It’s a pretty long haul before I manage, late in the morning, to drive into the city to make it to work. Not referring here to the morning traffic at home, where standing, you gulp down your bed tea, and comb and tie up your hair while in the car…it’s since you have to lorry into Delhi from Gurgaon that you have to be well-equipped to do so. An hour and a half commute not a joke so you pack and lug a school bag with your I-Pad, papers, notebook, chargers and, of course, a power-bank as well. Then there is the extra shirt or kurta dangling from a hanger because in case one sweats buckets, a change is a necessity, not to forget the lunch tiffin, flask of chilled-to-the-brim water, a box holding a couple of biscuits or a pack of crisps, sharing basket space! Yet this was not supposed to be about me ferrying and shuffling to-and-fro, but with a pen in hand, my writing muscles go on an enhanced overdrive and so start off on a circuitous route.
What should have been said at the very start was that while I had just settled in the car, adjusted my mask, so that some hawk-eyed cop shan’t wave, his on-the-look-out for prey, arms in front of the windshield, ordering me to cough up 2000 rupees, without providing a receipt since he’ll be giving me a discount of 150-odd bucks, was that in those few minutes of leaving house there is a crumbling wall, running uninterrupted with the lane that, in high-pitched black, shrieks, “Neki Ki Deewar.’’ And on the pavement below this Wall of Virtuousness, there are heaps and heaps of clothes, good-to-go, rain-drenched going from rack-to-ruin, parching in the baking heat. People wanting to get rid of their unwanted clothes, leaving them there, knowing quite well, that there are no takers for the Himalayan High piles of jackets, jeans and what not.
Odd, you’d think, given that in our country, despite `India Shining’ has a spiralling poverty rate that is too painful and shameful to set ablaze on paper. So ultimately, millions of tons and tons make it to Landfills, the cause of so many global ailments—flies, mosquitos swarming over them, to begin with. What about environmental pollution, climate change, wroughting havoc on Mother Earth, to touch the tip of the iceberg! Now to go on a high-speed, fast-track historical safari. In the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s if one gave one’s maid, maali, driver or the labourer in the neighbourhood, who had also towed his wife and kids from their village, clothes that had gone tight, or on a more philanthropic note, garments that would hold them good during a bitingly cold winter, or shoes, chappals for those barefoot feet, they would be accepted with open, grateful arms. Loose clothes would be taken in a few inches. If one did not have the know-how to do so, they’d be worn without a care, or some nearby seamstress’ services, with an overdone sewing machine, would do such mending work.
And sweaters brought in from America or England and worn for years, yet still retaining their warmth, turn into blankets for babies or cuddly little hammocks for toddlers tied on a close by tree, where their mothers are carrying bricks, cement atop their heads on a `tasla’, a worn-with-wear metal pan. Pillow covers would be made into diapers and men’s banyans into slips for women…needn’t go on. (Pillow cases, reminds me how a dear Professor, during the pandemic, temporarily put her pen aside, and with a relish, took out her sewing machine, making soft-as-fine-muslin masks from old pillow covers…) Then enter the 1990s, and with the advent of the multinationals, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, Diesel, Gucci etc. and more etceteras, became household names. The middle classes fell for these brands, hook, line and sinker, as did the upper middle-class section. The rich, now did not have go to London to shop—Armani, Versace available at a stone’s throw. Our magical weaves of sarees, sherwanis and shawls tucked away in cupboards, taken out for weddings, festive occasions or viewed on a daily basis in our daily soaps, where women are dressed in their resplendent Banarsi, Kanchipuram, Patola sarees and Khandani Kundan jewellery on a daily basis, and men in sherwanis and achkans, embroidered in such exquisitely intricate tapestry that one would imagine to be a creation of a Raj Darzi. And with the entry of track-suits, t-shirts, leggings, dungarees and what have you, the whole of India had to have a share of the pie.
So, Monday Bazaars or the weekly open-air mobile markets stocked on portable rails or push carts, jeans, tees and all that jaaz, and we all became clones of one another. What did it matter if it was a rip-off Zara shirt?! The upside: it came with a rupees 100 tag! Hand-me-downs were now looked down on. Catch this screenshot—my maali, barely a lad in his 20s, but a thumb as green as the lushest grass, wears hip-hugging, drain-pipe jeans, a nylon non-breathable t-shirt. Now should not his wear be job-related?! Sitting on his haunches, tending to plants, weeding out stray undergrowth, tilling the soil. I had a handful of cotton kurtas (pyjamas, out of the question!) which he breezily declined to take. Now to wend our way in great haste—the clock is ticking and the space is shrinking. Some alarming discoveries: 2000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans, 713 gallons of water required to grow cotton to make a single cotton t-shirt, babies go through thousands of diapers—approximately 12,000 before being potty-trained.
One diaper consumes 9 gallons of water…Mindful Consumption, ban on Binge Shopping?! The heartening news however, is the movement christened, `Clothes with a Conscience’ where NDTV and Usha International have joined hands to recycle, repurpose, and upscale clothes. A pair of jeans recast, reshaped, evolved into two pairs of shorts, with a teeming matching tote accessorized with glittering sequins, then sent forth to upcoming Thrift Shops to create a Consumer Heaven and somewhat of a Haven to recover Mother Nature. Ditto for other used apparel.
Paradoxical, don’t you think, that before the run-up of Independence Day, it was made mandatory to put on show, the Tricolour, to wear our Patriotism on our Videshi sleeves?!
Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.