe me when i say, we did all this not while thinking about the impending climate problems or those of now-common, then less heard of words, global warming, carbon footprints, greenhouse effects and more. We did these things of reusing anything and everything possible because it was a habit, almost a tradition.

I think when it comes to recycling, Indian families have long had interactions with kabbadi-wallas or radi-wallas. These were usually thin, lanky men who would come to your doorstep to collect old newspapers, magazines, diaries, notebooks, cartons, bottles, boxes, metal...just about everything. It used to be quite an activity and i remember looking forward to those days. Simply, because so much would come out of the 'storage' space when looking for things to dispose off (there were always one or two things that i would sneak back because it has a pretty picture on it or the paper looked glossy enough to be put up on my wall). Once everything was 'unearthed', we would proceed to categorize them. Days when the raddi-walla came to the house, it was usually Mommy who would talk business to the man - Hold the scales correctly! You are giving too less! etc. etc. It was always fun to see all that waste get disposed off and to have money for it. The raddi-wallas would then sell it to recycling plants and factories. This tradition became more profitable when i would get to carry all the old stuff to the car and help Papa sort them out in the car, and then we would drive off to the raddi-walla, and all the money that we got out if it would be mine to keep. :). It used to be huge sums of Rs. 100 or 200 and i would bask in the glory of hard-earned money.
There was another kind of recycling as well - clothes. Yes, to begin with, clothes would be handed down from families to the little ones in each family and there would be quite a few of us waiting longingly for that nice orange skirt of nani to come our way or the smart chequered pants to come our way. We never thought that it was a thing not to be done. On the contrary, we looked forward to visits by mausis who would get 1-2 salwar-kameezes that nani would have grown out of. This was recycling within the family. :). Then, there was this interesting bargain offer of giving clothes to buy pots and pans. I don't know if this was a tradition confined to Delhi or to North India. But again it was fun and it was recycling for sure. You would give away 2-3 pairs of clothes and get a nice, shiny, steel pan just the right size for making tea for 2 people.

India has always been a culture of recycling. However, sadly, i think this is also a tradition that we have given u p. A lot definitely changed with the advent of plastic. Suddenly, you could see the evil P everywhere - bags, bottles, boxes, even ice cream cups...:(. This plastic was not meant to be re-used since storing water in plastic bottles of ketchup or mineral water was not healthy. Another thing that happened in the society was a new way of living where no one wanted other people's 'hand-me-downs'. Where the idea of re-using old greeting cards to make new ones was too 'middle-class'. And where there were no friendly raddi-wallas or bartan-wallis...

Now, we have moved from a 'reuse' society to a 'use and throw' society. Everything is disposable and the havoc it has created on the environment is for all to see. Now, we have to ask people to buy branded cloth bags and use these for shopping. In my childhood, that was the norm. (Ma would make cloth bags for vegetables, fish, and other grocery.) I hope we can go back to the green ways that tradition taught us and not scoff at everything that is old. Some of these traditions are good for us.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Should i call this identity?

This is something that i've been thinking about for a long time and when i say that i dont mean a few hours or a few days but it is something which has always 'bothered' me, let's say, for the lack of a better word. Through this post, i will try and sort it out as much as i can or as less as i must.

Our names are a mark of our identity. At times, they are the only thing that identify us. In any case, they are the first things that act as identification. What do you learn from a name? And i will stick to Indian names only. Many people can tell you your religion and also your caste from your name. I've never been good at doing that and that i think has somewhere worked to my disadvantage, where family expectations are concerned.

Religion, regions, communities, castes - i like to believe that these are nothing but systems of classification, of organizing. And that is how they began at least.
Religion - i like the flower and believe in it. X draws power from the water and believes in it. B believes it is in the air. C thinks it is in the stone. All of us therefore belong to different categories, as mundane as the way files are 'filed' away following a type of classification. For me, the flower becomes my religion and there are some others who become flower-followers and so belong to that religion. Anything that makes me believe in a supreme force of creation or destruction becomes my religion. It is that simple. Classification.
Regions - I and some others like me live in region 123 and practice farming. We develop our own way of living around the farm and plants and trees. And it becomes a way of life for me. Similarly, there are X, Y, and Z who live in region 789 and practice fishing. They begin to devote their lives to water and water organisms. Their rituals are centered around that main occupation and region. Again, a type of organization
Castes - This one many of us know of and it has always been explained in the light of one of the most ancient ways of classifying society as per the work that one does. The four castes are divisions on the basis of the type of work one group does. All this division is to make society work like a well-oiled machine. All kinds of work are complementary to each other. While it is important to farm, it is equally important to know what can have a bad effect on these plants and take the steps to eradicate any plant diseases. Again, it is important to know how to cook these farm produce...To get to the point, all kinds of work are important to get the society going. And that was the base of the caste division.

Cut to apartheid, fascism, untouchablity, communalism, casteism, and what brought these across? How did one human being start thinking that just because the color of their skin was a shade paler, they were superior? What were these people thinking? And if it was just one person's idea, what made such thoughts so powerful so as to destroy so many? How could people do this? I cannot even think that these were people like you and me...and believe me, they were. Very much people like you and me with the same number of eyes and ears and bones. So why?

The Fascists chose the concept of a 'pure' superior race. And inflicted some of the world's most and ever horrifying type of injuries on a whole group. A nation destroyed, a humankind devastated. Why did we forget that these were just small systems of classification so that life, society, would be just more organized?

You are a Punjabi, I'm an Oriya. FGH is a Madrasi. RST is a Marathi. All these people are from the same country. All these divisions are merely identification marks, simple folder or file names and nothing more. So why do they act as differentiators in the most negative sense of the word. Why do we 'play' this difference against each other? Why is it such a big deal to be friendly with a Punjabi (a region), a Muslim (a religion), a Kshatriya (a caste)? Why can't different categories live together and in peace...I'm not talking about an ideal world where there are absolutely no arguments. No. Arguments, if anything, are healthy till the time they turn ugly and become weapons to kill and destroy.

PQR grows up and reads and learns about the horrors wrought throughout centuries in the name of 'differences' - white, black, brown, farmer, hunter, flower-believer, earth-worshiper, educated teacher, humble sweeper. Yet when it is time to make a crucial decision, this educated PQR falls back into the trap of mistaking classification as boundaries that cannot be crossed. Yet again, rise the voice of the perpetrators of against them always. Forever. No matter how heinous he/she think apartheid and fascism was, he/she is bound again into hindu, muslim, brahmin, vaishya, and so on and so forth.

This what i'm about to write next might sound melodramatic but it is the only truth - all of us are equal. We are all human beings first and human beings last. You want proof of that? Remember the blood that flows out of a small cut or from a gunshot is always red...the sole identifier that all are equal. Yet we forget this one small (?) and simple truth - we are all human beings with the same life blood in each one of us. So why do we continue with increasing the gap, creating boundaries, killing humankind?

PS: I don't know if this offends any sensibilities; its not meant to and if it does, i do hope it makes you think. I have not been able to put in all my thoughts into words here but i've tried...