Recently, this potent expression, “In darkness we see that hides in light”, by Mr. Mukesh Kwatra in the recent Times of India Coronasutra entertainment section got me thinking hard. The last line of Mr. Kwatra’s poem on the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak was brought to my attention by my mother, a poetess herself, so she can help me understand the depth of it. And when I did, the essence of it remained with me through the day.
This year has been so different. I, and I am sure many of us, have never witnessed anything like this before where the world, with all its faiths, technology, and might is brought to a halt and is unable to cope with the challenge that nature has presented it. While it has been a relief to slow down a bit and consume less in many ways, it has also been tough in recognizing what we are going through in terms of our existence vis-a-vis our relationships, career, health, contribution to society, etc.
My generation has learnt how to get from being busy to becoming busier with all the technology that has evolved in our lifetime. Now when we are forced to use all of it by staying indoors, one realizes that technology cannot fill the emptiness that is caused by lack of access to nature and people one loves. However, one can hope to get some relief by looking inward and by counting our blessings, by appreciating what nature has given us and that which we haven’t had the time to appreciate thus far. And in these times of aloofness, darkness, see that we never really see – search soul, acknowledge the treasures we own in terms of relationships, friends, health, and the treasures we must seek such as peace, trust, goodwill, knowledge, compassion.
Today is 107th day of being at home and I have been thinking of all these things over the last few months. While life has been extremely hectic, I have utilized this phase to thank the cosmos for the innumerable good that exists around and that has kept me going. Here are a few things I am grateful for:
Having means to earn a living, and sustain
Having a family that’s always there for me (spouse, parents, inlaws, cousins)
A secure, peaceful, ventilated abode
Being fit enough to carry on
Friends that are there, yet are absent : )
Being able to provide sustenance to the house help
Having access to walkways I can use daily to connect with nature
Plants I can care for
The ‘giving’ sentiment God has blessed me with
Opportunity to read books that I have been wanting to read
The revival of nature, reduction of pollution
Learning to be empathetic
Being blessed with decent will power
Experiences that taught me patience
A fulfilling life thus far.
I will add to this as I focus more on counting my blessings. If you want, share your list in the comment and we can together realize how much we have to thank for!
I recently visited Meghalaya, one of the most beautiful states of India, situated in the north-eastern part of the country. This was my first tour of the north-east, to Assam and Meghalaya, two of the popular ‘seven sisters of India’ as they are called. While my visit to Assam was much of what I had expected to see, the tour of Meghalaya was an eyeopener.
Here are 8 things profound in Meghalaya that made me reflect hard on our ways of living in the cosmopolitan, metropolitan cities. Take a bow, Meghalaya!
1. Clean your own mess Nearly every household in Meghalaya, particularly in the surrounding areas of Shillong and in Sohra, takes care of its garbage. They not only reuse stuff a lot, but also make compost of the wet waste, burn the rest of the waste and then use the ashes as a soil fertilizer. The government agency does come for waste collection but what’s noticeable is that people neatly pack the garbage in bags or covered bins before keeping it outside their houses for the regular pick up. People are generally conscious of not creating waste, disposing it only where there is a dustbin, and keeping their surroundings clean. For miles, on the road, in the hills, around the lakes, in the grasslands, nowhere one would see any waste, and therefore touring the state is a pleasurable experience and the only thing you are to see in Meghalaya is its extraordinary beauty. Unlike some of the cosmopolitan and metropolitan city dwellers of India and indifferent administration, people in Meghalaya seem very particular about keeping their houses and city/villages clean.
It is admirable that from the lowest to marginal to large income families, nearly everyone in Meghalaya makes an effort towards keeping their place clean, making their state probably the cleanest in India. And that deserves respect because no other state in India that I have visited has been able to match up to this level of conscious effort from residents and the government.
2. Go organic The people in Meghalaya seem to have a deeper connection with nature. Both the residents and the government opt for maximum use of organic material. For example, extensive use of bamboo, roots, natural herbs, wild plants, etc. can be seen in the stuff that is being used in houses and in the state, in general. For example, nearly all over the state the government has put dustbins made of bamboo. It doesn’t get affected by rains, it is easily replaceable, and it is cost-effective! I feel it is a vicious circle – they preserve nature, which leads to better weather conditions, better green cover and which in turn gives them easy access to organic produce for use.
