December 2015 By Punya Srivatsava Can we lead a life that walks lightly on Planet Earth? Can we shrug off the wants that bind us, and find a lifestyle that enables us to lead a rich happy life in harmony with nature? Punya Srivastava offers four inspiring examples of families who have made the curve, and regained Paradise On a recent vacation in Goa, I happened to stay in Saraya, an eco-stay bed-and-breakfast place with its own organic café and holistic activities-based event calendar. The taste of their organic dishes refuses to leave my mouth – delectable wood-fired pizzas baked in a mud oven and served in a plate made of dried leaves, wholesome pumpkin soup made from home grown squashes, falafel wraps filled with the goodness of organically-made Tahini sauce. The café nestled cosily amidst patches of green growing herbs and vegetables, and was furnished by stone benches set with bamboo and leaf cutlery. Upturned cane baskets hung down from the roof and decorated with strips of discarded glitter, made beautiful chandeliers. Used wine bottles filled with drinking water obtained from rain water harvesting, were placed elegantly on each table. Living in a mud and tree house with nature for company pumped my blood with a strange vigour. Waking up to naturally filtered cool breeze and bird chirpings, brushing teeth in the company of iridescent butterflies, showering in a baked-mud bathtub – everything about that place made me long for a similar eco-home for myself. This world that we inhabit is a manifestation of love – that of the Creator towards its creation. A life which has at its core a feeling of love towards all creation and towards the planet that we live on is the only one worth living. When we make conscious as well as conscientious choices towards the welfare of the whole, we pay our gratitude to the Universe for its perennial providence. Nature herself is a matchless example of sustainable living. All her systems, whether it is the way all living matter crumbles into soil over time which then gives rise to life, or how water from the sea is condensed, taken up in the form of clouds, and descends as pure and life giving rain water every year, are miraculous cycles of sustainability that have been going on forever. Can we also create sustainable life cycles? Can we plant a tree for each that we cut? Can we establish a balance between what we consume and what we produce? In earlier times this was a natural process because our work and lives were embedded in nature. We took from nature and replenished it. We had sacred groves that preserved bio diversity. Farming was organic. Water was pure and so was air. Industrialisation, however, changed all of that. And breached a profound gulf between man and nature. Nature was no longer the foundation of life, but a resource that needed to be conquered and exploited. Industries sprouted all over the world, building cities, and spewing poison into water, air and earth. Paradise lost. The good news is that India is one of the highest ranked countries in the world when it comes to leading a sustainable lifestyle, despite the increasing consumerism since the last 40 years. But we still have a long way to go before we can return to a perfect balance with nature. On our way back A sustainable lifestyle touches every aspect of life, from environment conservation to food choices, from body-mind-spirit wellness to waste management, from economic balance to relationship with nature, from prudent consumption to community living. It is a circle joining many dots. A change in any one of these affects other spheres also, sooner or later. For instance, a friend of my father based in Ahmedabad, is committed to curbing and reducing the use of plastic bags in his life. To ensure this, he refuses to step into MNC-operated supermarkets which lavishly use plastic. Neither does he buy use-and-throw items, packaged water, food or drinks. He makes it a point to shop from round-the-corner kirana stores, buying monthly rations in bulk, customising the purchase quantity to his family’s needs, and ferrying them in reusable cloth bags. His commitment to eschew plastic enables him to eat healthy, fresh food instead of processed junk, saves him the fuel spent on driving to the supermarket, and enables him to build bonds with local shops and service providers. Moreover, his extended family practises gift economy or community barter. Between these six-seven families, they have just one set of tools, special dinner set, vacuum cleaner, and mechanical and plumbing equipment, all of which are used only once in six months. Isn’t this how we co-existed harmoniously some 60 years back? All these activities save his and his family’s carbon footprint, and are bound to make an impact on the world community in much the same way as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil is said to set off a tornado in Texas. Little differences have a large reach in an interconnected world. One needs to adopt practices which impact the body-mind-spirit-environment-community positively at the micro level while keeping in mind their effects at the macro level. The most appropriate first step would be to calculate our individual, and our family’s, carbon footprint, and then adopt measures to steadily reduce them. Calculating carbon footprints might come across as a complex and daunting task as it includes every action we take – from consuming three square meals a day, to going on a vacation once a year. There are many people who have taken themselves completely off the grid in order to lead a holistically sustainable life. Alex Leeor, a British web developer, has made himself a completely self-reliant house called Earthship in Karuna farms in Kodaikanal, which has received liberal media coverage since its construction. Earthship is a concept based on ‘biotecture’ (biologically correct architecture) created by American architect Michael Reynolds. An earthship is a building or home that is built on the principles of thermal or solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity, has contained sewage treatment, is built with natural and recycled materials, and has facilities to conduct its own water harvesting and food production. Alex, 41, who lives with his partner and pet cats, started building his house in 2009 and spent approximately Rs 20 lakh on its construction. Alex is free to lead a life according to personal taste, and does not have to be dictated to by the ruling market forces. According to the Greendex International report (2012) on sustainable living by National Geographic and research firm GlobeScan, India is officially the most sustainability-minded country in the world. Greendex scores are measured according to the four factors of Housing, Transport, Food, and Goods (everyday consumption, plus big ticket items). According to the report, Indians lead the list all through, choosing sustainable transport, despite increase in car purchases, are more likely to eat local, and waste less than consumers in more developed economies. Wow! Let us give ourselves a pat on our back, and pay gratitude to our ancestors for sowing in us an inherent sense of environmental consideration, and inculcating in us values of austerity and contentment. Unlike the West, most of us are brought up with certain values which are respectful towards nature and its various gifts. Many of us still cringe at the thought of throwing away food, abhor using food as entertainment such as throwing pies at people or smearing cake on their faces, insist on making the most of products, find ways to recycle them, and are utterly careful while using resources. Predominantly, we are not a use-and-throw society but a reuse-and-recycle one. Our leftover food finds its way into our morning breakfast menu, our discarded clothing turn into dusters and mops, our shoes and slippers are repaired time and again by the local mochi, and our newspapers are always sold as raddi. This story covers a few such evangelists who lead the way in leading a sustainable life. Dr Anil Rajvanshi Dr Anil Rajvanshi lives in self-made, self-sufficient stone house based on reusing and recycling “Simplifying your life by dropping your wants and reducing your needs is the way to lead a sustainable life,” says Dr Anil Rajvanshi over the phone. Director of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Phaltan (110 km off Pune), Maharashtra, Dr Rajvanshi has devoted his life towards rural development through renewable energy, and is a committed environmentalist. He has made an unconventional house and an alternative lifestyle for himself and his family, increasingly off the grid. He lives in a self-designed house constructed in 1984. It is a stone house with 18-inch thick walls which ensure that the house is passively cooled in summers through wet old jute gunny sacks on the roof. “These sacks are very cheap and cost approximately Rs 15 each. The evaporating water from the sacks cools the roof from where 80 per cent of solar thermal load comes into the house. Thus, when the outside temperature is about 40-45 degree Celsius, the house is cool in the afternoon with average temperature of rooms ranging from 25-30 degree Celsius. The trees surrounding the house help a lot,” he explains. When beyond use, these sacks are either used as mulch in the garden, or as fuel for the water-boiler. “The water boiler is a grate-type multi-fuel model with about a 10-meter long chimney attached to it. This chimney height gives an excellent draught and hence burns the wood and other material quite cleanly,” he says. The ash from this boiler is used as a fertiliser in the garden either directly or through the composting pit. Their kitchen waste is composted in a pit and provides excellent fertiliser for the garden. Most of their groceries and vegetable
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