Dhaarini rushed in, her school uniform all awry, her folded plait slipping out of the blue ribbon which contained it and even as she tried to dump her extra-large school bag on her study table and take off her shoes almost simultaneously, she announced loudly, “Amma!! Ajji!! I am the leader of the new environmental project for my class. Each class has to bring along all the plastic things that one can do away with at home to school tomorrow, the class which contributes the most gets a prize, and I must collect the plastics to contribute my share for recycling.”
Even as the child was chattering away, and was slipping out of her uniform, her grandmother Dakshayini, draped in a soft non-descript olive green cotton sari hobbled into the hall told the young lass that her mother was away from home for the evening hence Dhaarini was to change into comfortable home clothes, freshen up, drink up her milk and finish her homework before doing anything else.
Ten year old, Dhaarini’s enthusiasm did dip a little but in an hour’s time the young one complied with all the instructions of her grandmother and fished out a huge, black, plastic carry bag and started scouting the house for plastics which she considered dispensable. Being the only child she had scores of toys, pencil boxes, water bottles, sharpeners and clips among other paraphernalia which she merrily tossed into the bag without looking at them twice. Then she made her way to the kitchen closely followed by her granny and even as she rested her eyes on the neat stack of washed, use and throw containers which made their way regularly into their home during the days when they decided to order food or sweets from a nearby hotel, her grandmother eased them out of their position and placed it in the bag. Then the twosome went to the bathroom and gathered empty plastic containers, frayed mugs which went into the huge plastic knapsack. Then Dhaarini climbed up the light aluminium, portable ladder placed in the bathroom and laid her little hands on an old faded and ugly red pot with a broken neck placed in the open attic in her grandmother’s room and instantaneously she heard the elderly lady forbidding her from picking it up. The child was taken aback a little, the pot was out of colour and chipped and had been around the house for as long as she could remember so she turned around to check what made the seventy year old, object to her choice of scrap plastic.
She heard Dakshayini murmur that the pot was bought by her late grandfather and hence should not be touched. The young girl did not find this statement to be explanation enough, so she reached out for the object again and this time around the objection was louder and clearer and the pot was taken away physically by her grandmother and was firmly placed on the tiled floor. She categorically told Dhaarini to keep away from the pot and walked away in a huff. The perplexed child got down from the ladder and went on pointing out that the pot was old and therefore fit to be recycled, but did not receive any response from the latter. Dakshayini plunked down into her cosy arm chair and was lost in thought with her eyes open, not looking anywhere in particular. Dhaarini took one look at her grandmother and instantly got the message that she was to leave granny alone for a while, she was familiar with her grandmother’s mood swings which were occurrences that happened once in a blue moon, but she was also sure that her grand old lady would bounce back to normalcy if left alone for a while. Even as the child tiptoed away, the older woman lapsed into nostalgia.
True, the pot had lost its use but it had traveled with her for the last forty years and held a special place in her heart. No one knew about it for the simple reason she never spoke about it.
Dakshayini was not highly educated but she had been to school for a decade and was literate in both her mother-tongue Kannada and the foreign language English. She kept tab of current events through magazines and newspapers and managed to read a couple of novels whenever she was able to lay her hands on them. She gained a lot of worldly knowledge through her travels when she accompanied her husband who was posted in various places in South India. She was aware that plastics were not favoured by environmentalists as they were considered to be lethal to the earth nowadays. But then she had also witnessed another era when plastics captured the imagination of people in an unimaginable way. She was soon lost in an era, more than half a century ago, when she took over the responsibilities of a new bride in a large household in Rampura.
That was an age when rural and urban India used brass, iron and earthen vessels to cook their meals. A stainless steel utensil was considered to be a sissy in a kitchen filled with sturdy vessels because it lacked the strength and the endurance of being placed on an earthen hearth with a large flame. Such being the case other materials were not even considered as possibilities. When she longed for some fancy glassware in her marital home, her wish was discounted with a reprimand from her mother-in-law who was aghast that Dakshayini wanted to use glass wares which were used only by barbers of those days usually the ones handed down by the British “Mems.”
Being the third daughter in law of an orthodox Brahminical family, her frail constitution and relatively delicate upbringing did not permit her to handle the heavy kitchenware with ease. She was assigned the job of fetching water for the kitchen from the well which kept her on her toes for most of the day. She never once thought of shirking her duties but wished to goodness that the heavy brass pot used to draw water from the well could be replaced by something lighter. Her desire took shape into an obsession and then took the dimensions of a secret ambition as she longed to own a weightless set of kitchen ware day in and day out. She found it increasingly difficult to lift or set down the heavy vessels as she got weaker after two childbirths followed by a miscarriage. Every one in the family and extended family warmed up to her and offered her kindly tips on how to put on weight and get stronger. Sometimes they helped her out whenever possible but nobody really thought much of substituting lighter material, at least for drawing water from the well.
