There is so much news about environment and taking care of the planet – and rightly so! The planet is dying and we owe it to our future generations to start paying attention to our habits!
This has made me ponder about growing up in india and how it was a sustainable society which has now moved to being an unsustainable one. We had very intelligent ancestors and our way of life was entwined with rituals and festivals which were all geared towards looking after the planet and ensuring sustainability.
When a child was born, it was given gifts made of metals (usually silver) and it was passed on to generations. So no disposable bits – toys made of wood, utensils made of steel, silver or gold, clothes stitched at home. The nappies were cloth nappies made by relatives, most times from the old shirts and sarees.
The same ritual continued during marriage. The women trousseau consisted of a few sarees but they were all woven by local weavers from natural threads like silk or cotton. The married couple were given gifts to kickstart their life and they consisted mostly of steel utensils. Some glassware was given but it was far and few. Every gift was to last their lifetime or to be handed over to the next generation. The things were few but sturdy and made to last generations.
I remember, growing up, we did not have a fridge. We used to drink water from a घड़ा। The water was chilled and it provided employment to the local कुम्हार. The milk was boiled twice a day and kept in a small wood cupboard with mesh in front that aerated the food but kept the animals away. The meals were cooked fresh and to be consumed the same day. The food cooked was enough to last a meal with very little leftovers. The leftovers, if any, were not thrown away but usually found their way into the stomach of the less privileged humans or animals.
Even during the cooking, every part of the vegetable was used. I have grown up eating the delicious vegetable made from stems of cauliflower, radish leaves and बथुआ which is considered a weed in many regions. Meat or chicken was a delicacy cooked only once in a while. Lentils were cooked everyday and fulfilled the protein need. The so called superfood these days जोवार, बाजरा, दलिया, कूटू etc were part of our staple diet. We ate what was available during the season and there was no concept of out of season vegetables.
The sustainability was part of our travel too! We used to take food from home – poori sabji, paratha, pulao – you name it and I have memories of having it in train. It was so much fun sharing food and eating it with perfect strangers. Even the food served on trains was in steel thalis. We used to carry water in सूराहि and old newspapers to be used as plates. My parents used to carry steel plates and glasses to use on long journeys. Bed rolls were the norm for overnight journeys and the morning started with a chai in clay कुल्हड़ which we then took turns throwing on the tracks. The snacks on the way were served in डोना पत्तल which were made of leaves and fully biodegradable.
At home, I remember some sustainable rituals. We used to exchange old clothes for steel uensils, automatically recycling the clothes that we were bored with. Another recycle ritual was exchanging old newspapers and books for money – रद्दी money was always mine. The copper and brass vehicles were turned to new by a man who would come to polish them with silver. The cotton doonas were fluffed and repaired yearly to ensure that they lasted. The wooden chairs and beds were weaved with jute ropes and नीवाड्ड till they broke down. You would not throw a thing out till it became unusable.
All the cooking utensils were made of iron, copper or brass, the benefits of which are now being paraded on the internet. There was no detergent to wash them. My grandma used ash, coconut wool and a piece of brick to clean them. The masala was grinded on a stone and mortar and mustard oil was used to cook all vegetables. The local mill was used to get fresh wheat flour with all the bran in it. There was no concept of separating it at the mill – we used to do it at home to take out the unchewable pieces but the rest went in our stomachs.
My mom and grandma made all the अचार and वड़ियाँ at home. The festivals were spent with the whole neighbourhood coming together and cooking together. Catering from outside was an alien concept when I was growing up. The food was served in steel thalis which were all gathered together from the neighbours and celebration was a communal affair.
I remember that even our rituals and festival were geared towards respecting food and avoiding wastage. Food had a goddess called अन्नपूर्णा and how could you throw a goddess away! Even the food that was unpalatable by humans made way to animals or compost.
We used to have few clothes but they were good quality. Fashion meant wearing a saree. My mom used to buy 1-2 sarees a year but she has them till now as they were silk or cotton. The wedding sarees were passed on to the next generation. Jewellery was silver or gold and your daily jewellery did not change with your outfit. The heavy jewellery sets and sarees came out during weddings and you were gifted good quality clothes for close family weddings.
Life was simple and people lived in perfect harmony with the planet and environment. It saddens me to see that we have lost that art and convenience has taken a precedence over quality and sustainability. The only silver lining is that the next generation is becoming more conscious and rediscovering the roots and marrying the convenience with quality. Let us hope that we are able to turn around and infuse the life in our planet before it is too late!