Today, Earth Day, this is much made of with the whole world coming together with programs on how they can save the environment. But it was not always so. The first ever Earth Day celebrated in Mumbai on April 22 1990 at a global level was a pathetic no show.
I remember taking my young girls walking up the Hill only to find that apart from an old Parsi gentleman there was not a soul to be seen at Hanging Garden. And it was quite a walk for two under 10’s so their disappointment was understandable. I was disheartened no doubt but then I realized that we as Indians have been saving the world long before the entire World Earth Day movement began and we didn’t really need an Earth Day to remind us of how we could save the environment!
I remember my grandmother cutting up the butter paper in which the bread was packaged into half – so that she could pack up my 4 Glucose biscuits for my school. She also collected the aluminium foil covers of the milk bottles which she srunched up to scrub off stubborn stains from the kadahi, carefully preserved brown paper bags and envelopes to be reused. Similarly, she carefully collected the string from the baniya’s parcels, lined the shelves of our cupboards with newspaper and made thick card paper into strips so that she could light the gas burner from one flame to the next without using more than one matchstick at a time. It goes without saying that she kept used matches in a box to also light gas burners and pry out dirt from the grouting in the kitchen tiles, and put the last bit of soap in the toilet bowl to clean it rather than just pitching it out.
Clothes were handed down from child to child as were school books and of course newspapers, tins and bottles were sold off to the raddiwalla at the end of the month. Our shopping bags were made out of old curtains and we re-used jam jars and Dalda tins to store groceries and stuff. We walked to our friends’ homes and took the bus to school. We didn’t have showers but made do with half a bucket of water. Of course today’s children would call us cheap and stingy but actually we were thrifty and taught to make full use of what we had.
Recycling was not restricted to mere daily consumption but even bigger items like cars were used by the entire family. I distinctly remember going for a fortnight’s holiday all the way from Bombay to Rajasthan in a non airconditioned Ambassador with two uncles and their wives and the three of us children squashed into the back seat with generous amount of foodstuff and clothing to keep us all warm in the North Indian winter.
We were never told to shut off the lights and fans in the rooms when we left them because that was something we automatically did. We also avoided the lift and preferred using the stairs. So in many ways we were practicing environmentally friendly practices even before they became fashionable. Perhaps that is why Earth Day is of no real significance to us.
As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through baby hood, toddler hood, adolescence and adult hood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share my experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grandmotherhood.