Being Sustainable


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Radha Prathi, March 25, 2016

Eco-friendly: Substitute plastic with terracotta wherever possible.

Building an eco-friendly home does not necessarily have to be an expensive affair. Neither does it mean that the entire building should be bereft of anything man-made or industry-processed. All you really need is a judicious mix of natural and man-made materials to strike a sustainable balance. 

In order to build an environment-friendly home, we need not avoid materials like glass, metals and high-density plastic. While they are not recommended per se, materials like PVC pipes are a blessing in disguise as they are strong, light and sustainable. If incorporated in the right manner, the right combination of natural and synthetic can cut down on maintenance costs in the long run and keep your abode eco-friendly too.

Homeowners who feel strongly about using natural materials should remember that not all of them are sustainable or practical in the present day. Having plastered clay flooring or a thatched roof may be eco-friendly, but does it guarantee safety or a long shelf-life? So, it’s important to have a well laid-out plan about the materials you want use. You need to ask yourself if they are the right ones for you. Additionally, how does it fare in terms of maintenance?

One needs to do thorough homework before actually going in to select eco-friendly materials. There are a series of considerations that you would need to factor in to ensure that sustainability exists throughout the home, including your materials. You need to ask yourself if the chosen materials are durable on the long run. This includes the materials that you would be choosing for your home’s infrastructure and the appliances. For instance, the flooring inside your home can be paved with partially polished granite, marble or jasper, while the areas exposed to the elements can be laid with clay tiles.
Choices galore

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can make a wise choice to lend a touch of sustainability to your abode. Here are a few ways of doing that:

The basics: To get started, go back to the basics and use wood or terracotta jaali grills wherever possible. Start with the floors. While it is expensive nowadays, good quality wood has the potential of being an investment for a lifetime. Additionally, it has an edge over vinyl flooring as it gives your home a much earthier look. Use of wood will not only prove to be more sustainable, but will also help prevent radiation and cut down on cooling costs. Yes, the electricity bills don’t have to be exorbitant even in summer.

A bit of both: If you are opting for glass panes or long windows, you can go for half windows that are divided in the centre. Here, the bottom half is made of wood while the top half is made of glass. This arrangement will prevent excessive sunlight filtering in during summers and help trap the heat in the room during winters. You can also replace the wood with terracotta jaalis for internal partitions. This is known to facilitate good ventilation at home.
Earthy materials: Plastic overhead tanks and sumps can be substituted with stabilised terracotta tanks, which will keep the water cool. Keeping in mind the same principle, terracotta can also be used to tile a swimming pool.

As for the home’s exteriors or facade, they can be plastered with stabilised rammed earth walls. If you are looking to make it more interesting, you can perhaps get a unique, traditional artpiece done by the master craftsmen in Rajasthan.

Light yet durable: Bamboo is another strong yet light, eco-friendly material that can be used in place of metallic grills, at least in the interiors of the home.
Money matters Building a sustainable home is certainly an expensive affair. But by using the right mix of materials, it can be made affordable. In fact, there are various ways in which you can cut down on the costs at home.

One of the most popular ways is recycling. It can add an old-world charm to your home. This appeal can be brought in by using fully intact parts of old homes that have been demolished. Think foundation stones, doors, windows, terracotta tiles and plumbing materials. In addition to these, you can invest in water harvesting and solar heating systems, along with low lighting to score high on saving.

After careful consideration of every aspect of your home, preferably in consultation with your architect, you will be able to identify the sustainable materials that you can use for your abode. A judicious mix of materials can help you to not only reduce the  building costs, but also to cut down on your carbon footprint.

The Right To Play


The mehendi ceremony was on. There were about half a dozen beautifully clothed and bedecked girls waiting in the sidelines for their turns. I happened to be sitting right behind them and could not help listening to their chatter. What started as crackling fun talk amongst long lost cousins, soon took sombre undertones. 

