The Pyjama Tale

The Pyjama Tale-2I enjoyed reading a little story and forwarded it to some of my friends and family on WhatsApp. It went something like this (allowing for translation from Hindi to English where much of the humour is lost!)

An Indian wearing a Pyjama (a casual Indian trouser) was asked by a foreigner, “How long does this local trouser last?”

The Indian replied, “Not long. I will wear it for about an year. After that, my wife will cut it up and shorten it for my son, Raju. He will wear it for about another year. Then, my wife will cut it up and sew a couple of pillow cases. An year later, these pillow cases will be used for duster cloths.”

The foreigner asked, “Then you throw it away?”

The Indian said “No, no. For six months I will use it to polish shoes. For six months after that, I will use it to clean the silencer of my motorcycle. Then it gets recycled into starting coal fires for my stove. Finally, the ash from my stove is used to wash dishes at home.”

The foreigner fainted!

Now this might be a story much exaggerated. I did not really expect any replies from most people except maybe a smiley or two. I was quite surprised at some of the responses I got.

But some, particularly, caught my attention. “Scrimping and scrounging were never the way to success … recycling is great but there’s a limit to it … The efforts that go into recycling pyjamas, are they worth it? … If everyone did this, imagine the unemployment that would generate … Surely we can finally afford to buy what we need? … We are beyond needing to recycle pyjamas to such an extreme …”

It got me thinking. I re-read the little anecdote. Sitting at my laptop or reading this tale on my phone, I am automatically a blessed person. I have more, much more than what I need. Not just for survival, but also that which is required for dignified, comfortable, even luxurious, living. I can afford to hold academic discussions on environmental awareness, recycling and the philosophies of frugal living. But what about the millions who have little or nothing? 

The recycling talked about in this story has nothing to do with environmental awareness and everything to do with ensuring another meal. Or maybe just saving, rigorously, for an ice cream for a child’s birthday? That, surely, is an aim worthy of scrimping and scrounging?

Yet, given the number of people whose lifestyle matches that of the man in the story, it is a LOT of recycling! If all of us can take a lesson or two, imagine how much burden we will take off the earth. How many fewer trees we will need to cut? How much fewer minerals need to be mined? How much less oil we will burn? How much the whole climate change problem will start subsiding? How many more animals and birds will have their natural environs to live in? There is no end to what we can achieve. 

We might raise a generation that will understand the concept of “waste not, want not”. We might raise a generation that understands that they have to be careful with their property, that it is fine to wear a much-loved shirt that belonged to your elder sibling. Or carry the same bag to school two years in a row.

The reply to the original question began with “Not long”. If we note that and then read the tale, there is a completely different level of perception we have to apply to ourselves.

Have we not all got to a place where we make very little effort at recycling? Yes, a lot of us re-use supermarket plastic bags for lining garbage cans. Some of us even carry cloth bags and don’t accept plastic bags. But a lot of us have stopped lining our cupboards with newspaper. Either we read e-papers, or we are worried about newsprint poisoning or maybe even saving trees. But a lot of us DO buy pretty shelf liners! Or paint. Or tiles. We buy designer shoes for toddlers – outgrown in months. We buy dresses for Barbie. We buy more jewellery than required – whether plastic or gold – that lie in cupboards and banks. We buy synthetic, chemical infused wipes for dusting and polishing windows and furniture.

Some of us do something, some of us do nothing. But for every item we recycle, we waste a hundred, a thousand more. Because we have decided that it is not worth our effort to recycle it. Because we can, finally, financially afford not to. Because there are more convenient options. We can call it consumerism. Or shopaholicism. Or we can call it the easy way out.

Or shortsightedness.

It bothers me. Why are so many of us deciding that the effort of recycling our pyjamas is not worth it anymore? Or just plain below our dignity?

To end on a lighter, but no less true note …

A dentist conducting a survey asks, “How long do you use your toothbrush?”
Chinese: “6 months.”
American: “3 months”
Indian: “There is no fixed time limit doctor. Maybe years… Initially, we use it for brushing our teeth; then we use it for cleaning combs, dying our hair, cleaning ornaments or cleaning machine parts of our vehicles. Then when there are no bristles left on the brush we use it for running in the ‘naada‘ (the drawstring) of our pyjamas!”