Just like the famed ‘Jugaad’ that we are known for, the virtue of Qifayat is part of our DNA. To live optimally, is part of our tradition, lifestyle and imbibed as a value system. Hunting for a good bargain and asking for discount is a national pastime. Despite rising incomes, value for money products sell the most in Indian market, be it cars or mobile phones. Luxury brands are still a small pie in any product category’s overall market share.
The famous old T-shirt joke is true for every Indian household. A new T-Shirt when worn out, first turns into night wear, then comfort wear, in spite of tiny holes at odd places, then a mop, dust cloth or wash cloth before finally being discarded to trash.
Some habits die hard. Qifayat is one of them. Many of our customs that we followed from ages are nothing but common sense packaged as ritual. The custom of dressing a new born child in hand-me- down baby clothing had its logic that baby clothes are barely used and infants outgrow them quickly, so they are recycled multiple times. It also ensures safety from infection or skin irritation that a new unused garment can cause.
No one spoke about saving the environment as much as we discuss today, but some of the best practices were ingrained in daily life. Adult clothes in good condition were refashioned into children’s clothing with ample use of creativity. People bought what they needed and not desired. Yes, the pre liberalisation middle class India was not as prosperous, yet people lived happy, well almost, and within their means. No one went shopping just to feel good or to spend few hours and money eating junk, on a lazy Sunday. No use and throw culture, there were repair shops everywhere that could fix anything from a radio to a scooter to a television, in case you were not a enthusiastic DIY type.
Families spent Sundays mornings happily stitching upholstery or fixing broken leg of a chair or changing a fuse. White goods were expensive and so they were used with care. Radios were covered with fancy hand embroidered covers and television screen wiped with soft flannel to save from dust. Set of casseroles were given as wedding gifts to be used for a lifetime! People saved every penny from their limited incomes for life goals, buying a house by retirement and planning children’s education with savings in bank deposits.
Even trash was carefully preserved to be sold to the neighbourhood raddiwala every month. Do you remember the DD TV serial Rajni where a righteous housewife Rajni took raddiwala to task for using incorrect weight and duping people a few tens? Raddiwala coming home was an enjoyable event for me. We were given the job of piling old newspapers at the door and check if he was weighing properly, which he never did. A few plastic and tin boxes and some glass bottles sealed the transaction. In hindsight I find that it was a great reuse recycle repurpose exercise. All the trash collected by them was sold and recycled in some form or the other. In small towns, vendors came calling in summer afternoons, taking old clothes in exchange for steel utensils, the clothes then sold in seconds market.
Plastic in its early days was not a use-and-throw commodity. Plastic boxes were saved for kitchen storage, glass bottles found many uses as flower vases and mannequins with doll like clothes. Egg cartons, match boxes, milk packets, everything could be crafted into beautifully handcrafted decorative stuff. I remember my mother rolling up wool from old sweaters and giving the rolls to someone to weave it back into a quilt. The mishmash of colour from different pullovers and delight of having something repurposed and put to good use was immense.
Plastic made an entry in Indian households in the 80s with milk packets, water bottles and shining tiffin boxes. Plastic was the attractive, lightweight, wonder material that required very little maintenance. It was not considered a disposable material. Plastic melamine wares were the highlight of a house party, flower print table covers adorned the dining tables and plastic flowers brightened up a lone corner. Milk delivery companies ran promotional campaigns for people to collect empty packets and return to them at the end of them month for a discount coupon.
Slowly plastic took over everyday life, it was no longer necessary to carry a bag to buy grocery. Thin sheet of plastic, sturdy enough to carry a few kilos was given free. With economy opening up, consumerism took over, disposable income shot up and lifestyle changed completely. From judicious consumers of our parents’ generation, we whole heartedly embraced retail therapy and why not? Why not enjoy the pleasure of life?
The only casualty, world over, has been the environment and nature. Within two decades, our rivers are clogged with plastic, land filled with garbage and covered by rampant construction, natural resources have been plundered mindlessly, all in the name of economic growth and prosperity.
Contrary to popular belief, environmental conservation is not the antithesis of economic prosperity. We need an acute awareness of the impact we have on the planet and it is possible to live more consciously.
Qifayat, bang for the buck, value for money, conscious spending and awareness, all these concepts were probably born out of our inherent insecurity. In our country, we have zero social security or any institutional support. We were always aatmnirbhar, in every sense. To save, spend every penny wisely and invest judiciously was a necessity. But more than that, it is the age old wisdom we were following, to live more selflessly, hoard less, create less waste and leave a lighter footprint.
We still preserve plastic shopping bags under mattresses. Old habits die hard J