Apparently, some of them were app-earing for the board exams that year and the others would be treading the haloed path soon. They discussed about their tight schedules when most of their waking hours were spent in attending school, special classes, tuitions, mock tests et al.

When they were not flitting from one venue to another in pursuit of academic excellence, they were sweating it out with assignments, projects and studying. Soon enough, their smugness gave way to the boredom of banality. One of them hesitatingly mentioned how she resented the pressure. The others agreed empathetically.

Just then, the mother of one of the girls came along. She passed a tab to her daughter and asked the girl to revise her theorems, instead of wasting her time. She smiled at the other girls and told them that all of them should also be studying too, if at all they hoped to emerge winners in the rat race. The girls shook their heads exasperatedly.

A septuagenarian, who happened to see the onset of the study session in the marriage hall, sighed aloud. She remarked how the world opened a plethora of opportunities to girls these days. In her time, most girls were married off before they completed high school. She patted their heads affectionately and went her way.

Almost immediately, one of the girls remarked how lucky the old lady and her contemporaries were. Another young woman said she was paying the penalty for being born in the wrong age. As the discussion took an unexpected turn, it sounded like utterly nonsense whining in an age where generations of people have fought tooth and nail for the Right to Education especially for the girl child. Yet, a little reflection revealed that urban students studying in private schools, which take pride in spectacular results, are being overburdened in the name of education these days. The insecurities and frustrations of the youngsters sometimes reach a point of vexation which prompts them to run away from home or precipitates as suicide attempts when they fall short of expectations or fail. If we hope to make education an enriching exercise, we must remember that all work and no play will make Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl!

To Create That Wow Effect With Glass


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With buildings constantly rising vertically every year, it is becoming increasingly difficult for homes that do not go beyond the first floor to get their fair share of ventilation. Though not much can be done, a little thoughtful makeover can actually lighten up the place. If you want your home to glimmer at all times of the day, glass is the way to go.

With so many varieties of glass available today — ranging from bulletproof and transparent to smoky and featured with visibility from one side — there are innumerable ways in which you can incorporate the material creatively into your living space. And with some imagination and professional help, you can transform your home or office into a state-of-the-art premises with a fine mix of glass.

It’s possible to transform any area into a roomy, well-lit and expandable place. Let’s take a look at a few practical solutions that can help you incorporate glass effortlessly into your home. For starters, how about using glass partitions? They prove to be cost effective in the long run as they are low on maintenance.

Open & spacious

Old buildings take up a lot of interior wall space. When renovating such places, take a careful stock of the walls that can be done away with. For instance, you can consider the walls that can be brought down to make open kitchens, dining areas, corridors and foyers.

Once you have decided which walls are coming down, ensure that the entire wall is not affected. It will be wise to leave about six inches of it from the floor upwards and about two feet from the roof downwards. The wall should be immediately plastered and allowed to cure for a couple of days before proceeding with any further work.

While leaving the space open is an obvious choice for open areas, it is something that is not feasible in an old building. A plain or stained glass of your choice can be fitted between the bracketing walls of the ceiling and flooring, allowing for ample light and extended space. Additionally, you can paint these glass partitions, if you wish for privacy in the rooms.

Portable walls

There are times when we feel the need for a temporary wall, say near the wash basin or in the drawing room — a bit of privacy can be the need of the hour. At such times, a portable glass wall can come in handy as you can move it easily from room to room.

And if you don’t want it to be made entirely of glass , you can have it fitted into a metallic or wooden frame. You can also  customise it to your taste. For example, you can have frosted or stained glass put in. And to make it truly portable, you can attach small wheels at the bottom and a little stopper.

Pillar idea

For those who do not want to use glass sheets, glass pillars are a good option. These are available readymade in various sizes, designs and colours. Additionally, you can get them customised to your preferences. These can be placed in various parts of your home, according to your need and necessity. For an ethereal look, you can add appropriate lighting to enhance the effect.

