Tag Archives: environment

The Venus Flytrap: Recycling From Home In Chennai


I’ve been recycling from home for a couple of years now, and it’s such a normalised part of my life that I’m confident when I say you can do the same, with just minimal effort.

As recycling isn’t big on Chennai’s municipal agenda or imprinted on our civic consciousness, the personal initiative is important. However, we have one major deciding factor which isn’t available everywhere: doorstep collection. I am familiar with two such service providers: Kuppathotti and Paperman (the latter also lets you contribute financially to charitable causes). Both services tie up with small scrap buyers and paper traders in your locality to collect recyclable trash from your home.

When you read about how there’s enough plastic on the planet now to cover Argentina, or about brimming, city-sized landfills, don’t just shake your head and sigh. Know that you can commit to reducing your personal contribution to environmental apocalypse. You’d be astonished how much so-called waste material each individual produces that can be recycled. Once you start, it’s like wearing green goggles: you’ll automatically know what items to collect, without deliberation!

Begin by educating yourself on the process. For instance, did you know there are seven types of plastic, which is why bottles and other materials have a numbered symbol? Once, when a collector declined one kind, saying it could not be recycled, I knew that while that particular scrap buyer didn’t have the resources to accept it, another would. So I called them instead of dumping it all.

I keep a large, covered laundry basket lined with a rubbish bag to collect my recyclable trash, knotting and storing away each bag as it fills. A little wise space management will allow you to do this. If you’re careful about food packaging unless it’s residue-free, you’ll never have issues like bad odour or insects. And always: reduce, reuse, then recycle.

There was a point when I would wash yoghurt cups and other food packaging in order to recycle them, then realised the water wastage negated the effort. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind: it’s not recycling itself that is the point, but how you reduce your ecological footprint. This can extend to various other efforts, depending on your personal capacity: taking shared or public transport, planting and raising trees, composting food waste, consuming local organic produce instead of imported goods, Skyping instead of meeting, reusing cloth grocery bags, avoiding turning on the AC, advocating for solar and other clean energy forms, and so on.

Bear in mind: currently available recycling service providers are small organisations, and rely on a chain of equally small waste traders and their collection staff. This is a chain that can break down, and not because the services are themselves unreliable, but because the system isn’t perfect yet. It can be frustrating to not be able to get through on a phone number, and the sight of garbage bags in your home may become exasperating. But it’s us, ordinary people who want to reduce damage to the environment, who will eventually perfect that system. The more we get involved, the more efficient solutions will be designed and implemented.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 3rd 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

Turtlewalking Through The Night


“Little is known about the lives of turtles underwater, but this much has long been understood: Where a turtle hatches is where she comes back to nest, a dozen or so years later. In the nearly three decades of the SSTCN’s work, Venkatramanan estimates that 2,50,000 eggs have been transferred from the beaches to the hatcheries, of which 2,00,000 hatchlings have been released into the sea.”

Read my piece on turtlewalking in Chennai, and the increasingly threatened marine ecosystem, in Hindustan Times.

On Tribal Honeygathering In The Nilgiris In National Geographic Traveller


In mid-2012, I had the amazing experience of accompanying five Irula tribespeople on a honeygathering mission in the Nilgiris, where I watched them harvest combs off a cliff using 2000-year old traditional methods. I wrote about it for the July issue of National Geographic Traveller India, which you can subscribe to here.


Or you can see it in pdf, below.

Sting in the Tale

The Venus Flytrap: Original Instructions


In the small town of Gudalur, two and a half hours downhill from Ooty, there is a coalition of NGOs that, through serendipitous circumstances and sound intentions, run a school and a hospital for the tribal community. I’m visiting with my friend the American Badaga, tagging along on an Ooty-Gudalur-Coimbatore-Palani-Perumalmalai-Kodaikanal trip completed over just five nights, sleeping in a different place on each one. We’re there to look into alternative education systems; after the tribal school is an international school in the forest. Mostly, though, I’m there on impulse, just to get away.

The week before, I’d attended a lecture in Chennai by Vandana Shiva, the renowned physicist and activist. Dr. Shiva had spoken about the country’s agricultural crisis, encouraging the audience to “violate the contracts” that gave undue power to governments and organizations that contribute to the deterioration of the environment, and to suffering among the poor.

Yet, sitting by a window overlooking the filthy Cooum river later that rainy afternoon, coming down from the high that listening to an inspiring speaker brings, I was saddened to think that the only phrase that still haunted me was something said in passing as Shiva was introduced. Another world is possible. I so much wanted it to be.

It came to me again in Gudalur. I’d never expected that just a few days after the lecture, I would find myself reading on a rock under a tree on the far west of Tamil Nadu, wet earth under my bare feet, adivasi children singing nearby, a cow to my right and a chicken to my left. My troubles very, very far away.

I’m reading Cait Johnson, who posits that spirituality is essentially rooted in the elements, the same notion that had me head for the hills to hide among trees, and attend Shiva’s lecture. Whenever I lose my connection to my elementals, I seek to replenish them in nature. Johnson writes about “Original Instructions” – intuitive knowledge kept alive by people, like the adivasis, whose ways of life honour the sacred interconnectedness of all life.

Watching the good people of Gudalur – the teacher who speaks openly and without prejudice to a classroom about gay and transgender people, the Ayurvedic doctor seeking to both learn from and better equip traditional healers, the professionals who set up the Ashwini Hospital and Vidyodaya School and gradually ensured that autonomy over them returned to the adivasi community – my heart remembers its own Original Instructions.

Watching them, I remember that there are good people in the world, who do good work for its own sake. I had forgotten.

I have been heartsick for what feels like a long time, but isn’t. I have been disillusioned with my own journey. I have wanted to count to one hundred and bow out, like the poetess in Ana Enriqueta Terán’s mysterious poem. What I did because I thought it was in my blood, I’ve watched others do with a bloodthirst I cannot muster. I have felt time and again that I can barely co-exist in a world so cutthroat, let alone compete.

But this is what I know, after Gudalur: another world, in all the many variations Vandana Shiva may or may not have meant, is possible. In fact, it may already exist. All it takes is to get back there.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.