3. Dustbins everywhere It’s true. This is the first state I have seen in India which has a dustbin at nearly every 100-200 meters. It was simply super cool! I always feel that one of the main reasons why cities like Delhi and Bangalore have turned into garbage cities is because there are no dustbins, for miles! And the ones that are there are either full or do not have a base! There is no regular collection/clearance either! In Meghalaya, not only were the dustbins made of organic material (which also promotes local industry), but they were also placed everywhere at a uniform distance and they were being cleared with great discipline, even in remote areas. I did not see any overflowing dustbin, rather each one in Sohra (which is the wettest place on the planet) was covered with a reused cement bag to prevent the trash from getting wet! I wish municipal corporations in India visit Meghalaya, instead of making trips to foreign countries, to learn how to manage city waste!
4. Reuse It is amazing how the entire state is focused on reuse. In Sohra particularly, the street lights are covered with not glass or metal lampshades but by reused, half-cut plastic bottles/jars. It not only reduces the plastic pollution but also protects the lights from the constant rain in the region. And, again, it is durable, cost-effective, and easily replaceable. I found it quite an innovative model adopted not only by the people but also accepted by the state government. Imagine if we adopt the same for all of India in some manner – we could reuse a considerable amount of plastic and save on generating more waste.
5. Kindness matters The culture of a state/region matters a lot when it comes to tourism. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, a state where you need to be wary of thieves, eve-teasers, fake guides, etc. around the tourist spots, touring Meghalaya is very safe. People are generally kind. Even the very low-income groups living in remote areas are kind in offering help if you need it. In my five-day tour, there are several instances where we stopped for tea and snacks and witnessed locals’ kindness towards each other, be it a free tea or a free ride or an affectionate bowl of soup! When people are happy, and share a hearty smile, the general mood/the environment is light. In Meghalaya, especially in Sohra, one could feel it almost everywhere.
6. Endurance Living in the hills can teach you a lot. Life in the hills is hard, the weather conditions, the distances, the lack of proper livelihood, the lack of facilities, etc. make living daily life quite a task. I believe endurance comes naturally to the people who live in the hills. In Meghalaya too I found that people have far more endurance and acceptance of life as is than we who live in the well-provided for environments. I find that quite admirable. To learn to live life at its pace, not rush it or fret about it, is something one could learn from them.
7. Care for nature
Nearly every household in Meghalaya is a garden! No matter the size of the house, every home is well kept with nice little windows and white lace curtains, and a welcoming garden of flowers or an alley of potted plants. People are very careful about preserving nature. They care for it, nurture it, and protect it diligently. I also found that people are quite conscious of how their actions could harm nature and they try avoiding them. A conscious effort not to litter is just one of the things that’s on the list. And that is why all over the state one can see clean, abundant flowerbeds on the roadside, grasslands, flowers and vegetable gardens in the houses, well-maintained parks and lakes, and untouched natural beauty. I feel much of Meghalaya’s beauty is nature’s gift to its inhabitants for the care they offer towards its upkeep.
8. Live like a community Last but not least, I found a great camaraderie and a sense of community in the people of Meghalaya. It makes a lot of difference to a tourist to see the people of a state as one community, and a welcoming one at that! In a 10-day tour, I never saw a fight, heard no arguments, no abuses, no accidents. I am not doubting that they all must be existing but no one was washing their dirty linen in public. Why I point this out is because there are places where the behavior of the locals among themselves can tell a lot about the culture of the state, which at times is not a pleasant realization. I feel that people in Meghalaya are aware that they are a tourist-friendly state and they are supposed to behave responsibly. It almost looks like there is an understanding among them and certain behavior is promoted as a community.
I hope this list evokes curiosity in you to visit this beautiful state and contribute to its economy. Do write in if ever you visit Meghalaya and are able to observe any of these eight things. It would be great to learn from your experience. Also, I hope someday someone will take inspiration from this to start making amends, at home, and drive change to make our cities technologically advanced, yet naturally beautiful.
I recently watched BBC Earth’s Blue Planet documentary series. It made me realize so strongly that we are on a planet after all! It also made me think what we, human beings, are doing on the planet. Are we contributing to keeping its beauty alive or are we just protecting what is left? Are we as a species really using the intelligence we were born with?
Think about it. Our planet is so beautiful in so many ways – its waters harbor a totally different world than what we have on the land. And the land, with whatever natural patches are left, is equally beautiful. The world beneath is full of life and depicts colors, growth, innovation, survival instincts, different behaviors, etc. How are we, human beings, trying to retain the beauty of this planet we were gifted with? It may sound harsh but from what I have observed, I think we are too busy either consuming it, littering it, or, thanks to a few, preserving what we have been left with.
