'Mom was right - too much of anything is bad'

Manisha Kulshreshtha is a popular Hindi writer. This column is an attempt by her to reconnect with her roots. She will be writing about all things rural, our traditions, our environment, women's issues and safety.

Mom was right - too much of anything is bad

Namaste India,

My connection with everything rural is very old. Truth be told, somewhere deep within my urban persona, a little village girl still lives. A little village girl who would track bullock carts laden with sugarcane to stealthily pull out a juicy stick to munch.

I still remember those forgotten times when villages had fewer shops and more homes; fewer homes and more farms; fewer cultivated patches and more jungles. A time when the air was pure and illnesses few. People would "work" more and "work-out" less; eat heartily, yet have solid flab-free physiques. They would walk miles without breaking out into a sweat.

The scenes I see now when I travel through villages are very different. Shops and dhabas (roadside eateries) seem to have gobbled up the jungles and farms and homes. Everything has become so commercial. There are no jungles; cultivated land and homes are also few. Concrete everywhere. Don't you agree?


People have also changed. I can still remember the taste of those crisp home-made mathries, that sweet shakkarpare, that tangy sattu, those roasted grains and groundnuts and that delicious sugarcane juice to wash everything down. Now it seems as if everything comes wrapped in plastic - chips, kurkure, noodles and those soft-drinks.

And the girls - all of them had waist-long hair! Sunday's were special - these were the spa-days. Not with shampoos and creams, but with shikakai and reetha; besan and haldi. It was also a time for bonding - mothers and daughters; grandmothers and granddaughters; aunts and nieces; sisters and sisters-in-law - would do each other's hair. Washing and drying it, oiling and combing it. And then finally, braiding it.

As we grew, we lost our way. No one had time for soaking shikakai and amla overnight. Shampoos were bought off the shelf. So many different varieties of soap! Our yellow-brown slabs of washing soaps gave way to the detergent powders.

And thus we became victims of excess.

Especially women. Problems that were unheard of suddenly started afflicting so many of us. Menstrual problems, uterine cysts, breast cancer.

The culprit - those same detergents and soaps meant to keep us clean were making us sick. Research revealed the presence of Xenoestrogens - substances that mimic the female hormone estrogen - in waters polluted with detergent effluents. This chemical substance has been found to cause problems like precocious puberty in girls, excessive bleeding, endometriosis, cysts in ovaries and uterus and even cancers in breast, ovary and uterus.

I am a victim of this. I have been in and out of hospitals. I suffered from anaemia. My suffering made me more aware of the damage being caused to the entire environment.

My immediate reaction - I went into clean-up mode. I emptied my home of everything that I thought was harming the environment. I started with:

1. Floor disinfectant

2. Detergent

3. Talcum powder

4. Packaged biscuits

5. Toilet paper

6. Room fresheners

7. Chemical insect repellants

8. Plastic containers

9. Polythene

10. Wet wipes

Next, I reduced the use of a lot of things that can cause a buildup of xenoestrogen in the body and cause excessive bleeding. Even you should try and find alternatives to these:


1. Shampoo-conditioner

2. Bathing soap

3. Moisturiser

4. Detergent

5. Hair Oils

6. Cosmetics

7. Plastic

Remember, things that are meant to make us look and smell good, may not have very pretty things in their list of ingredients. Deos and perfumes contain established carcinogens like aluminium. We apply deo to our armpits every time we have a bath and it travels to our breasts. The particles from artificial perfumes in talc enter our lungs. I have stopped using these totally.

Here is another exercise I urge you to conduct - just check your own garbage bin at the end of the day. See how much plastic you are adding to the environment. Try and reduce your own waste. Think about it - what do you care for more - the convenience of plastics today or safe and clean drinking water for your children tomorrow. Your decision can make the difference in a clean tomorrow or an epidemic of cancer. Cancer, as we all know, comes with either a long, expensive and painful treatment or no cure at all.

We all use Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters to ensure that we get "clean" drinking water. For every one litre of clean water from an RO, you are releasing 10 litres of unclean water which is contaminating the groundwater. This contaminated groundwater reaches our ponds and rivers and is used to grow the vegetables and fruits you eat; to sustain the fish, chicken and mutton you cook.

Plastics and chemicals are also polluting our water sources.

Don't you think it is time to return to our roots; to our old traditions? Take a cloth bag when you go to buy vegetables. Use steel cans to get milk. Ban the entry of plastics and polythene into your home.

Don't use plastic boxes and bottles. Recycle glass bottles and use them for drinking water.

But most relevant - learn to resist the pulls of the market. They want you to buy more, consume more. But you must learn to buy only what you need. Remember what your mother always said - too much of anything is bad. If you have money, consumerism will attract you - the shopkeepers want your money! The decorated shop windows, the well-stocked market shelves will call out to you - buy me, take me home, without me your life is meaningless! But resist the urge. Think, not with your heart, but with your head - do you really need it? If you don't need it, be firm. Just say NO! Resist the lure of the shiny new things. If the marketing strategies of big companies are offering you illness, poverty and destroying the earth, the onus is on you to resist.

And after telling you what not to do, here are things you must do - if you want clean air, plant trees. Grow your own vegetables. I promise you will be doing yourself and the earth a favour.

Till next time,

(About the Writer: Manisha Kulshreshtha is a popular Hindi writer born and educated in Rajasthan. Her upbringing as an army child made her footloose and her travels enriched her soul. Honoured with several awards and fellowships, Manisha published seven collections of stories and four novels. Manisha is a Senior Fellow with the Cultural Department and is working on a travelogue -- Meghdoot Ki Rah Par. Her works have been translated into Russian, Dutch and English. Her work has afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world.)

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