Communities Practicing Alternative, Conscious, and Sustainable Living
A close brush with nature, in an ashram in Thailand, revitalised Smriti Kharb Magoo, resulting in her permanently adopting a nature-friendly lifestyle
Touched by the fast-changing trends of modern urban life, Pulitzer prize winner Ellen Goodman once remarked, “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for in order to get to a job you need to pay for the clothes, the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”
It resonates with you, right? Well, me too. Most of us living the urban dream are living through this rat race. And we have become so entangled in this web of accumulation that we have forgotten how to live life. We don’t care about our health and environment and have dragged the world to a stage where our natural resources are depleting. The air around us is not breathable, our rivers are dying, and so many species are near extinction. God’s finest creation has, in fact, become a curse for all of nature, heading towards a bleak future.
What we today refer to as an 'alternative lifestyle' is the way to live a normal life. A life where we care for each other, for animals, for the environment, and for our resources, leading to optimal health, happiness, and harmony. Seems tough? I guess, initially, it won’t be easy. But nothing worthwhile has ever been easy. Well, there are some individuals and societies that have already embraced this kind of lifestyle. Now, they eloquently confirm they had never been happier and healthier.
A tryst with nature
Last year, I was forcibly sent on a holiday by my husband, and it has changed me forever. I had been having anxiety attacks for over a year and nothing seemed to work. Then one day, my husband announced that I would be going to Thailand for 10 days. After a lot of debate, arguments, and coaxing, I relented and reached my destination. It was an ashram like I had heard in stories from my father. We had to do all our work by ourselves and also had to render service to the ashram. There, the day started at 4.00 a.m. We did yoga, grew our own vegetables, cooked our own food, looked after the cattle, animals, and plants; just anything and everything that nature beckoned us to do. There were no phones, no television, no Internet; just our chores and minds, and plenty of time of course! After the initial grumpiness, I enjoyed doing all this, and except for missing my family, there was no craving to return from this beautiful sojourn. I loved this life. On my return, when I met my husband at Delhi airport, the first thing he said was, “I missed that twinkle in your eyes all these years”. This unique holiday made me realise the true meaning of living. Until then, I was only surviving, not living. I was just alive and, like a robot, attending to my duties. Thankfully, now I was back to life again. I was filled with love and life instead of stress and anxiety. In a way, I felt closer to God. Expensive bags and watches do not attract me as much as the idea of trekking in the wilderness does. I jump with joy when I see a new fruit in my small terrace garden. It delights me immensely when I use our composted waste to nourish the plants in my garden.
It may initially seem difficult and not doable, but this is really the life we have denied to ourselves. In our rush to climb the career ladder and accumulate wealth, we have ruined our environment, orientation, and health, both physical and mental. It is indeed high time we started living again for ourselves and for nature.
While most of us are guilty of increasing the carbon footprint, there are some individuals and communities that are doing us the greatest service by setting new paradigms of symbiotic living so that all living beings and the environment benefit from them. Yes, an alternative lifestyle! Over the last few years, I have met many such individuals. There is an engineer in Bangalore who uses solar energy for lighting his house and heating water. He has surrounded his house with trees and has his own kitchen garden.
One of my friends has achieved a zero-waste lifestyle and has been living happily to the envy of many on his achievements for the past one year. Another friend in our neighbourhood has been without TV, laptop, and smartphone for the last three years, and I have seen his health blossom in this period. Taking a cue from these few cases, let us now see how such initiatives undertaken at a macro level by certain communities are faring.
Bhutan: A tiny speck on the map, Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world. In Bhutan, it is not the GDP but GNH (Gross National Happiness) that dominates political decisions. 72 per cent of the country is still covered by forests. Interestingly, they amended their constitution by including a clause that forested areas will not drop below 60 per cent in any case. People use hydroelectric power generated by their many rivers. By 2030, they aim to achieve zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions, for which they would be continuously increasing the use of renewable sources of energy. Conscientiously strengthening human bonding with nature, Bhutan also aims to switch completely to electric cars in the next decade. Poorer sections of the society are provided free electricity to reduce their usage of wood-fired stoves.
Kamikatsu: A small idyllic hillside town in Japan is all set to achieve its target of zero waste by 2020. How? Well, it is tough work, but when the whole community stands united, nothing is impossible. The 2000 residents of this town diligently sort their waste into 45 categories, peeling off labels and removing bottle caps in the process. They have a city-wide composting system for managing organic waste. There is a special shop where the residents can drop off unwanted working items and pick up what they need for free. They efficiently reuse 80 per cent of their inorganic waste and have collectively decided to reach the 100 per cent level by 2020.
Auroville: Auroville, an international township in the serene rural surroundings along the Coromandel coast of Tamil Nadu, envisions to realise the Utopic dream where people would live in perfect harmony beyond all beliefs, nationalities, and personal or political interests. They are a self-sustaining society in the southern part of India. People here do not get paid for their work, but they can take up any work of their liking. They have their own organic farms. Restaurants use only eco-friendly power here and close by 6 p.m.
ReGen Villages: This community is a cluster of over 100 energy positive homes on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The residents of this village grow their own food by organic farming, produce their own energy in eco-friendly ways, and recycle their water and waste. This is an ultra-modern neighbourhood with all modern comforts and technology sans harm to the environment and without waste generation. ReGen Villages has inspired similar villages to come up in many places across Europe. Wish there be a similar village around you? Well, it is only a decision away.
In India, we worship trees, rivers, animals, even cow dung. Do you know why? Not because the ritual of worshipping would please our gods but because we need to respect and generate a consciousness among people to take care of every living being and every gift of nature around us. The irony of modern life, however, is that in our greed for accumulating more wealth and luxury, we have misappropriated and vitiated the treasure of nature’s most vital resources that sustain life on this planet. In utter disregard for nature, our mindless industrialisation has contaminated water, air, and food, triggering hazardous diseases that are threatening to become large-scale epidemics in not so distant a future. Today, humanity’s most urgent need is a course correction in its ways of life. Thankfully, such a course correction need not depend upon heavy budgets. Nor do we need to wait for the government to plan and execute mega projects. There is enough we could do in the communities we live in. In my locality, for instance, we have just initiated actions like terrace garden competitions, monitoring waste management, water harvesting, yoga, mud and water therapy sessions, and so on by providing appropriate incentives and challenges. Initial indicators are encouraging and we are upbeat in our quest for a tryst with nature.
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