By Harry Page
Coming from a ‘first world’ nation such as England, I rely on electronics, efficient appliances, seamlessly endless supply of water, and the local council collecting our waste and recycling to make my day run as smoothly as possible.
On a normal day, I’d wake up, fill up my kettle with water from the kitchen tap, boil it and brew my green tea. I would then grab a banana and apple and have my breakfast in front of the television whilst watching the latest morning news on my soft leather sofa. When nature calls I’d sit on the throne and flick through social media applications via my wi-fi connected smartphone. Like clockwork. Every morning.
However, in India it’s an entirely different story, I’d walk outside my bedroom into the brisk, cold morning air to the toilet cubicle, squat down and release, then struggle to wash and wipe myself clean. I still have my smartphone to read the morning news but the mobile signal is painfully slow. My host family would at this time be preparing ‘nasta’ for my counterpart and me (I offered to help but I’d be ushered out of the kitchen as we are guests).
I’m not complaining about the food because it is excellent (I’ve noted recipes) and the chai is so good I’ve written songs about it. Nethertheless, the day is rigid already and it is barely 9 am. After digestion, I would wash myself with a bucket of cold water (which is never fun) and pack my bag for the day.
After almost 3 months of this, it is now routine, I have adapted to the Indian lifestyle and this has made me realise the luxuries in life I have taken for granted such as water, electricity and waste management, more environmentally aware, so to speak.
Washing water is salty, you shouldn’t drink it as it would make one very ill, it is used to wash clothes and bucket wash. Sweet water is collected from the household well with a bucket, then filtered with a cloth. This is the drinking water. The effort to store these types of water separately is apparent straight away, every morning the family would fill up buckets and the water tanker for the toilet. Sometimes we would miss water delivery for a week so we would have to ration water but this only happened a couple of times.
Restriction is a strain and carefully using water has made me understand I don’t need to use that much water to get by in day. At home I use twice if not thrice the amount of water I use in India, with flushing the toilet, cooking, washing clothes, showering, etc. So as a collective in a 60 million strong nation the theoretical waste of water is worrying.
After a few weeks living in my host home, I have started to notice the amount of waste I was accumulating, particularly plastic water bottles or juice bottles and I wondered what our family did with their waste. It turns out they dispose waste in a nearby field and burn it. It’s shocking. Waste even ends up in the local waterways and roads, a hazardous health risk in its simplest form, neglected by the government.
In England, the waste collection system is managed by each local council, they have delegated collection days for each type of waste, general, recycling and garden all bins have their own colour too for maximum simplicity. That sums up the system back at home, it’s very simple to get rid of waste, I don’t think about how much waste I produce or think about ways of recycling in my own home.
Electricity is also taken as a given in England. In my family home, we charge mobile devices, operate somewhat unnecessary appliances, watch multiple televisions around the house, we even forget to turn off room lights. Wasting so much, yet I don’t think where it comes from. I can’t say that I know the exact source of my electricity, I rely on its near perfect reliability so much that I almost don’t think about using it, it’s available at a click or a flick of a switch.
In my host home we have multiple power ports, a cheap plastic and wooden block that operates the ceiling fan, room light and one charge point. As well as being bog standard it doesn’t appear to match the safety standards you would see in England, at first glance you’ll think you’d shock yourself.
If you believe it’s reliable you are deeply mistaken, on a particularly hot day, the power cuts out presumably because the metal wiring somewhere down the line has expanded. It is very common all over India as we have experienced in Delhi, Jodhpur and in our village, the longest I must have been without power for must have been one night and I stressed that my smartphone will die.
As ridiculous as the problem sounds, it’s a problematic mindset to have about electricity, if we don’t change our habits of how we consume our resources it’s going to reflect negatively on the environment, which it already has.
Reflecting on the notion of how the human race treats the earth is appalling, we are all too caught in consuming literally everything there is. Not enough of us think about how we can give back to the earth or cut down on non-renewable energy sources.
This is what has changed in me particularly for the rest of my life. There are questions at the back of my mind asking what I can do make the environment better. For starters, when I move back home I will consciously use less water for general use and think of creative ways to preserve it.
With concerns to electricity I will make sure unused devices and appliances are turned off in the house and encourage my family to consume green energy sources. The idea of solar power is interesting particularly in India it is very efficient but in England it will be a long term saver after an expensive payout. Also imaginatively reusing materials to apply around the house, I want to implement the vertical garden at home with plastic bottles because I’ve focused a lot of thought and hours here in the village, it is just one step to helping, I know I am just one person but i can hope to inspire.
(Harry Page volunteered with Pravah ICS from September – December 2015 and was placed with partner organisation Manthan in district Ajmer.)