I had the privilege of meeting Bitthe Foster of Sweden's 3Rs back in 1997 when I used to be working for the Hyatt Group.
She initiated me into the concept of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Long before that, I saw Ma recycle things at home - utensils, garments, linen, food - she was completely ingenious in her approach.
Then there was Mrs. Bangia, Ma's nouveau rich friend who was already a millionaire back in the Doon of early 80s. Yet, Aunty Bangia did not let go of her good middle-class values and would string up and Sun out even one or two pieces of leftover Chilli, Aubergine, Lady's Finger etc. to be later used in Soups and Sambars.
I love recycling things and giving them a lease of life in their brand new avatar.
In my homes and gardens, both in Dehra Dun and Delhi, I will not easily throw away things - pots and pans, old bells and faded curtain beads, cracked water bowls and pretty cups with handles missing. I think a hundred times about reusing the item and once I feel there is no way it can be beautified and reused; it is only then that it will be sent to the Kabadiwala (Junk collector/Scrap Dealer) or retired to a Bin.
It is a cross I bear from my Mother; that I end up seeing an aesthetic value in a lot of things - even parts of packaging material or broken wooden ladders.
This time in Dehra Dun, we were cleaning up the Kitchen and the Store at the Farmhouse, readying the places for pest control. While I found an old painted stone that I had painted while in the Sophomore year in College and a bunch of old Greeting cards that will now live with pride in my Memory Book; I also discovered some forgotten, unused treasures.
There, lurking in the dark spaces of the bottom shelf were two glass jars and two old world Martabans - the former two were used by Ma to store jams, jelly and preserves and in the latter two she would keep away pickles. One of the jars had a teeming population of giant cockroaches, so in a moment of utter disgust, all four were banished from the kitchen and sent off to fulfill a new purpose - that of letting miniature Sansevieria flourish in their wombs and sit a-pretty in the front garden.
I do the same with old tea cups and coffee mugs kitting them out with the resilient cacti. Old, discarded ceramic or metal mortar & pestle either become garden objets d'art or pots for succulents. My Karva Chauth karvas almost always become flowering pots. My Diwali terracotta diyas and knick-knacks - re-painted and interestingly placed - often become Garden decorations.
When our Delhi home was being reconstructed, I went to town with my recycling and beautifying ideas. The old DDA Living Room ceiling light is now our Porch light, painted in the shade of Santorinian Blue. The seat from our Garden Swing is now the Blue Couch prettily poised in our patio.
The Wrought Iron Mirror from one of the Bathrooms is now a Garden Installation. It adds to the beauty of the patio reflecting the images of my lovely Garden and the beautiful park in front of our house; besides attracting a motley crew of Sunbirds and Butterflies. As for the Wrought Iron Rack, that used to hold the toiletries, it now is part of the facade decor and proudly showcases an array of my tea cup pots.
In one of the quaint moves, I outdid even my own craziness. I found this interesting ladder like thing as part of the new Commode packaging delivered to us by Hindware Italian Collection. All through the reconstruction period, I held on to it, in spite of strange looks and queer questions from our Man Friday and the friendly bunch of labourers and carpenters working on the site. Our boy kept asking me as to why was I holding onto that piece of crap and I would tell him to be patient. Once the painting work began, I got the contraption painted in white and today it performs the function of a 'Squirrel ladder' going up to the Patio Birdhouse.
I love to reuse the cracked, ceramic water bowls of my fur children as planters. And I have learned from Ma that one must never throw away a Kitchen sink. Place it nicely in your kitchen garden and grow herbs and spices in its basin.
I am quite the version of the crazy cat lady, or at least the contractors who worked with me thought so, with all my quirky designing ideas. But they always feel delighted to see the ideas, once they are brought to life. I sense a feeling of pride in them when they see parts of their thrown-away stuff given a huge facelift and decorated around. I think, at that moment, they feel they have been part of a secret society; and between them and me, several surreptitious, knowing looks are shared.
Recently, one of the Contractors conveniently dumped a broken wooden ladder at our front gate. He kept telling us that he will soon have it thrown away until my moment of serendipity struck me. A hurried call was made to him, telling him not to throw away the ladder and asking him if we could use it. He was both surprised and relieved, I could tell from his tone. He was asked to send a worker to our house to paint the ladder in our shade of Blue. Today, the ladder encases the house as three Wishing ladders with pots and plants hanging from them.
Le Husband, over the years, has been persuaded and pushed around to become part of my plan. By now, he has stopped cribbing and become a happy conduit. So, on one of his business trips, he was coaxed and cajoled to bring the old style Aluminium kettles used by the roadside tea vendors. He has, so far, managed to bring two - both of which hang as elements of adornment in the Courtyard, reflecting a sense of old world charm.
In the same vein, our Computer Man knows exactly what he needs to bring for me from his native village. He has already revealed to me that several Aluminium utensils such as the milk can and the stirring pot or the squarish "Pateela" pan are used in his village and I have a "re-use" for all of them, I've promised him!!!
When you come visit me, you will find a pair of 'blessing' Buddha hands in brass sitting primly next to the Gramophone. Look closely, for they are the recycled door knobs.
Very recently, we had to throw away two pairs of similar looking Greek sandals - one in fuschia and the other in purple - as they came apart at the edges. Just before they were being chucked, I saw some frantic activity from the corner of my eye. My niece cum soul-child cum soul-sister rushed to yank out the nice looking metal pieces from the two pairs. Today, the four metal chains are hung down as dishy wind chimes from a couple of empty Moscatel Oro bottles. I guess blood does run thicker than water. And with that, we seem to have come a full circle.
Here, then, is my expression of gratitude to Ma and Bitthe!