Recycling, Upcycling and Reusing

Written By

Chitra Doraiswami

Recycling, Upcycling and Reusing Loading

I’m talking about the pre-plastic epoch. Before the cell phone, computer and consumerism. Well, yes, pretty close to the Age of the Dinosaurs.

Back then, nobody in India had to be told about recycling or maximizing. If you had a big house, you had enough relatives to fill every room. If you had a small one, you had some staying with you on a semi-permanent basis. This was called maximizing space and money.

And clothes…now, there is no wardrobe big enough to hold all your personal possessions — read, clothes, shoes, handbags.

Then, you had one outfit on you, one drying on a clothesline and one sitting all by itself in a cupboard.

Possibly along with your books, some papers, etc., etc.

You were bought one outfit for a festival…be it Id/Diwali/Christmas; whatever was BIG in your family. You got another dress on your birthday and that was it for the year. Shoes? No Imelda Marcos here — one serviceable pair for school, one prized pair of hawaiis and another being re-repaired at the cobblers.

It isn’t that we were poverty stricken or something. That’s the way things were. Things were meant to last.

I watched my sister like a hawk. I didn’t want her to wreck her clothes. This wasn’t sisterly concern. They would be mine when she outgrew them.

My cousins even tried to get me to buy that one precious birthday dress to suit their aesthetics!

Moms and dads didn’t have it easy either. Usually, the dad’s suit got shinier than any Tamil hero’s brocade tuxedo from constant use. Moms borrowed silk saris from each other, that is, from siblings, mothers and even kindly sisters-in-law. So it seemed like a lot more than three Kanjeevarams — one on a high, hard-to-reach bamboo line, one on the person and one possibly on the eldest daughter or daughter-in-law.

These sarees that now cost the Brunei’s king’s weekly allowance, were subjected to horrific treatment…mis, that is…washed on a stone slab, slapped about, rinsed roughly and splayed out on said bamboo line close to the rafters.

This would be worn sans any ironing with an all-purpose white mull blouse, topped off with all the jewellery the lady possessed. A puff-ful of talcum powder at one end, the prized hawaiis at the other end completed ‘the sola sringar’. If the woman still looked pretty, it was God’s grace!

And no waste anywhere. One dip in the powder box sufficed to give a clown look to mother, sister, younger sister and if the brother didn’t nimbly skip out, even him.

After a few years of such rough treatment, the saree would be cut up to make a skirt (or many, depending on age and size of daughters), the still shiny zari would be sold to an itinerant salesman who after HARD bargaining would give a few stainless steel vessels in exchange for the zari.

The ankle length lengha slowly went up the growing girl’s legs. When it threatened to become a mini, it would be handed down to any smaller female in the family. When we ran out of girls, it would be turned to ‘antimacassars’ (chair backs, thou ignorant one) to prevent the quarter litre coconut oil plastered on gents’ hair from soiling our one and only easy chair. The chair was for the gentleman. The ladies discreetly disappeared into the kitchen to gossip. What would happen if two gents came along? I never did find out.

Nothing would be wasted — not leftovers, time or the sun. Left over rice would get literally up-cycled (on the terrace) after a make- over. Grandpa’s old ‘dhoti ’would be spread in the sun and the rice ‘thingies’ hard and unattractive , would be dried to death and fried later into surprisingly tasty crunchies. The oil in which this yumminess would unfold, would be stored and used to fry dosas and palmed off to unsuspecting kids as tastier than normal dosas, flavoured with pappad-oil. There, those oxidants ingested for years have obviously done me no harm. I’m still around to tell you the tale.

Leftovers saw another cunning plot hatch. The rice, the sambar, several lots of un-loved veggies would be mixed together and cooked till pasty. A huge dollop of ghee would be added and voila, the famous besi-bele-huli-anna was born.

Those anti-macca-what-do-you-callems were never thrown away. Like God, the Indian woman never thought anything to be beyond redemption. It would eke out more time as a shopping bag and finally end as a duster or a mop.

There, I defy you to show me any other country that has done so much recycling! Jai Hind!


For another funny take on waste management read Ma Thoughts: “Aren’t You Going to Finish That?”




Chitra Doraiswami, 69, is from Bangalore. She has written for many publications such as the Deccan Herald, The Times, Femina, Eve’s Weekly, etc. Chitra has many an interesting tale to tell including the one about finishing her Masters along with her son; sadly “only” getting a First Class, where her son got a rank. She joined CMR, NPS as Headmistress two decades ago and is now known as the Associate Principal of the institution. She also has a sixteen year old grandson. Chitra is an avid dancer, reader and drama-enthusiast. She's traveled extensively with her husband who was in the IAF. She taught wherever they were posted. Chitra enjoys teaching people innovative ways of helping children learn, but she is definitely not the prototypical fluffy grandma!

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