Weighed down by the trappings of modern life, a cross-section of the society is embarking on a journey back to the basics by uncluttering not just their physical environment, but also their body, mind and soul, and living a minimalistic existence to find solace in bare essentials. The past is the new future.
It is time to look over our shoulders because today's fashionable buzzwords - zero waste lifestyle, simple living, recycling of garbage - defined the way earlier generations lived, while most of rural India still subsists on a self-contained life.
For an average agrarian family, the land surrounding the house virtually represents the world, because it meets most of their daily needs. Depending on local conditions, all vegetables are grown in the backyard and consumed fresh, not refrigerated for a week; food waste feeds the livestock; milk comes straight from the udder, not in plastic packets; cow dung becomes gobar gas or manure; herbs in the vicinity cure common ailments; the family visits the weekly santhe or shandy only to purchase basic necessities which are not available in their immediate environs.
Such an idealistic life may be impossible to replicate in an urban setting, but many are making lifestyle changes, from growing vegetables organically on their terraces to ensuring that leftovers do not make their way to landfills, thereby contributing in their own little way to reducing the carbon footprint.
Says Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Divya Muthanna, "No wet waste leaves my house as even the discarded peel of vegetables and fruits have multiple uses when they are dried in the sun and powdered. I never use artificial colouring agents, instead preferring beetroot peel, which releases a vibrant hue; cauliflower and cabbage stem go into making soup broth; a concoction of pomegranate peel juice is used to cure stomach ailments; lemon rind serves as an excellent face pack; coconut fibre provides the base for my orchids, while crushed eggshells supply calcium to the plants; takeaway containers become pots for cactus. And any other remaining waste is converted to compost."
While 'waste-free' homes are steadily becoming a trend, people are also increasingly watchful of what they eat. International athlete and Arjuna award winner Reeth Abraham explains, "I make a conscious effort to eat fresh, eat right, and eat enough. While preferring natural foods, I avoid anything that is processed, packaged or preserved. Carbonated drinks are a strict no, and I consume a lot of water to flush out toxins. A healthy diet and regular exercise also help me maintain a positive attitude."
In her book Indian Super Foods, celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar advocates that we follow our grandmother's wisdom when it comes to food habits, and not ape Western trends as we live in a different climate with unique bodily needs. "The secret foods for health, vitality and weight loss are in our own kitchens and backyards. Eating locally grown food not only ensures health for individuals but also keeps small farmers in business and encourages ecological diversity."
With this new-found affinity towards nature and everything natural, the winds of change seem to be blowing across the society. "We only purchase organic vegetables and fruits, which are grown without the use of chemicals," says Krupa Patel, who runs a chain of yoga studios. She is inspired by her 94-year-old grandmother Dudhi Padsumbia, who has not allowed any artificial interventions in her life. Her all-time remedy for any ailment is to chew a leaf of amruthaballi. "All her life, she has used black soil to wash her hair. Recently, when she travelled to Bengaluru from Gujarat, she carried two kilos of mud with her!" adds Patel, who too swears by natural products.
Mysuru-based former banker Seetha Bhat never steps out of her house without a cloth bag, while marketing professional Vachana Shetty, who runs an eco-friendly home, has replaced all plastic bottles with earthen ones. G K Pramod, a management consultant, devotes the better part of the time to promoting natural farming in his village. The list goes on.
The back-to-basics voyage has also seen many people abandoning the frills of materialism to embrace a simple and more fulfilling lifestyle, by giving up all that is surplus. Unclutter is the name of the game.
Akshata Pai, a social media strategist with a software behemoth, who recently rid her house of two cartons each of books and clothes, explains, "I am feeling much lighter now. Often, we are unnecessarily weighed down by possessions which no longer have any utility - like socks with a missing pair or clothes that do not fit, but we have a tendency to hoard." Today, her shopping is completely need-based, and not because a particular trend is in vogue. "In fact, I have not gone out shopping for over one-and-a-half years," she says.
Her sentiments are echoed by Tyag Uthappa, an entrepreneur and coffee planter, who has virtually emptied his wardrobe and shoe rack in the past few months, while at the same time replaced all chemical products like soaps and detergents with natural alternatives. "My thumb rule is to shake off all that it is superfluous. For instance, why do I need six pairs of sunglasses when all of them serve the same purpose? While our desires are unlimited, we hold on to all our acquisitions perhaps hoping to take them with us to our next lives. Though there is an inner calling to let go, the art of giving requires a big heart."
However, Ananthakrishnan M, founder of Inspired India Foundation, an NGO, believes that the desire of giving need not necessarily be stimulated by the philosophy of minimalism, but should be a way of life. "On impulse, I have donated my television set to a government school, given my jacket to a beggar shivering in the cold, and parted with my favourite T-shirts, watch and shoes to those who need it more than I do. We need to stay light in life."
Stressing that 'less is more', Ananthakrishnan adds, "Greed versus need is what is probably creating half the conflicts in this world. When you control your greed, you are bound to begin a satisfying journey."
Eliminating things that you do not need, be it physical or emotional baggage, creates space for abundance to flow in, emphasises Kathleen Ventura, a US-based life coach. The process of uncluttering does not involve just our physical surroundings, but also our mind space. Well-known actor Meghana Gaonkar is on a 'digital detox', having exited from most social media and app platforms that were draining her. "You are under extreme pressure trying to hold on to an image that others want to see of you. I would rather create a better image for myself in real life than on social media. I am using the time that I have saved to read books and to keep in touch with friends personally, instead of through impersonal text messages."
Another popular actor Pooja Gandhi's idea of unburdening her life is by detaching herself from negative people. "Those with a negative attitude are like toxins that poison your mind. Today, I am in a much happier disposition because I surround myself with positive people and meditate daily to clear the ghosts in my mind."
Pranab Pani, author and socio-political commentator adds, "Cleaning up the mind helps us to re-focus and be more productive. A cluttered mind festers restlessness, bitterness and negativity. It is sensible to remove all toxic elements and influences from our lives because we are 'walking radiators'. Whatever goes inside us - thoughts, attitudes, intentions and feelings - radiate out. Detoxing the mind is important because it helps us maintain peace, happiness and equanimity."
Life is really simple, but most of us tie ourselves to the post of materialism and forget that happiness comes from the little things that money cannot buy, as this story indicates: a wealthy father once took his son on a trip to the countryside to show him how people lived in poverty and squalor. They arrived at the farm of a very poor family, where they spent a few days. On their return, the father asked his son if he had learnt anything during the trip.
"Oh, it was great, dad," the boy replied.
"Did you notice how poor the people were?" the father asked.
"Yeah, I did."
The father then asked his son to explain his experience in detail.
"Well," the son said, "We have only one dog, and they have four of them. In our garden, there is a pool, while they have a river that has no end. We have expensive lanterns, but they have stars above their heads at night. We have the patio, and they have the whole horizon. We only have a small piece of land, while they have endless fields. We buy food, but they grow it. We have a high fence to safeguard our property, but they do not need it, as their friends protect them. Thank you, dad, for letting me see how poor we are."