Environment – Let your actions speak

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

As I sit in the 2nd floor balcony nibbling groundnuts (the Yankees call it peanut), the evening breeze brings along the scent of the blooming neem flowers. For your information, I am trying to become a Mahatma like Gandhiji by eating groundnuts but am unsuccessful in procuring goat milk. Someone had remarked wryly (probably Sarojini Naidu) that keeping Gandhiji simple was a costly affair. The soothing neem flower scent reminded me of my responsibility towards the poor street tree. Living on the 2nd floor, how do I take care of the tree that abuts our compound wall? An ingenious idea struck me, as usual! I fixed an earthen flowerpot to the balcony grill and attached a hosepipe to its drain hole and let the tube reach the neem tree butt. The hosepipe, once used as A/C drain tube, was lying abandoned on the terrace. Waste water of kitchen – after washing vegetables, greens, etc. – is poured into this pot to reach the neem tree with a gurgling sound that makes me and the neem tree both happy. This way, the neem tree is watered, the load on drainage system is reduced, and I am able to thank the tree for the fresh scented air and shade. By the by, this year’s World Environment Day’s theme is Air Pollution. Chennai being a coastal city, air pollution is not worse as in landlocked New Delhi.

On her part, my wife wanted to do something towards protecting world environment - kitchen waste composting. I did not know she would ultimately dump it (no, not the waste but the work) on me to keep me active after retirement. So, she tricked me into buying a 3-tier earthen composting set for Rs.1,500/- Now it is my bounden daily chore to put all the vegetable/fruit waste into the topmost pot, stir it well, pour sour curd (for natural and quick composting) and spread coconut peat, all the while covering my nose and holding my breath! But the result of the first pot made me feel like Lord Brahma the Creator. Yes, we had created sand and history! Till now we have ‘created’ two pots of composting material, though not to the desired ISO standard. We were stingy in using sour curd and coconut peat. How can we afford to waste even sour curd when we can prepare ‘mor kuzhambu’ out of it? Mor kuzhambu is like sambhar that can be mixed with rice and eaten, a bit sour and a bit spicy, wow! So we have approached our neighbours to chip in with sour curd. Well, after all, it is their environment also. As for coconut peat, the husk removed from coconuts used for cooking is finely chopped and applied instead. Alas! I am doing this additional chopping duty also for the sake of environment. Idea is hers, implementation is mine! Home composting also reduces the burden of the local authorities. Whereas earlier we were disposing of wastes on daily basis, now it is once in ten days, as it is mostly paper waste.

 At this point, I remember with shame what I was doing as a bachelor in Gangtok, Sikkim. Like everyone else, I used to throw the wastes into the nearby jhora (drainage / storm water nullah) that would flow really ferociously during rains. People living close by would conveniently throw through the windows itself. I don’t remember of any systematic garbage collection back then. On its part, the Chennai Corporation is trying its best to segregate waste at source itself – beginning from individual’s houses. We handover the plastic wastes once in a while to the doorstep collector.

It is with disdain that I go through WhatsApp messages but a message changed one of my careless habits. It was about Corner Cutting, cutting the corner of milk sachets/plastic covers. This discarded corner cuttings ultimately amount to tons of plastic waste that escape recycling. Though recycling plastic is not a good thing but unavoidable, the escaped plastic wastes choke our drains and land, preventing water recharging. Though tiny, these tidbits are, in particular, more dangerous. Seems to be so trivial a thing but how crucial for safeguarding our environment! But it is a tricky business to pour milk without cutting the corner of milk sachet. It needs precision practicing – with a pair of scissors make an incision near the corner and progress further towards the corner to make a small opening; now, hold this opening tightly with your fingers and invert the sachet into a vessel to slowly release the fingers. There you are! After trials and errors, I am an expert in this art; so, the duty of pouring milk and boiling it has also fallen on my head. Then what is the big deal in preparing a cup of hot ‘kaappi’ (coffee) for my better-half first thing in the morning. That way you keep her cool throughout the day. Well, it is my sincere advice to adopt this trick along with the corner cutting skill!  Both the inside and outside environs will be safe.  

The next was a joint decision – to paint the terrace with reflective white paint. Yes, it has definitely reduced the inside temperature and the EB bill, but is it good to boomerang the heat to the sun? We gave up the idea of full solar power as it costs about a lakh rupee; whereas the paint cost Rs.7000 and would last only for 4-5 years, the solar panels would have lasted further and also served as permanent covering for the terrace. Replacing the terrace tiles with special white reflective tiles was given up as a costly affair.

It is also suggested that while washing clothes – either by hand or by machine – don’t completely dry the clothes. Put them dripping wet on the clothesline so that the atmosphere absorbs some moisture. I dutifully follow this idea as I prefer hand-washing the clothes. The truth is I am aged and I can’t wrench the clothes completely dry but pretend to be a bogus environmentalist!