However, keep in mind that these pillars cost more than the glass sheets. If you are apprehensive about the cost factor, it can be a good idea to have a pillar or two on either end of the space or in the middle and have narrow panels of glass fitted in
between. This will take care of the ventilation needs as well.

Exteriors effect

Putting glass on your home’s exteriors allows you to brighten up the space by bringing in a lot of sunlight and making it look  spacious. These can be in the form of a wall, large windows or as a part of your balcony, porch or sit-out.

However, if the area is facing busy streets, it can prove to be a perpetual problem, courtesy the dust and noise. Such places are best covered with a strong and suitable variety of glass. These can range from stained glass to glazed glass. However, ensure that the glass can be slid open and closed easily to let in air as and when necessary.

Using glass at home may not just be limited to these; there are numerous other ways that you can creatively incorporate the material into your abode. Versatile and easy to maintain, glass is a perfect medium to enhance your home’s interiors and make your home look striking. Not to forget, the natural light that it can get in!

How to paint on glass

If you are looking to paint on the glass you have bought, there are several things you need to look at. But first, ensure that you do a practice run on the readymade glass painting kits that are available easily in the market.

Once you have got a hang of it, decide on a design for your glass and take a printout of it in the exact dimensions you need. Place the sheet on the glass.

Procure a small sample tin of black acrylic oil paint and a set of pearl paints. You will also need some thinner to erase mistakes that you might make, and two round-tipped brushes numbered triple zero and one.

Keep in mind that the outline for your design must be done in one sitting. Hence, set aside around two hours or more to complete the task.

As for filling in the colours, it can be done over many sittings once the outline has dried. What you are actually working on is the design’s backside.

If you want to give special effects like shading and dimension remember that the colour applied first will be seen first. Hence, you need to work backwards while using your glass painting techniques.

Organic Cottonwear In Summertimes


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Filling old wine in new bottles is not alien to mankind, for man has a strange penchant for rediscovering the precious latent value of what he has left behind long ago, in the name of progress. This time around, it happens to be the wonderful goodness of cotton fabric.

It is that time of the year when you switch to cotton clothes right from yours socks, innerwear, shirts, saris, dresses, jackets, sleepwear, and sportswear among other clothes. Though the concept of cotton clothes is not alien to Indians, now the world market for cotton clothing is laying emphasis on the superiority of organically produced cotton over the regular cottons.

For those who are wondering about the difference, it will probably help to know that toxins and synthetic fertilisers are avoided while growing cotton and harsh chemical bleaches or dyes are avoided during the processing.

It will be interesting to note that today, coloured cotton is grown on the stem in shades of brown, reddish brown, green and yellow, making the material 100% eco-friendly besides lending a special softness to the texture of the cloth.

Experts opine that since colour-grown cotton is not dyed, it does not fade and the colour will actually deepen when it is washed repeatedly. Dermatologists feel that using sheets and pillowcases, towels and bathrobes made of organic cotton can prevent several skin allergies and also contain skin diseases.

Organic cotton clothing was unheard of a few years ago but as on date, it is available in many stores and online businesses. Since going green seems to be the mantra, fashion these days is also becoming eco-friendly.

Leading companies have taken a step forward in this direction and have come up with their latest collections consisting of jeans, shirts and other trendy apparels made from
organic fabrics, natural dyes, raw denim, real indigo and super light linen.

The designers have taken special care to complement the simplicity of the fabrics in designs that are stylish in order to make cotton look cool.

While the men have denims in earthy fabrics like organic cotton-blended and linen-blended, the women have a range of feminine colours like shades of red, pink, orange and lilac besides other colours to choose from.

Shoppers of organic clothing have a wide range of choice because popular international brands are in the process of launching their eco friendly clothing lines for the global market.

Natural fragrance

Experiments are being conducted to infuse long-lasting natural fragrance in natural
fibres. In fact, scents of lavender and chamomile have already been successfully incorporated in clothing.

