22 April 2012

Balcony garden - recycling water to use in the garden

Looking at green stuff poking out of different views in our house brings me immense joy. So I have put in time to make our balcony spaces green. When N moved here a year ago, I plucked a spider plant and waxy money plant that were hanging out on a sidewalk  These beauties have now grown (Insets). After moving to Bangalore, I set about expanding this collection. Luckily, we have ample balcony space, and importantly, this space catches sunlight marvelously. We now have a row of herbs in the more shady balcony and a varied collection of vegetables on the other (Bottom picture). Thanks to valuable tips and detailed instructions by the Geekgardener, I have also started growing vegetables from seeds. 
Although this hobby is very satisfying, it comes with guilt - because of the water I need each day to pour into these plants. For the past three months, most plants have required daily watering due to the heat, which makes the current requirement about 15 litres a day!

Water is a precious resource and as we are finding out, in limited supply when not managed correctly. The newspapers are filled each day with pictures of people standing in long queues for water, stories of the water mafia and farmers with wilted crops due to drought. In this context, my hobby is almost a sin. For although the plants bring much happiness, they contribute nothing to our community. I am using a shared resource but not returning anything into the resource-pool that can be shared.

Thus in the past weeks I have been trying to think of ways to recycle the water in my apartment. I am aware of the technologies that are available today - rainwater harvesting, hydroponics etc., that could input into this cause. However, we live in rented accommodation and I have limited time. Not the best excuses but that's reality for you. The question I asked was simple - what behaviour modification is possible that would allow me to water the plants without tapping into a fresh supply? Here is what I have come up with. 
Dishes soaking in water and collected during cooking

I have placed a bucket next to our sink and fill it up with all my kitchen waste water. The natural tendency when we put dishes in the sink is to rinse them in some water before soaping. Now where is that water going? Instead of the sink, why not the bucket? We rinse greens in several washes of water, which is yet another source for the bucket. Below is a snapshot of our sink. We made idlis for breakfast. today. The container that held the batter is a mess and requires a thorough soaking. Instead of adding soap to the soaking water, I now simply let the water be. After a few minutes, the batter easily comes into the water and can now be added to the bucket. This way, each time any item is rinsed (blender container, coffee mugs, curry pots, my kitchen compost intermediate box), the rinsed-off water can be added into the bucket.
Waste water collected from dish rinses
Nothing I have stated above is original. In many homes, this is already practiced. The reason I am writing about it is because I found that simple behaviour modifications have helped to significantly elevate our water utilization efficiency. Sure, the bucket is mucky and stinks a bit, but I am sure the plants don't mind. I have tried to train my kitchen help to contribute to this, but its been slow going. She's great with chopping everything up for the compost though so I am hoping that with time she will incorporate this idea. Fortunately N does most of our dishes and he's been cooperative. Often, I just rinse out the dishes, pour out the water and then place them in the sink. Together, we have some sort of system and on an average I am able to meet at least 80% of my requirement through this. And if you did think that kitchen waste water is toxic, below are pictures of the plants from our balcony that have been getting a daily dose of this stuff!

20 April 2012

Thanks Ma

It had been Murugan's idea. It was not a desire that he had ever discussed with her and he had not sought her opinion on it either. Instead, much unlike him, he started planting small subtle hints in their everyday conversation. They would be holding hands and he would comment that he wanted their child to have her fingers. Or while she sipped coconut water, he would look lovingly into her eyes, sigh, look heavenwards and as if in prayer, ask for their child to have her eyes. So strong was the psychological imprint of this approach that when she became pregnant, Rukmini had felt that it had been a plan all along. As she swelled, she had hoped that the baby would help their families reconcile with them. The elopement was a bitter development for both their families and their union had not been accepted. What had once been warm relationships for both of them with their mothers, had turned into meaningless acquaintances. Rukmini hoped a baby would change all that and more.

Murugan had been a caring husband: monitoring her diet and supplements, fussing about her clothes, and accompanying her on every visit to the doctor. Each day she would have to recount the number of eggs she consumed, or cups of milk she had drunk. If he felt that she was wavering from the prescribed diet she would find reminder notes: on the fridge, in her purse, sometimes even in the lunch box she took to work. Although Rukmini appreciated the thought behind the mollycoddling, she found it claustrophobic, and secretly wanted to deliver the child as soon as possible so that Murugan's attention could be focussed elsewhere.

The accident had happened when she was in her last trimester, about a month away from the predicted due date. She had been informed at work - two policemen had come to her office and taken her aside to the manager's cabin. Rukmini had received the news calmly, and till this day, she does not understand why she reacted the way she did. Considering that Murugan was the only family she had, she should have crumpled into a heap, immobile in distress and weeping inconsolably. Instead, at that time she accepted his death completely, not even holding on to the hope that they may have the wrong body.

She had called Murugan's mother after she had confirmed the identity of the body. The family had rallied around immediately and without a preamble, claimed Murugan for their own. Not only was Rukmini overlooked, her pregnancy was blatantly ignored. It was this denial, despite a clear distortion in her bony frame, that plummeted her into a silence. She could neither cry nor speak. Murugan's family used this as an excuse to exclude her from their collective grieving. They asked her to be absent at the public ceremonies that accompanied the last rites and wished for her to leave. Rukmini did not even consider informing her family.

Once home, her isolation was complete. She couldn't remember what she did with her time; she had no memory of eating, cleaning or sleeping. The days melted into one another: a dark continuum that seemed to stretch forever. It was an unexpected phone call from the doctor's office that had forced Rukmini to acknowledge the life within her. He had made the appointment, and they had called to reschedule. During that phase, Rukmini could not even bring herself to say his name.