She brought up this subject whenever she found herself alone with her husband Guru, which was usually during bedtime when she became completely drained out after a day of heavy work. Guru understood her problem but was shy of being dubbed as a hen-pecked husband if he enunciated Dakshayini’s quandary in front of the family. He dismissed the idea or even the possibility of a lighter option, instead he opted for a practical and diplomatic way out of the problem by drawing at least ten pots of water for the kitchen besides filling up the cement tank for his beloved wife before the crack of dawn, before anyone else got up in the household. Though his help lightened her workload to some extent, she had to draw tenfold amount of water over the day to cater to the domestic needs of the large family. The brass pot used to draw the water weighed almost two kilos left her wanting for energy. Even as others failed to understand her crisis the drudgery worked on her mind and wore out her body day in and day out, as she went through her chores everyday.
Dakshayini’s craving for light pots and pans grew day after day though she was not quite sure how to go about acquiring them. Nevertheless she spent a great deal of time in designing her perfect vessels in her dreams and enjoyed herself in a make believe world of colourful, weightless objects which could be handled almost effortlessly. This abstract mental exercise gave her an inexplicit sense of joy and creativity and she enjoyed every moment of it whenever she was by herself.
A couple of years rolled along; but nothing much changed in Dakshayini’s life. Even as she lived in a make believe world of light materials, she was told by a visiting cousin of hers that a new material was introduced into the Indian market. It was called plastic and just about everything from toys to mugs, to bowls and pots were made from the substance. She apprised Guru of the information and he made a special trip to the city to investigate the news and came home with a red coloured plastic pot which he placed in the middle of the hall on arrival. The whole family gathered around to inspect the novel article. Dakshayini immediately understood that pot was meant for her though Guru did not actually give it to her in the presence of others in the hall. She eyed the pot from a distance without touching it and fell in love with the gift; it appeared light, bright and pretty strong too and would lighten her work to a great extent. Her dream had come true. She was elated, but she did not express her feelings because she did not want to be teased. She knew that nobody in the house could object to her using it, as Guru, the son of the house had bought it. As Dakshayini sat in the ladies quarters that afternoon after lunch she listened to every word that Guru gushed about the new fancy material. He described how the city was flooded with the material that was available in every possible shape, size and structure while she silently reveled in the fact that her unspoken vision had actually translated into reality. In fact it surprised her that she could listen to him with the same awe and without interrupting him when he repeated the same information when they were together in their room later on that day. She found it amazing that her dreams had come true and reminded Guru of her longtime fantasy ecstatically, but he did not seem to pay much attention to her claims. She swallowed her disappointment and chose not press the matter further. After all, life became relatively easier for her as plastic replaced the heavy metals wherever possible.
Two years later, the large joint family disintegrated when her parents in law passed away and the three sons of the family decided to explore job possibilities in the cities which were on the fast track of industrialisation.
Guru moved on to Bombay with his wife and two sons. Dakshayini enjoyed being the mistress of her individual home and she learned to speak the local language and took a special interest in her sons’ education but most of all she took restrained pleasure as she welcomed stainless steel, glass and porcelain into her kitchen. Several decades later when her first born returned from the USA she procured her first microwave oven accompanied by a set of light plastic dishes that could be used to heat and cook food too. She was overwhelmed with a silent joy when she saw for herself that plastics had been designed to even withstand heating.
Life had changed for her in more than one way. She lost her husband, her first born decided to settle down abroad and she chose to stay back in India with her second son. She enjoyed the company of her little Dhaarini and participated enthusiastically in all her activities. The older woman learned to enjoy, appreciate and understand her granddaughter’s childhood which was so very different from her own childhood and those of her sons. She had mastered the art of coping with new situations in her life which was backed up by her enterprising spirit which helped her experiment, understand and give space to people, new things and novel experiences that crossed her life – with grace and dignity.
Her passion for plastics waned over the years as she became aware that the boon in her life was turning out to be a bane to the lives on earth. Plastics manifested themselves in demoniac forms and had gotten busy choking life on earth. Dakshayini was not insensitive to the ecological issues around her and was more than willing to avoid plastics and recycle them whenever possible as a rule. However parting with the old pot was altogether a different ball game. She had let go of most of her acquisitions over the years but could not let go of the pot, her first plastic pot designed in the laboratory of her dreams. It was a symbol of her ambition, success, youth, romance, emotional bonding with her late husband and most of all her vision. No, it could not be recycled!!! She could not possibly allow it to be recycled at least as long as she lived!!!
She felt relieved when she relived her past with the pot. She felt convinced that she was right in holding on to the historical object. When clarity refilled her mind she looked at the open door and caught Dhaarini peeking in to the room to check her grandmother’s mood. Dakshayini beckoned to the child lovingly and the little one who was waiting in anticipation rushed into her arms. After the youngster settled down comfortably between her knees, Dakshayini told her, “Darling, some things cannot be recycled; they have to be saved like relics or premier inventions just as they are conserved in museums. Every home will have some such piece or two which have to be treasured for various reasons. The old red pot belongs to that category, it has a story. I will tell you the story when you are old enough to understand on that day you take a decision whether you want to trash the pot or not. For the time being, let us rummage around the house once again to check whether we have left out other dispensable plastics.”
Even as Dhaarini nodded her pretty head in agreement, the clock chimed to announce that it was seven and Dakshayini smilingly said, “Look even the bell is agreeing with us”