The elitists who are looking for something truly exclusive are being pampered with clothes having cotton meshes to facilitate free air-flow in sweat zones with the aim to lend an invigorating and comfortable feeling to the wearer.

Just about every kind of dress for women and men have hit the market. Harem pants, flared pants, halter tunics, vests, crochet jackets, skirts, kimonos, kurtas and calm pants – fine knit pants that fall like a skirt – drawstring pants, Chinese kurtas and fisherman pants; name it and you can find one-of course for a price. Oriental designs like chakras, Swastikas, Omkara, Chinese sun signs, flower motifs in bright colours are doing the rounds to rope in the fairly conservative eastern buyers.

Even as the world is looking at cotton options, India too has pulled up its socks and started reworking on its khadi and handloom fabrics.

Besides leading boutiques and brand names that cater to clothing, humble handloom houses, cottage industries and rural textile co-operative societies have also come up with a range of exotic saris in organic cotton in a mindblowing range of colours and designs just waiting to be picked up at their retail outlets or handloom exhibitions conducted in various cities.

The revival of cotton in the market can be a boon in disguise to our country, for we already have a hoary tradition and a plethora of varieties already in place.

All we need to do is restart from where we left behind and delve deeply into the ancient secrets of long lasting natural dyes and fragrances. This measure can open new vistas of business to our country and step up our economy in the long run and, to some extent, repair the damage that we have rendered unto our environment.

As the planet is getting hotter each year, there can be no better way to look cool than with cool cottons keeping in tune with the environment around us even as the lush green cotton fields nod their pretty heads in agreement.

Stop Not Till The Goal Is Reached


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These days schools, colleges, business houses, corporate, government and public sector organisations religiously arrange elaborate orientation sessions at the start of a new project, semester or term. These sessions aim at making  newcomers comfortable with their forthcoming years in the varsity. In other words these assemblies reiterate the message found in Upanishads – Uththishta, Jaagratha, Praapaya Varannibodhita.

This dictum has been beautifully put across in the story of a young boy called Nachiketa. It is said the boy knocked the door of Yama in a bid to fulfil his father’s words who said he would give away his son Nachiketa to the lord of Death in a fit of anger. Yama, generally feared by the mortal world, was pleasantly surprised to see the earnest young man at his doorstep and engaged him in conversation. Yama was even more surprised when the young boy wanted to know about the secret of Death that has been puzzling humankind ever since the beginning of time. Yama tried to talk the boy around and away from his questions. Nachiketa was very clear about his goals. He wanted supreme knowledge hitherto unknown to anyone, including the very gods. Yama was reluctant to disclose the niche knowledge to the boy because he was not very sure if the question rose out of sheer curiosity or was it a genuine thirst for knowledge. Therefore, he tempted Nachiketa with worldly riches like having a hundred noble sons and grandsons who would live to be a hundred years, as many milch cows, elephants, horses, gold, wealth, land or anything else that he fancied. Surprisingly the boy was not tempted by any of them. He refused the worldly bounties of Preyas and opted for Shreyas, which is eternal knowledge. Eventually, Yama felt obliged to satiate the boy’s inquisitiveness.

Vivekananda once said if he had a dozen students like Nachiketa, he could turn the minds of Indians towards exploring themselves and arriving at discovering the Brahman.
At a practical level, spiritual awakening would automatically help people upgrade themselves physically, economically and politically.

It is interesting to note that Vivekananda was actually echoing the Upanishadic concept when he said, “Arise, awake stop not till your goal is reached.”

Restart If Essential


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Radha Prathi, March 8, 2016:

Planning is definitely a prerequisite to lead a routine normal life or achieve monumental success. Yet there are times when we find that our best laid plans are reduced to shambles. More often than not, we realise that we have digressed from the chosen path because we have succumbed to distractions. We seldom realise that our cautiousness and alertness about impending dangers are teased by unforeseen circumstances or fate.

