A young me, wearing Tommy Hilfiger with headphones in my ears, walking through streets of ‘apni Dilli’ would have never thought of what caring about environment actually means. Standing next to heaps of garbage, coughing my way through what we called heat and dust, having a crush on that celebrity that just came up with a movie so awesome that was shot in an alternate world, that my day dreams consisted of beautiful fresh valleys and ignored what was right in front of me- the truth. And I guess I would have lived that way for the rest of my life, if not, for flying off to do my PhD in Austria.
Still listening to Snow Patrol and Cold Play but the dreams were quite real. I travelled far and wide during my PhD, meeting people from all cultures, getting up and close to Nature as I took the clean surroundings for granted. It was a couple of years later when I came back to my motherland for holidays that something struck me hard. It felt dusty the whole time, people I knew looked pale, I did not see the blue sky, it was way too hot for winter. When I walked on the street, I saw plastic, paper waste. When I travelled out of Delhi with the train, I saw garbage next to the tracks. I saw people burning garbage to get rid of it.
In contrast to fond memories of my village, I saw a heap of garbage right in front of our gate which my father explained is the local heap as they don’t have a way of getting rid of it. I was visibly irritated. Why is this all still here? Why is it not taken care of? What is the government doing? Is it not our responsibility? What is my individual responsibility? What can I do, at home? That is when it all began. In the last five years, from getting agitated at people for not understanding the repercussions of a polluted environment and the not so useful uses of plastic to actually manifesting my thoughts into words and, to channelling my anger to a clear comprehensible conversation, I have come a long way.
Many times I realised that a major portion of ignorance comes from being unaware of what we are doing to our immediate environment. Many youngsters epitomise the younger me, absorbed in their little beautiful world but I feel if there would be someone showing them the way, they would feel differently. Luckily for me (unfortunately otherwise), the conditions have deteriorated i.e. there is more garbage and more air pollution everywhere. So, when I came back to India this time (for good) after my Post-doctorate in Toxicology, I came armed with knowledge and critical thinking and a passionate heart that wanted changes. In 2014, we three friends started ‘Let’s bin it Delhiites’ to raise an overlooked issue of “garbage situation” in Delhi and the behaviour of people around it. We have been, on and off, writing about the current plastic pollution situation and it is a lifelong project. What followed was unbelievable. Because I was always looking for something to share with youngsters (reason we are on Facebook), we came across so many wonderful initiatives.
There are so many vivacious intelligent young people that are working on issues that are important both for human as well as environment preservation. They are self-motivated, making changes as they go. But, in truth, the changes begin at home. It is the small things that we change in our immediate environment that go a long way. After all, it is true, it is what you practice is what you can preach.
Starting from your own family, practicing patience (because nothing will change in a day), having frank conversations with your friends can make a big difference. If even one person will start thinking differently, you have made your mark. What I have come to understand is minimalism is quite important. Do not buy stuff because it is out there. India is already approaching a state of constant pollution crisis. You do not want to add to that.
While our lives are short (~80 years) compared to 400 years of life of plastic that will stay on this planet, if you will be conscious about your shopping habits, you have changed something in you. Finally, a positive mind and willingness to take action will take you a long way. Look around, make small changes in your attitude and live a healthy and happy life.
Author: Dr. Gurjot Kaur is a toxicologist by profession and an environmentalist by choice. If you want to know more about what you can do to help the environment in easy steps, catch her at the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Shoolini University, Solan. (The writer is Associate professor, Toxicologist, School of pharmaceutical Science