November 29, 2011

What is Christmas without the bells and baubles?

 Thinking about Christmas, I hear the bells chime. I see the twinkling stars winking at me from faraway houses as I walk back home after the Midnight Mass in my hometown Alappuzha. I hear the age-old Christmas Carols fill the misty midnights in my Mother's house in Chamampathal.

I remember my own Christmas Tree in Bangalore that filled my December nights with nostalgia. Lying down on my bed, I peeped through the small opening in the curtains, made with a purposeful intent, and looked at my little tree lit by the flickering lights. In the pale light of their sparkle, I saw the colourful Christmas baubles quiver in the cool December breeze.

Last night, we bought a Christmas tree from Walmart. I promised myself, I will reuse it again and again, year after year, until the synthetic leaves begin to fade and wither. In an attempt to convince myself, I remembered then that the first Christmas tree that I bought for myself in Bangalore, was used for many years; including all the trinkets and paraphernalia. Even today, in my apartment, now, with its door shut and uninhabited, the remnants of my last Christmas lie buried in the darkness of my kitchen closets.

As I get ready to welcome my first Christmas here, I begin to dream of the day I will have my own Christmas tree, a real one, nurtured in a fenced front yard, which will only grow with years and not shrivel and wither with time.

November 25, 2011

Trash it!

The other day, there was a get together at home. We had invited two families for lunch. All in all, there were six adults and seven children. First the children ate, while the mothers stood near by serving them. The mothers did try forcing some stuff that the children probably wouldn't choose themselves, given an option. Just any mother would do the same thing, I thought. Some of the elder kids finished all that was served, some ate bits here and there, some feigned to eat. At the end of a noisy meal, there was lot of food left in their plates. When I was about to clear the table, the two Mothers grabbed the plates from which their children ate and said, ' Don't trash it. I will eat from this plate.' Quite contrary to what I see here when I eat out.

When I eat out, I am not supposed to refill my first plate as it may lead to contamination and infections. If one refills his or her plate thrice, he or she has to eat from three plates. You get those looks if you take the same plate to the buffet counter. Once the waiter at the counter even asked one of my friends to discard her used plate before she refilled it, much to her embarrassment. Not only restaurants, but homes also mirror the same mentality. 'Take another plate. Don't bother, I anyway use the Dishwasher.'

We waste food mindlessly. We use resources mindlessly. 

Trash it. A growing menace these days. One of my US-bred friends' daughter visits me often. In the few hours that she spends with me at home, she trashes half the food that is offered to her. After eating a little bit, either she leaves the food on the table or simply trashes it in the bin herself. In spite of my attempts to subtly correct her, she continues her habit, much to my chagrin.When there isn't reinforcement at home, how will she ever change for the better?

We are a seven billion today. The demand for food grows by the hour. 'Globally, we waste 30–40% of all food produced, or one of every three calories. If we could eliminate waste, we would halve the amount of new food we need to produce by 2050.'

I remember a brief from a MNC client a few years ago. To come up with a campaign to tackle food waste in the cafeteria. Lunch was subsidized and there was definitely excess. The brief  was simple: 'please don't try shock tactics of showing pictures of famished children. It simply doesn't work as we have already tried that. Let's try some thing more stark and in the face.' What could be more stark?  

Using disposable essentials has become the very fabric of our culture. We trash things even before we use them, or after using them partially or marginally. When our children feel thirsty, they open kitchen cabinets where juice is stored in pouches in colourful cartons with pictures of apples and melons, multiple ones piled on top of the other. I remember during my childhood days, how my thirst was quenched at the compound well. All of us drank from the self same heavy metal bucket, each taking turns. When guests visit us, we hand over a bottle of mineral water instead of that customary water that was given in glasses. When hunger comes calling, canned soups, cookies, cakes, biscuits and pre-packaged puddings are chosen by our kids.

I salute the likes of my friends, the two mothers mentioned in the beginning of this post. One, a Doctor by profession and the other an Engineer. Such values am sure come from families. In spite of being here in the US for years on end, I see how their values run deep.

Home is where it begins. Home is where it gets reinforced. Are our homes advocates of such values that our Planet cries for or harbingers of dark days to come?

Photocredit: WRAP Love Food, Hate Waste campaign

November 23, 2011

The Friday that is getting Blacker.

Everywhere people are talking about the Black Friday sale.