Logical analysis of the failure may or may not reveal the chink in the armour. When we are in such situations, we must not hesitate to restart our pet project from scratch. Sooner or later, a plausible solution will manifest itself in the form of an opportunity or a person who will lead us out of the dark tunnel.

An episode from the Ramayana puts across this point ever so well. Sugriva the king of Kishkinda divided his army into four parts. He sent them in the four directions of the earth in search of Rama’s spouse Sita. The southern direction was captained by Hanuman, his trusted minister. Angada the crown prince of Kishkinda  who was under his able leadership, set out enthusiastically to fulfill the mission. His youth, energy and penchant for exploring new facets of life, led him and his simian associates into a Shangrila of sorts. He was carried away by the illusory pleasures and comforts that the region had to offer and forgot his goal.

Hanuman his mentor and guide, saw through the ploy of the enchantress Swayamprabha the mistress of the cave and discussed the gravity of the situation with her. The lady considered the application of Maruthi and decided to release the army from her deceitful clutches.

Though Angada was happy to surface back to normalcy, he was depressed because he had swerved from the chosen path. He felt insecure and afraid of facing the wrath of his uncle Sugriva and the exiled prince Rama. He contemplated  suicide till he was counselled otherwise by Hanuman. Angada’s confused mind gained clarity and he launched on the search project all over again with renewed energy and fresh hopes. That his team succeeded this time around lies in the realms of exercising patience and implementing the assignment all over again.

To Cook Or Not To Cook Is Her Choice


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NEWER ALTERNATIVES

Hectic lifestyles are the order of the day. Caught up in the day-to-day activities, many women find cooking cumbersome. The stress of work and managing the household doesn’t leave much time to dish out meals three times a day, everyday.

It’s a fact that we are living in an age when women who want to wean away from the kitchen chores, can feel free to do so because the market caters to all their needs, albeit for a price. One only has to step out of their home to relish global cuisines. Or even better, just log on to the Internet and you will have the world at your fingertips.

For working professionals, eating out is a very common scenario. What started as a means of satisfying one’s cravings once in a while slowly metamorphosed into a habit of convenience. Small bistros, mess and shacks sprouted alongside big restaurants to cater to the urgent or specific needs of people. Many families are reliant on their neighbourhood kitchens in times of emergencies. Why slog for hours to prepare sweets and treats for festivals when you can easily order them from outside?   Parties and get-togethers can be enjoyed without the stress of cooking for everybody.

Apart from changing food habits, there is an apparent change in the concept of cooking itself. People who cook from scratch are hard to find these days. Change in lifestyle, time constraints and the strain of multitasking are taking a toll on people who have little or no time to go through the elaborate aspects of cooking. The fact that we have readymade masalas and ready- to-cook foods is well-known.

Stores today also stock and sell idli-dosa batter and semi-cooked foods because they are sure of takers for these products. Many grocery portals and shops are also offering to clean and cut vegetables, grate coconuts, peel onions and garlic for a nominal service charge.

These and other such facilities have made life a lot easier for women. The ones who have the flair for cooking elaborate and exotic dishes no longer have to dread the drudgery in the kitchen. They can get the right ingredients, processed in the manner they like. And for those who don’t have the time or inclination for cooking, there are many avenues today that offer the exotic stuff they want, without them having to worry about soiling their hands. As ordering food online has become a quite a phenomena, it has obliterated the bleakness and blandness of the appetite even when the lady of the house is not up for some cooking.

We can have the best of both worlds, where women can take a call to cook or not to cook without an iota of guilt or self reprisal because we have created a parallel world that can fulfill our needs quite competently. Today, there is a plate to cater to every palate and that too, at very reasonable prices. The boom in the food business is, perhaps, a pointer to the fact that there is a growing demand and hence, the undisturbed, variegated supply. So, when a woman chooses not to cook today, it doesn’t have to mean a hungry household.