The doctor's visit had been her first social interaction in weeks and it had been difficult. Finding her voice was an overwhelming and tiring task. Inane questions strangers asked her because she was pregnant had previously been an amusing irritation; now all she heard was a torturous high-pitched sound. It was easier to ignore them than ask her mind to find the energy to engage with it. The doctor had confirmed that she and the baby were in good health, and handed her checklists to prepare herself for labour. When Rukmini saw the strongly beating heart in the sonograph, she had finally allowed her mind to form the words to reflect her feelings: She did not want to give birth. She had wanted the the baby to go away, dissolve, and she along with it. 

The silence and numbness had continued. She still cannot recall how she managed to get to the hospital when the labour pains started. But she remembers the pain of labour and the incessant chatter that the woman sharing her labour room indulged in. Despite receiving no encouragement from Rukmini, she had blabbered on, taking a break only when a sharp contraction distracted her from thinking.

Rukmini had given birth to a healthy girl. When the nurse held the child up to her, she turned her face. She couldn't bear to look at the child or hold her, for she remained a memory from Rukmini's life with Murugan, which no longer existed. The staff was surprised. The doctor tried to cajole, matriarchal nurses were called in and finally a psychiatrist was summoned. Rukmini remained uncompromising; she could not explain herself and her acute involuntary silence compounded everyone's misery. Somehow the hospital had pieced together that her husband was dead and had tracked down her mother. It was she who concluded the entire affair.

The woman who had shared Rukmini's room had given birth to a still born child. To relieve her of breast milk, the hospital staff had handed her Rukmini's baby. Noticing how the woman held the baby, it was Rukmini's mother who suggested giving the child up for adoption. In Rukmini's state, she was incapable of taking care of the child and with the existing family dynamics, it would have been impossible for her mother to bring home Rukmini and the child. Rukmini, whose predominant thought was to be washed away at sea, had agreed without much thought. She wanted to leave the hospital, leave Murugan's memory and sleep, never to wake up again. Either sensing her desperation, or simply out of maternal instinct, her mother decided to take charge and nursed Rukmini to a living state. Her mother had also kept the child a secret from the rest of the family and took it to her grave.

It had been a slow recovery equally populated by bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts and nightmares. It took her months to just start talking and once she started, she felt like a flood unleashed. Only after she had exhausted her quota of self-pity, did she start thinking about what to do next. The bar was born then.

When Namrata had wailed about how unfair it was that she was adopted, Rukmini had thought about her daughter. She had realized much later in life that it was a choice. It was not good or bad. A choice that she made, perhaps she did not think it through, but in the state that she was in, it was possible that she wasn't well enough to anyway. In her depressed and suicidal state, and without family support, Rukmini thinks that she would have made a poor mother. But would her daughter understand that?

Author's Note:
This story has taken more than 5 weeks to come together mostly because the tone is rather sad and I am in quite a happy state-of-mind. Writing the piece was hard because I had to describe emotions I have not felt so acutely and also, because I have never been pregnant. Thus in terms of my evolution as a writer, this piece is significant. Enjoy!

1 April 2012

Rules at Traffic lights for Dummies who decide to drive/ride in Bangalore

# 1 Green means go, Orange means speed up and Red means dart without looking left or right.

# 2  If you drive a car, ensure your rear view mirrors are tucked inside. This helps two wheelers slip more easily between the curb and your car.

# 3  Honk indiscriminately. It helps to identify yourself on the road in case the invisibility cloak shield on your vehicle self activated.

# 4 Do not leave a single inch vacant. If you can't wedge yourself in, don't move. Let other fearless and common-sense challenged individuals race past.

# 5 It does not matter if you wish to make a right or a left. Don't try to get in lane. Just move in whichever direction the traffic is going. Then when you reach the critical junction, turn on your indicator, crank up the music in your ears (to muffle the sounds of ire from others) and blindly make the turn.

# 6 Auto drivers are always right.

# 7 Throw away your maps. If you need directions, simply wind down your window (if you are conscious about fuel efficiency, you could turn off the A/C first) or lift the wisor of your helmet and yell your request across to other drivers. Someone will respond. If traffic starts up, don't worry. Everybody understands that they need to be held up while you clarify which second left to take.

# 8 Traffic lights are the best place to take phone calls and not on the hands-free. Just turn on your hazard lights so that other vehicles can go around.

# 9 Pedestrians are for running over. It was not your choice that they decided to participate in a reality show called Pray or Die. And seriously, Zebra crossings - they are simply there to improve the aesthetics of roads. Have you ever seen a Zebra using one?

# 10 At the light, it's OK to breach the divider and be in the way of oncoming traffic. This way, everyone is late for work. A little gridlock goes a long way to making it a jolly and entertaining day for all. 

# 11 Do not listen to the traffic policeman/woman. They are probably high on all the fumes that our vehicles emit. What would they know about our suffering? All they ever do it seems is to mope about the intersection, listen to abuse, stand on their feet most the time and become asthamatic.  Yes, he might be someone's dad but making them human will only cause you to lose your focus on crossing the light. Also, when they tell you to do something, he or she is trying to restore order and sanity, and that's a violation of our fundamental right as Indians to chaos.

# 11 The above rules are not in effect from Mon - Sat from 11pm to 7am and all day Sunday, or if the traffic light is not working.