Monday, December 22, 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

I watched Madagascar over the weekend. The laugh-a-minute toon drama was thoroughly entertaining. As the African forests suddenly dry up, the animals are forced to fight for their share of water from a band of resilient New Yorkers. There is one particular scene that I thought was potent with meaning. “Have you found any water?” the hippo asks aloud. Her friend surfaces from the hole dug in the earth with a tired, “No! Just some more diamonds and gold.” Their glittering find is tossed into a corner because it’s worthless when compared to precious water.

A gentle reminder from the makers of the film that in all the fun, don’t forget that humans, wherever they go, even in the midst of an African forest, survive in the only way they know how: by storing up all the resources of the world for themselves with scant thought of its repercussions. And all the riches of the world cannot buy you what is natural and essential to survival. Couched in all that humour, the message still rings clear. Perhaps a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?

We are coming to the end of the year and its time to for New Year resolutions. I normally laugh it off, but this time I will make promises and keep them. But even before I can decide what I will/will not do next year, I am going to be very honest and write down all the things I have done right (and not done so well) in my efforts to be environment friendly:

My Green List
1. I have stopped accepting plastic bags completely. My cloth bag follows me to every store.
2. I don’t use plastic wrap or zip pouches if I can help it. In fact I haven’t bought any from the store the past 8 months or so.
3. I don’t insist that my bathrooms/balcony/car be washed every day, unless it’s a real mess.
4. I use paper with care. My kids love to paint, and my huge glass windows are now their easel. They can paint all they like on the glass and I simply clean it with a damp cloth once they are done.
5. I re-used last year’s decorations to spruce up my Christmas tree. No new items bought this year, and I also found a store that sells eco-friendly decorations.
6. I will wrap all my Christmas gifts in newspaper. (One of my facebook friends is my inspiration for this!!)
7. No televisions, music systems or computers are left on stand-by mode during the day or night. My cell phones are never left to charge over night. And yes, electricity bills have come down!! Yippee!

My Not-So-Green List
1. I just don’t walk short distances. I know I should, but….never mind the excuses.
2. I don’t segregate garbage as well as I should. The lady who comes to collect doesn’t seem to make a fuss, so probably that’s why!! But its wrong, and I will…I promise.
3. I sometimes run the washing machine even when it’s not a full load. Part of routine! Bad habit.
4. I get arm twisted into picking really silly plastic toys from the market, just can’t seem to say no to the kids. The Barbie dolls are the most expensive pieces of plastic in the house!

Ok, the truth serum just wore off!

Would love it if you could come up with your green/not-so green list too. Do play along and write in with your ideas, even if they are just a few; perhaps you’ll inspire someone or I might just find all my new year resolutions right there in your list.

Take care everyone and Merry Christmas to you all!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Birthday Gift

Like all kids, my son plans his birthday a good 365 days in advance. I was still cleaning up the house after his last birthday party, when he decided what his next birthday gift would be.

He so desperately wants us to gift him a pup for his 10th birthday!! Suddenly the PS-2 we were arm twisted into gifting him for his 9th birthday seemed so desirable and age appropriate!! My head reeled as images of me vigorously brushing away doggy hair from my precious Fabindia cushions and cleaning doggy poo left in the middle of the kitchen flashed before my eyes.

I ignored the requests initially but then countered with the usual “A dog is a huge commitment” line! And to ensure he couldn't counter that, I gave him the “You have no value for money!” argument. “Pups are not something you just go and pick up; they cost a lot of money these days!” I thundered.

And just to drive the point home, last evening I asked my friend (who had bought a spaniel a month ago) in a rather loud voice how much she had paid for the pup. “A little over 9000. . .” she said and I repeated the amount with added emphasis and a raised eyebrow as I looked at my son.

Over dinner the same evening, I asked him whether he was shocked to hear how much the dog cost our friends. He replied rather calmly that he WAS shocked, he was shocked that a “living thing actually costs less than a PS2”. “I didn’t know a real live pup costs less than a computer game” he said.

I have never felt smaller than I did that evening at the dinner table. Here I was telling a ‘child’ the ‘cost’ of things and there he sat unwittingly teaching me that ‘value’ and ‘cost’ didn’t mean the same thing at all.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The "Common" Voice

A room bursting with excited chatter, placards and slogans, over 150 participants and 15 street plays all in a row. You can't ask for a more fun Saturday morning and I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Hindi and English chants filled the air as each play attempted to explore and highlight the environmental challenges facing the world today.

The themes were endless. . .deforestation, polluted rivers, garbage disposal, smoking and air pollution, saving electricity, the plastic bag menace, individual apathy, lack of political will, war and terrorism.

The heartening fact was that each and every play acknowledged the powerful role the individual could play in changing the so called "system". The call was for ownership of tasks, of accepting ones shortcomings and then moving forward to a create a world where individuals participate in the process and don't simply wait for those in authority to come up with solutions!

Whether it was Lucifer tempting Man to destroy his planet, a tired Super hero who refused to take the responsibility of cleaning up the mess every time, the voice of conscience calling us to the truth, the jury pronouncing the world too preoccupied with "more important issues" to bother about something as vague as global warming, teenagers partying with no care for tomorrow, a planet crying out for help: each and every play raised important and pertinent questions.

