If you have not grown up wearing your older sibling’s clothes, this post is not for you. If you are the older sibling, then perhaps you may have grown with your trouser folds getting lengthened by the friendly neighbourhood tailor who took job-work to unravel the bottom seams your trousers. Also called “alteration”. In the place I grew up in such gentlemen had painted boards outside their establishments announcing loudly in bold fluorescent colours: “Ultration”. If you have experienced neither, please do not continue; this post is not for you.
One of my pet peeves as I was growing up was to wear clothes which my elder brother had discarded. There was nothing wrong with the garment- mind you- it is just that the thought of wearing my brother’s used clothing was abhorrent to me during those days of growing up. My teen angst was at full flow at this “injustice”. I would think of all the nasty things which I would do to my brother’s clothes just to avoid wearing them. I tried one of these nasty things once, I slashed with a shaving blade a tear along the length of the trouser. No avail, the tear got darned by the same alteration specialist. And the trouser was back with me again. If I ranted about the frayed collar, the alteration specialist would turn the collar around and make the shirt as good as new, or so he and my parents claimed.
If you identify yourself with what I have just written, then perhaps this post is for you.
I grew up in late 60’s and early 70’s when India was still in the clutches of Nehruvian socialism. It was the time when my father had to join a long waiting list for a watch, an HMT watch. When a Bajaj scooter meant a wait of at least eight to ten years before it was delivered. And more importantly, my father’s salary as a college teacher was not good enough to provide lavishly for the family. Supply in general was meager in the country those days, money backing the demand was even more scarce.
Given the general mismatch between goods’ supply and ability to buy goods, recycling was the order of the day.
Let us take for example the humble incandescent lamps which were the commonly used lighting accessories- fluorescent tubes (then called “Mercury light”, or “Markari lite” in the part of India I was growing up in) were not affordable. Hell broke loose when the lamp- called “bulb” colloquially- fused. Each member of the family would blame the other for this colossal disaster. “You have been switching this bulb on-and-off so very often” was the accusation. And then the eldest amongst us would be summoned to resolve the problem. The concerned would climb up to the bulb affixed on the wall socket. A study table would be arranged right under the errant bulb and a “stool” perched atop the table to facilitate ease of access. Multiple hands would hold the table as the rescuer clambered atop the stool and removed the fused bulb. He (it was always a he) would peer into the innards of the bulb and check if the filament was long enough to be fixed. He would shake the bulb around- a twist here and a rattle there- hoping the broken ends of the filament got realigned. There was a sigh of relief if he could manage this or a gasp if he finally declared that the filament was broken to pieces and there was no way that he could get the bulb working all over again. The “rescuer” would gingerly alight with a doleful look on his face, mindful of the general gloom prevalent in the crowd below. The crowd soon cheered up as they realized that they had found a new receptacle for their botanical pursuits, a planter.
The top of the bulb was carefully decapitated to leave a gap between the- well- the bulb of the dead bulb. Water was filled in, a botanical specimen placed into this water-in-the-bulb and the bulb was suspended along the sides of the living room wall. What a lovely decoration for the drawing room! And the afore-mentioned plant was more often than not the creeper, “money-plant”. What an appropriate specimen to reflect the aspirations of a middle-class family!
And when this planter failed, the bulb was used as a fodder for “manjha” for the kite sting. It was crushed to powder and added to the gooey mix which served a coating to the thread used to fly kites to give them their murderous edge.
My school, run by Roman Catholic priests, had this periodic campaign to get the students to get old newspapers from home. The class which could get the maximum kilograms of newspapers would be declared the winner. And we would go around with fervor to collect as much as could for the benefit of the class. Sometimes the organizer would get creative and ask us to convert the newspapers into a packet. Our school was asking us not only to collect the paper but also to do some value-adding work with it viz. converting them to envelopes. A packet to dispense medicinal tablets in, for example. Now this is basic origami and we all were familiar with it.
By the way, if you want to know what happened to the old newspapers, here is the answer; they all showed up as packets- called “thonga” in Jamshedpur- at the local grocer’s shop. That is, if they were not appropriated as text-book coverings.
Old cotton sarees were recycled as bandages and swabs and much else. Empty plastic bags of milk were milked further to generate some additional revenue for the family. Remember those pouches stuck to the wall next to kitchen sink awaiting the local kabadi-waalah? Aluminum caps of milk bottles were used likewise. Used rubber bands from the mithai boxes from the local halwai (“sweet-marts” in my town) adorned the end of pencils and served as emergency erasers. Old shaving blades were used as pencil sharpeners. Old diaries as dhobi account books and old calendars as books coverings. Discarded clothes were handy in buying steel utensils. And the reverse of used envelopes served as rough paper. I am sure you can think of several other recycling stuff.
What about the used- and utterly emaciated- bars of bathing soaps, “Jai”, Lux” “Rexona”, “Moti” and “Hamaam”? These were dutifully used as hand-cleansers after nature’s call. “Potty-soaps”, if you will!
Unfortunately the one thing which cannot be recycled is the experience of living in those times!