We feel incompetent when it comes to aiding the planet, with most of us pointing fingers at the establishment or other agencies or just about anyone other than ourselves. However, people like Anamika Mukherjee are taking concrete steps to look after the planet by redefining their lives, says Jamuna Rangachari
After a recent visit to my home town, Bangalore, my husband and I kept reminiscing about the garden city we had grown up in. We felt sad about how it has now become a terribly polluted urban mess. On my return, almost like an answer to our thoughts, I came to know about Anamika Mukherjee, a Bangalore-based technical writer and author. She and her family live in a mud brick house. This seemed like a fairy tale, and I wondered how they managed to live in such a rustic environment within the city. A story—remarkable yet simple in its approach— unfolded.
Baby steps to a cleaner life
Anamika, having been brought up in a house with a garden, in Chandigarh, was fond of nature. As both she and her husband, Amit, were fond of greenery and nature, they often wondered if their children would be able to understand and enjoy nature like they did.
With these thoughts forming their ideology, Anamika soon got sold on the idea of living in a mudbrick house when Amit, an entrepreneur and avid water conservationist, found an architect who specialised in mudbrick construction, in 2012.
When I asked Anamika what or who really inspired her to take the bold step of living in a mudbrick house amidst the mayhem of the city, she paused and said, “We didn’t have any external inspirators as such, apart from a desire to live a more nature-harmonious life. For Amit, it was about sustainable living. For me, it was about uninterrupted, off-grid power supply, conservation of water, and providing my children with a small green space where they could grow up amidst trees, flowers, grass, vegetables, birds, bees, even spiders.”
Choosing to build a mudbrick house meant reducing the enormous amount of construction material and transportation required to build a modern house. This option allowed them to enjoy a significant cut in the cost as well as in the generation of carbon footprints. Moreover, a mudbrick house allowed them to do without fans for most of the year as mudbrick walls help to keep the house cool during the day and warm during the night, cool in summer and warm in winter.
Simplicity and sustainability
When I understood the process, I realised how it was all about not wasting but conserving all that which nature has bestowed us with. Anamika and her family have formulated a simple system. They segregate waste and generate compost for their garden. They ensure that they use water carefully. “We are currently at less than 50 litres per head per day, which is unbelievable by any standards,” Anamika shared.
They then route most of the used water to irrigate the plants. They grow some of the vegetables and run all the electrical gadgets on solar power. They survive about nine months of the year on rainwater. Currently, they are not completely off-the-grid and might never be because of the indispensable presence of technology in our lives. But much of what they do is easily doable, even without making drastic changes in one’s lifestyle, and even if one is living in a rented accommodation or in an apartment. [See the simple tips given in the box.]
Though Anamika’s daughters sometimes crib about living in a rustic environment, she informs that they have learnt a lot about nature and even gardening. This is indeed one of the best bonuses that the family has obtained.
Much more than the practical tips that Anamika shared with me, I was most impressed with her faith in herself and her complete commitment to the cause of environment and a truly sustainable development. Even if everyone does not do all that she is doing, I am certain that at least some steps, shown by this remarkable family, could be taken by everyone.
Compost kitchen waste: Seriously, it’s not that hard once we make it a habit. Composting shows us how energy can always be recycled.
Plant something: It could be coriander, basil, flowers, trees, or anything that is possible in the scenario we are in. We can have a few pots on the veranda, lucky bamboo on a table, or a small vertical garden; even a small flower planted in a pot on a windowsill will brighten up our world. We can try indoor plants to clean up the air.
Turn down the taps: Access the flow control valve usually found under the counter in the kitchen or bathroom. By turning it to low, we get water at a trickle instead of a flood. Most of the time, we don’t need a thick stream of tap water to get our chores done. Turning off taps while brushing and soaping is another important practice to implement.
Fix leaky faucets: Identifying leaky faucets, whenever and wherever you see them, helps in the long run.
Drip irrigation: Consider a drip irrigation system to deliver just enough amount of water right at the root of the plants. This ensures optimum irrigation while conserving water.
Implement rainwater harvesting system: This may require a little planning and one-time expense but would benefit us a great deal in the long run. We can retrofit it onto an existing building. Ideally, we want to use this water for daily consumption, so we need a large holding tank. If we don’t want to do that or can’t, we can use this water to recharge groundwater. This is also a huge benefit over having thousands of litres of rainwater run off into the drainage system, where it is polluted by sewage and discharged into rivers.
Use solar power: We can retrofit it onto existing buildings and, yes, we can implement it even in an apartment. The wiring for solar power is done at the main fuse box and isn’t very different from the wiring done for a regular inverter for power backup. We do need space to park the batteries, though. The solar panels must be placed in a location that gets sufficient sunlight and where we can easily clean dust off the surface—either on a wall or terrace, or on the rooftop. If we choose to place the solar panels on the rooftop of a high-rise, we must keep in mind that there could be significant transmission losses in the wire running from the panels to our fuse box.
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