Kudos to all the participants! Here's hoping the questions raised continue to resonate long after the excitement over staging the street play has subsided.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Shah Rukh Khan took a fistful of earth from his village as he left for America, in the Hindi film Swades. Each time he looked at those grains of sand, his heart twisted in agony at the thought of the land and people he had come to love.

As we watched the Taj burn in Mumbai, our hearts felt heavy with sorrow and anger. We cheered lustily when the Indian tricolour was unfurled after the ordeal. The Taj had been reclaimed; it was “ours” again.

Inanimate rock and stone seem to evoke such strong emotions within us.

This planet that we live on, nothing but a mass of rock and liquid, has perhaps evoked the most poignant responses in our cinema and literature. Bhoomi Devi, Dharthi Maa, Mother Earth . . . we serenade her with a million names. She is personified as the all-knowing feminine principle; so nourishing, abundant, magical, quick to heal and always quick to forgive.

Perhaps it’s the first time in the history of mankind that this image is changing. The Mother now almost seems like an irate adolescent. At times happy and willing to please, at other times crying for attention and spewing spite. Severe famines, torrential rains, freezing winters, floods and tsunamis . . . she has used them all to tell us of her anger.

As Mumbai burned and we hung our heads in despair and shame, what we chose to see was only the Taj burning. It is easy to identify with a city, a people and share their sorrow.

Our planet is in peril today. Every day a part of it goes up in flames, some parts are plundered and looted, her children persecuted to the point of extinction, her face ravaged by greedy hands. And this time the perpetrators are not some “foreign hand”, but so called well-read folks like you and me.

Several trees have bled for that luxury terrace apartment that promises a slice of paradise in the middle of a city. People are dying of starvation as land marked for agriculture now sport huge Business complexes. The earth is riddled with wounds as bore wells look for that last drop of water. There are no more sparrows in the city of Bangalore where I spent my childhood. We managed to kill them all, slowly but surely.

Who will rush to the rescue? Where will the victorious flag be unfurled? Who will be arrested and interrogated? These are inconvenient questions, for the answers are embarrassing. Perhaps the plot that will be unraveled will be far more sinister, and as self-defeating as the ones hatched by these gullible 21 year olds who believed they were working for the betterment of their kin.

The air conditioners that are so essential to keep us cool and comfortable, the million lights that make a city dazzle at night, the vast opulent restaurants that guzzle water and food, fuel that is used by our third car that we could do well without, the “Tiger Project” we study purely for “academic” interest, the cloth bags we will use only if they are fashionable, the Diwali crackers we burst because that’s what we are “supposed” to do on that day . . . .

How gullible we all are! How easily we have believed the lies fed to us.

How tragically we have been taught to associate Prosperity with Wealth.

There is an African proverb that sums up the illusion of progress so beautifully:

“A bird that flies from the ground onto an anthill, does not know that it is still on the ground”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Steps

Faith is good. Prayer a necessity. And nobody does the prayer-faith routine with as much fanfare and diligence as we Indians do. Our schools still begin with the grand assembly, where prayers and national anthems are interspersed with announcements and prefects checking for uncut finger nails. I light the lamp at home every evening and chant the only Sanskrit I know with eyes shut and complete fervour. It makes me feel good inside. And that is so important, isn't it? Feeling good from within?

When my 9 year old, slammed his environmental science book shut and refused to study for his test because nothing the book advocated was followed by anyone around him, I was shamed into silence. I didn't feel good from the inside for a long time after, even when I prayed. Today I am thankful for the discomfort. It sent me on a journey of introspection that has since impacted every decision I make as parent, teacher, friend, shopper, and now blogger!!

Today, I understand the frustration my son felt that evening. How could I help him make a poster on the " Say no to plastic bags" campaign when I had a refrigerator full of food neatly packed in Ziplock pouches and plastic wrap? Of what use is it to teach children in school about building embankments to conserve water? Teach them instead how much water they consume when they shower every morning. Teach them how long their plastic toy will take to decompose.

In the many workshops on this theme that I have held since, I have been amazed at how quick the kids have been to understand the magnitude of the crisis facing the earth today. How quickly and effortlessly they have changed habits since. They have coerced their parents into changing even as the adults grumbled and mumbled about the inconvenience.

This blog is for all my young friends whom I have met the last year, ages 3 to 19, who have so inspired me to write and share. I confess, I am a reluctant blogger. I am wary of writing on a platform this public. But I care far too much for the environment to let my inhibitions get the better of me.

This space is for simple folks like you and me, who want to BE the difference. This space will capture and applaud the smallest of endeavours to go green. Whether its a sapling you planted, a poem that your child wrote, a play that you are doing in college, an essay you want to share, a telling photograph that speaks of our apathy, an anecdote that will inspire, frustration at a lifestyle that is so conditioned, a habit that you changed, a teacher who has inspired you, a wish-list of things you hope to change for the better, a painting or poster that speaks volumes, small lessons you have learnt from your child: do go ahead and send it all in.

Even as we pray that the coming year will see less famine, hunger and flood, and show us Nature at her benevolent best, let us remember to galvanize prayer into action. "When you pray, Move your feet".