After lengthy discussions aiming to explain what Global Warming is to my dad, I've decided to stop this endeavour. Failing to convince him that The Lord of the Rings was a fantasy didn't get any where I either. He didn't understand how European history could feature such strange powers. When I explained that it wasn't real, he questioned my motives for watching it if it wasn't real. I just left the conversation there. Moving on from this, I tried to explain simpler things - like how bio-degradable products work. I told him that organic products would inevitably rot away, which (from his Punjabi roots) he quite clearly understood. I went on to mention that other products like plastic bags and bottles would live on for hundreds of years. I wanted to add dramatic effect, so I mentioned that the cash and carry bags that he brought home every Saturday from the market would outlive his grand-children.
Whether or not my dad understood what I was saying was only part of the point. It only scratches the surface of the amount of environmental concerns that simply don't reach their desired audience. Is it a barrier of language or understanding? I particularly felt this way after visiting a recent local Vaisakhi celebration. The event has been taking place in my town for years, and in principle, it's a great celebratory spectacle. In practice a great many issues are revealed. There is a plethora of polystyrene - but where is it all going to end up? My concern here is that as a NRI generation, we're taking one step forwards and two steps back. Wouldn't it would great to see Vaisakhi celebrated like a farmer's market, or something along the lines of a rustic mela in India itself? Surely then we could encourage and inspire people to use re-usable bags and behave in less of a consumerist fashion. We could inspire a whole movement of environmentally aware and sustainable methods of business. Think about visitors sampling home-cooked produce in their home brought Tupperware. I know I'd definitely prefer sampling paneer, Indian-sweets and other delicacies in comparison to being offered supermarket fizzy drinks and fried chips. Since when were chips a mark of Vaisakhi? It may just be me, but doesn’t this indicate a collective sort of laziness???In India, I've been inspired by a generation of people being able to make do and mend with the resources that already exist. The trend for cloth bags started in the streets of India before it ended up in Selfridges. As did the notion of re-use and recycle. Why is it that we have forgotten all of these little tricks and trips that made us so thrifty and resourceful? Surely a little bit of extra disposable income doesn’t mean we need a disposable version of everything? The essential cost and resource saving habits that seem to been born out of necessity have fallen by the way side as we’ve become more consumer focused. India’s growing presence on the global market will probably continue to influence this.
It’s important at this stage to stop and think what can be done to improve the situation and I think the answer lies in going back to traditional Indian methods of business. So, when a community event next comes your way, why not push for food in cloth bags or old newspaper? If news sheet is good enough for spicy corn on the streets of India, then surely it will do here – of course one can take fish and chips as inspiration if they want. In addition, let’s also push for glass bottles. You will have no doubt noticed that the biggest distribution of soft drinks in India is Schweppes. Their branded glass bottles set an excellent example of being able to re-use existing material. Why can’t we initiate a similar system in our NRI communities? An environment agency in New York recently launched a very large campaign to promote the glories of the humble glass bottle. Glass may have its pitfalls – but compare this with the dramatic effect that plastic is having on our planet and then you’ll realise which is the lesser evil.
Naturally, these are all global concerns and the entire world, not just NRIs, should be taking note. However, the message that I want to illuminate is about the ironies in NRI culture. We do so well in our homeland to face adversity. Examples can be seen in the recent trend for all things organic, in new farm-schemes and the everyday struggles those living in slums have to tackle. It can also be observed through traditional country methods or washing, cleaning, grooming (all of which make do without SLS-based products) which is ingenious. We've built up tricks, habits and cultures over generations, so perhaps this is all something we can consider the next time we plan an event or take a trip to the supermarket.