Touchstones

Doing with less

Doing with less

Photo for representational purpose only

Ira Pande

Even as we were all recovering from the devastating glacier burst in Chamoli, another climate-related disaster was waiting to strike the world. In a phenomenon called Polar Vortex, the severity of weather usually restricted to the polar regions is now slipping into lower latitudes. This partially explains why Texas, a semi-desert area, has been overwhelmed by unprecedented snow storms that have paralysed the US state and crippled normal life. My brother lives in Dallas and the pictures he has sent of frozen taps, huge snow drifts and a fountain festooned with icicles, really shook me. I remember going there one summer and we couldn’t breathe without air-conditioning. I am certain many homes have no provision for heating in winter simply because the need for warmth was never in question.

Add to this the fact that people in developed countries have been pampered by years of easy living. They have never experienced power outages that can last days, or no water as pipes freeze. Unlike us hardy people who have lived all our lives with such disruptions, they don’t keep a bucket filled in the bathroom ‘just in case’, nor invest in inverters and candles. I am ashamed to say so, given the trials that many are facing there, but I can’t help thumbing my nose at those who have wasted the precious resources of our planet and now have the temerity to preach to us on how to save water and power. Join the club, is my answer to all ‘woke’ environmentalists who have cut trees to make toilet paper, drained water into their swimming pools when others were thirsting for a sip and loaded the planet with so much plastic waste that one day we will all be buried under it.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I praise all those middle-class Indian homes where plastic dabbas are re-used to store food, aluminium foil is neatly folded to use for wrapping rotis, ziplock bags are washed to be used another day, old clothes carefully cut up into dusters and rags used to polish furniture or brass. Sadly, our new rich brats have forgotten these useful lessons.

As for wasting food, we were told that there was no greater sin than throwing food away. Each grain of rice, each morsel of vegetable and dal had to be finished before one was allowed to leave the table. I am appalled at how much food is simply thrown away now. Abroad, I have seen huge baskets of bread and rolls outside bakeries for free distribution as it is a day old. A day old! In our homes, old chapattis were smeared with ghee to make paranthas, leftover rice was tossed with vegetables and made into a homely version of fried rice, and so on. In the absence of refrigerators, food was cooked so that it was consumed that day itself. What stops us from keeping these thrifty habits alive? Do we need lessons from some American or European know-all telling us how to conserve energy? On the other hand, we could teach them a thing or two about doing with less.

All over the Third World, people value food and natural resources deeply. Many rituals are created around such lessons to make them a part of everyday life. Similarly, trees, water sources, plants, and even stones, are worshipped to remind us how the natural world must at all times be respected. However, years of rule by people of another culture erased these basic lessons when missionary teachers would make fun of our idolatrous practices. Recently, on Basant Panchami, a festival celebrated in various ways across India, I was astonished to see that very few bothered to dress in yellow clothes or cook yellow, saffron-scented sweet rice. As for Saraswati Puja, associated with the festival, there is now no mention, except to score electoral points in Bengal. As children, we kept all our books and writing implements in front of Saraswati to bless them and loved that we were not supposed to open a book that day.

In the colony we live now, more children know about Valentine’s Day than the significance of this lovely ritual. I have nothing against celebrating all festivals whether they belong to my religion or any other, what saddens me is how a marketing blitz unleashed by multinational companies that make and sell greeting cards and teddy bears is slowly taking over. We have already lost our food, languages and clothes to others. Let us at least keep our celebration of nature’s bounty alive.

Our festivals and rituals carry within the distilled wisdom of centuries. The worship of nature is woven into all pastoral communities, whether here or elsewhere. However, many cultures have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when they turned away from these celebrations. Let us not forget that wearing yellow clothes to celebrate the onset of spring or dancing round a Lohri bonfire to say goodbye to winter are remnants of a pastoral way of life when Nature was saluted. Is there a better way of making children eco-conscious?

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