'My husband says he is not stepping out of the house. But I want to go.'

'Even I plan to go. Let's go together then.'

'Is 5 am good enough to start?'


Over the past few days, our apartment door met with a flurry of leaflets. Our Post Box is so flooded that we have to empty it every day lest we should miss some important mail. This is just a prelude to all the hullabaloo, carbon emissions, recycling costs and pollution to be caused as a result of Black Friday.

'We are going to replace our Sofa set. Doesn't go with this new place.' The sofa set that is less than a year old will find it's way out soon.

'You get good deals on TVs. Every year we change our TV. Why don't you look for a deal as well. Want to join us?'

Black Friday they say, is total madness. With some retailers opening as early as 12 midnight on Thursday, some of the retail sales force having to compromise on a relaxed Thanksgiving meal and laid back time with family are protesting. An employee of Target, US has started a petition on against this.

Black Friday shopping dents the environment and wallets too. People rush to shop allured by the 'savings' promise. But as they say, spending can never be saving, it's only an illusion. Shopping on a Black Friday is stressful, and it makes people buy stuff that they never wanted or planned for.

Last year, the total Black Friday sales clocked $10 billion. I dread to translate that to damage to the environment.

As someone said, can we have nothing-to-buy Black Fridays, please?

November 6, 2011

Less is more

'And she took her ragged clothes and with thread she herself spun on a bamboo spindle from a wad of cotton she mended and contrived to cover the rents in their winter clothes. Their bedding she took into the sun on the threshold and ripped the coverings from the quilts and washed them and hung them upon a bamboo to dry, and the cotton in the quilts that had grown hard and grey from years she picked over, killing the vermin that had flourished in the hidden folds, and sunning it all.'                          Good Earth, Pearl S Buck.

When I read this book the first time, I was too small to comprehend the depth of these sentences. I was more interested to know the turn of events in the life of Wang Lung and O - lan. Today as literature around me teems with facts and figures about the fragility of our Planet, I feel an instant connection to the above acts of frugality.

I am saddened to see many virtues disappearing today. There was a time and age when our folks never bought any new stuff home. And old stuff never found their way out just like that.

I saw my first Halloween in the US just days ago. What a display of extravagance and wastefulness? Instances like these are not outliers anymore. We don't realize how we ourselves plant the seeds of a dangerous morrow in our own progeny.

When I stayed with my in-laws soon after the birth of my first child, I remember my mother-in-law telling me about the two decade old mattress and how I ought to be taking care of it. Cloth diapers were much in 'vogue' then and she sensed that I was capable of spoiling her old mattress. I inspected the mattress and to my surprise, it didn't have wrinkles, sagging or crow's feet! During the years that followed, I saw her making use of the summer sun and turning the cover-less mattress in the sun year after year. The mattress cover also underwent strict cleaning processes and was sun dried periodically.

My seven year old is overcome with awe and admiration for his grand dad, my father-in-law who continues to use his 30 year old Bajaj scooter for daily errands. In spite of our repeated offers to buy for him a new one, he simply refuses saying, 'Old is Gold'.

I salute them for the virtues that they continue to inspire. For them, its manifest not just in the mattress and in the scooter, but in every little thing that they would or wouldn't buy and use.

During the entire length of my school days, I may have used just a handful of pencils. Now, as I look around, I see them in hordes as numberless entities. I try to inculcate similar values at home, but how will my seven year old ever understand the value of these small things when he comes home with at least a dozen gifts after every birthday party?

An eraser in the shape of a cute little duck. My youngest aunt gifted it to me when I was in the UKG. I still remember that evening. As I stood by the side of the compound well, she returned from College and I dashed to her the way I always did. She opened her little purse and gave the erasers one to me and another one to my brother. That was the first and last time I ever used a designer eraser! I used it at least for a few years. And I treasured it inside a hole in the wall lest my elder brother should take it from me. Each time I needed to use the eraser, I had to slip out of the study table and use it deftly. The things that I possessed were so less in number, but my happiness in receiving a small Parrys hard boiled candy was boundless. Every time I got a five star gifted by a visiting relative, I smiled so much in gratitude that my eyes turned glassy.

Small things were enough to spread so much cheer then.

Today, in abundance, I see tears and unhappiness. In indulgence, I see momentary gratification followed by lingering irritation.

So, what are you thinking of buying this week? Cheer or gloom?