Story Collected by Akhila Gopal
India, specifically Bengaluru, over the last several decades has transitioned into to becoming more and more urban, and along with that it has become more and more polluted. In my eyes, I see the people there sacrificing the environment for the sake of status. Apartments and condominiums are being built in an area that is already crowded with small shops and homes. Hundreds of rickshaws, cars, and motorbikes are bustling and honking their way through the narrow streets—swerving to avoid the cows that roam around freely, sniffing and picking at the trash everywhere. Even the culture is becoming diluted into the Western ideals that everyone praises so much. But it wasn’t always like this. While talking to my mother about her experience with eco-friendly practices in her life, she began to speak of an India which I had never seen; an India in which the culture and the environment sustained each other.
Chandrika Gopal grew up in Bengaluru in a different time, and with a different perspective on the world. Born in 1967, she and her two younger siblings were raised by their grandmother on only the income of her father who worked in another city, far away. She wore a uniform and braids to school every day, learned to cook and clean from a young age, and was explicitly told that she was not allowed to participate in sports (though she rebelled a bit on that one). But being in a situation where she and her family had to make the most of everything, she learned that eco-friendly practices can make a little go a long way.
Lentils, a staple in a vegetarian diet, were eaten almost every day. In preparing the lentils, Chandrika would wash them in water in order to clean and remove and debris. But rather than just pouring the lentil water down the drain, she would set it aside in a bucket so that the plants could be watered with it later. Similarly, vegetable peels were saved in a bucket to feed the local cows. Water and food were, and still are, incredibly important and unfortunately scarce resources in some places, and preserving them in any way possible was not only beneficial to her family, but also to the earth.
Having been on a limited budget and in a limited space, Chandrika’s family did not have a washing machine or a dryer. This meant that she had to wash her own clothes, and then hang them out to dry. Though tedious, the clothes still were cleaned, and in the process she saved not only money and water, but also electricity and energy. She continued to hang her clothes out to dry even after she got married and moved to Canada.
Coming to North America in the early nineties and experiencing the luxuries of the Western world did not change her for the worse. She took advantage of the opportunities available, but also stuck strongly to her culture and her ways. She raised her children to appreciate all they had, reusing clothes until they were so worn that it could only be used as a rag. And even then, she would use it as a rag to wipe the kitchen floor. She taught my sister and I to speak first in her native tongue, Kannada, and second in English, so that the importance of our heritage would always be instilled in us. With the help of her husband and children, she learned to live life her own way in a country that was not common to her.
Though Chandrika lives in a big house now with gorgeous crown molding and hardwood floors, she still tries to save water, food, and energy in any way she can. She doesn’t necessarily use vegetable peels to feed the local animals, but she does take shorter showers, cook meals with organic vegetables, and chooses to open the windows on a warm day, rather than blasting the air conditioner. My mother is proof, that having a status in society and being environmentally friendly are not mutually exclusive parts of a lifestyle. She is an example of the fact that moving from a low income family in India to a wealthy neighborhood in the United States over a period of 26 years does not mean having to completely drop old habits and assimilate to a new culture. When it comes to the good habits that help sustain a family, a culture, and the earth, some things shouldn’t change.