“Sustainability is the bedrock of Indian culture”

Kamana Gautam wearing a thrifted dress for her birthday

She follows sustainability in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in raising the kids…in almost all spheres of life. Kamana Gautam, a certified lactation consultant, gives us some easy tips to lead a holistic life

Kamana, you try and follow a sustainable lifestyle in myriad aspects of life. What is the meaning of sustainability for you?

It means understanding the value of what we have, where it comes from, and where it goes when we don’t use it. It also means to respect and inculcate the local and homegrown as well as to sustain them in a healthy manner.

Sustainability is the bedrock of Indian culture. Didn’t our parents, just a generation ago, recycle everything from jars to books? Clothes were passed on from sibling to sibling. Children were taught to understand that objects needed to be used till they last, not replaced/updated with each version that comes in the market.

Dress stitched out of a wasted piece of fabric

You are popular for following thrift fashion. Tell us about it.

I don’t own any clothes over 1000 rupees! I go to a lot of swap events and buy at thrift shops or Facebook groups online. For those who are particular about wearing new clothes, they could buy handlooms and get them stitched by a local tailor. Even for my kids, I always take pre-loved clothes and toys from my friends and family. They sometimes look at me in a surprised manner, but to me, the fact that someone wore it earlier does not diminish their value. It’s also an ideal way to make children understand the value of things at an early age.

And other areas where you follow conscious living?

When I became a mother, I realized that kids do not need expensive and chemical-laden body washes. Marketing creates demand for products that we don’t need. I stopped buying shampoos and soaps and got back to traditional Indian coconut oils, pindis or bath powders which are organic and have no harmful effects. These work very well and require minimum effort. In case you find the process of using them cumbersome, these days there are readymade products available that one can buy.

What for you is the most important part of following sustainable life?

The most important part of being sustainable is to explore the local markets and foods. Normally, I see that whenever people move, they take their cultural practices with them. For example, I come from a wheat eating region but when I settled in Hyderabad, I explored the local millets. They are grown without any chemicals, need no excess water but what’s available in the water table and the Telangana soil ensures that the best variety is grown twice a year. It’s beneficial in every way, so if we look, we can find enough local substitutes to what we are used to!

Instead of running around superfoods which the West believes in, like kale or lettuce — learn about the superfoods which are growing in abundance right around you. North Indians don’t get totakura or gongura, so explore them while you are here. Greens like commelina benghalensis, spiny amaranthus, and sesile joyweed are grown locally. Learn about simple native plants like Costus igneus (commonly known as insulin plant) from which you can make everything from tea, bhajjis, and pakodas along with immense benefits for your health.

Are there challenges involved?

It is challenging at times but at the end of the day, it’s about a matter of choice. How can we get back our health or our environment after we irrevocably damage it? I mean, did we ever think we’d be so dependent on RO water? If we can’t even provide clean air or water to our children, we need to rethink our priorities.

Kamana’s children with school bags made of pre-used denim

Is sustainable living time consuming and expensive?

Not so much. Firstly, as a parent my priority is to ensure that I give my kids a clean and chemical-free childhood. So, it doesn’t feel a lot of effort, especially when they see me work and pitch in to make bio-enzymes or compost. Secondly, it’s all about how you want your life to be. When it comes to expense, yes, organic options are a little more expensive to others available, but if you consider the long-time gains, it’s worth is immeasurable. It all boils down to juggling other expenses. If it’s important to you, then you will find a way to do it.

Do you have some simple tips for those who want to embark on the journey of a sustainable lifestyle?

It’s important to understand where change can be effective and choose that area. I would advise people to choose one area: Kitchen, bathroom, or Kids.

In the kitchen, simply sort your wastes or make your own bio enzyme. They can be used for cleaning, both utensils and washrooms. Buy open grains instead of buying them in plastic laden covers. Sort your waste, once you do it you realize how it becomes a part of your life. Carry your own utensils when you eat outside, or at least carry cutlery and straws instead of using plastic ones. Eat home cooked meals instead of ordering which uses a lot of packaging. In my apartment complex, I have seen people using Swiggy to order from a bandi just outside the building!

Replace chemical soaps with handmade ones in the washroom. Making a detergent is not rocket science: all it needs is bio enzymes, soapnut liquid, and essential oils.

To avoid the usage of plastic, try and avoid online shopping or buying products with heavy packaging.

It’s a space that talks about conscious living. Attached is a store that houses conscious products — https://www.ataasii.com/