We must understand that we cannot regenerate the beauty that we originally have or had, on land and underneath. For example, we can only grow trees but we cannot grow mountains, we cannot create new plant species which are good for the planet, in several ways we cannot do what nature can. We can only protect what is left. None of our actions are ever going to make this planet remain as beautiful as we have it today, as the rate of destruction is far greater than the rate of protection.
We are spread all over the land available to us on this planet and yet we have managed to destroy it, unlike our neighbors under the sea who are not only fighting the change of times (forced upon them by human actions) but are also finding ways to innovate to keep their world intact, and it’s nature’s act of balancing. We, on the other hand, are not only largely unaware of how we need to act to keep our planet green and beautiful (I say this largely because of the apathetic attitude of most of us when it comes to environmental issues), but also do not have a plan as a species how to stop generating waste and e-waste, cutting trees, destroying forests, filling wastelands, killing wildlife, wasting natural resources, and finding comfort in ignorance.
The world around me seems too busy with following innumerable purposes except for caring for the planet we are on!
In India when I visit old monuments and sites I realize that our previous generations were very conscious of nature – they were conscious of maintaining hygiene, they had planned cities that took take care of waste, drainage, and severe weather conditions, and they worshipped natural resources and used them with care. They gave a lot of value to planting trees and maintaining the ecological balance. I am sure earlier civilizations across the world would have had a similar philosophy. And with the evolution of human beings, and of technologies, we now have several means of living a more comfortable, sheltered, life with no real requirement of protecting our planet till there is nothing left to consume, or till the time it really hits us with a devastating realization that it’s too late to salvage the planet.
It reminds me of an advertisement on a radio channel in India some time ago. It was something like this – a fire breaks out in a building and people panic. They get desperate to extinguish it but since the city has run dry and there is no water available in large quantity, they start thinking about alternatives – coconut water? bottled water? What can douse a fire except for water? And that’s the message – Save water for a safe future. And that’s so true in case of most of our natural resources.
The recent water crisis in Chennai in India is a sign of a strugglesome future that’s not very far for all of us. It’s actually late but we can still start working as a community across the world, go beyond the boundaries we have marked ourselves in, and change our acts for the greater good, else we are all in our own small and big ways paving a path for our collective suffering, and probably destruction.
Three graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, Ankur Kumar, Kanika Prajatat and Pracheer Dutta have developed a machine that can convert the hardy straw of paddy into a fibrous raw material that can be used by the pulp molding factories to prepare disposable cutlery.
In India despite a Supreme Court order, and a government scheme that offers stubble management machines at subsidized rates, farmers continue to burn crop residue after harvest, as they find it cheaper than clearing the crop residue manually or by using machines. The practice is rampant across rice-growing belts as paddy straw is neither a suitable fuel nor can be used as cattle feed. The situation is worse in Punjab and Haryana as the smoke resulting from burning the residue chokes Delhi and envelops the entire northern India with dense toxic smog for weeks.
Paddy straw is rich in silica, which slows down its rate of degradation and hence farmers choose to burn it post harvest to make the land reusable faster. The new machine, created by the trio as the first product of their startup Kriya Lab, uses an environment-friendly chemical that can strip the straw of silica, making it supple and usable. The pulp can be used as raw material for the pulp and paper industry.
For now the machine can convert one ton of paddy straw into 500 kilograms of pulp, which can then be sold at Rs. 45 per kilogram. It holds promise for those who want to start commercially viable ventures as there is a growing demand for ecofriendly cutlery and packaging materials, particularly the ones made from biomass waste. Read more
A team of scientists at the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, and the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, has developed a non-toxic technique to recycle plaster of Paris (PoP) waste from hospitals and convert it into useful materials such as ammonium sulphate and calcium bicarbonate.
In hospitals and other medical centers PoP is mainly used for setting broken or fractured bones or for making casts in dentistry. It is a hazardous waste, loaded with bacteria, and affects not only the environment, but also people who collect, segregate, and dispose it.
The new technique treats PoP waste with ammonium bicarbonate solution with a concentration of 20 percent. The solution disintegrates the waste into high value and non-toxic chemicals, ammonium sulphate and calcium bicarbonate in the form of sludge in 24-36 hours at room temperature.
The resultant material ammonium sulphate can be utilized as nitrogen fertilizer, fire-extinguishing powder, and in pharmaceutical, textile, and wood pulp industries, while calcium carbonate can be easily used in steel manufacturing.
The new technique can also be used to disintegrate PoP waste from idols immersed in water bodies.
The study results have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. Read the full report by Vaishali Lavekar.