Lessons of Sustainability I Learned From My Grandma


Author: Saloni Dahanukar

Growing up as an only child with working parents (who often travelled), I spent the majority of time with my paternal grandmother - Ajju. She is one of the most important people in my life and has shaped my individuality in many ways.



Since I can remember she has been a lover of nature, flowers and all things botanical. Long before up-cycling, recycling or reusing became ‘cool’, Ajju had based her entire life around these values - not on purpose, but because that’s how she was brought up. Ajju was raised in a huge and well off family - her parents, along with 6 brothers and 5 sisters making 13 immediate family members, and around 20 uncles, aunts and cousins. They all lived under the same roof and involuntarily incorporated the biggest lesson of sustainable living; sharing, in their daily tasks. Her family owned a big farm, mainly growing seasonal produce - because that’s what was natural during her times, unlike avocados or mangoes that are farmed all year round today and thus, require 3x more harmful energy than if they are grown in the right season. So naturally, she inculcated in me similar sustainable eating habits, like eating grapes in February, lychees in may and guavas in fall. 



As I continue living my proud independent life in the city of dreams, I often find myself turning to these habits unintentionally and thus, reaping the many benefits of sustainable living. It’s common for me to come across a plethora of information about sustainability on my social media. Nothing I see is really new, because Ajju has taught me these values all along. 

A true force to be reckoned with, I’m definitely possessive about ajju but if it’s going to make our world a better place, I don’t mind passing some of her wisdom along. 

As a proud boomer, she is an expert at the 3R’s - Reduce, recycle and reuse. Soaking up spilt milk with leftover bread so she can feed our pets, optimally utilising a single sheet of tissue paper so we don’t waste trees and saving every piece of plastic packaging ever, so she can make a cover for her hundred novels - she sets a high benchmark in our household regarding wastage of resources. 

Ajju’s morning routine includes a 45 min session of power yoga, followed by breakfast, mainly consisting of coffee and fresh fruits. Many times, I catch her rubbing papaya skins on her skin due to the rich anti-aging properties they contain. (and trust me, it shows!! She looks 25). After her breakfast, she likes to settle down in our garden with a bunch of newspapers or a good book. On good days, our garden is beautifully lit by the morning sun, which is perfect for her daily dose of Vitamin D, she says. (All this while I was wondering why my expensive skincare wasn’t doing the trick) 

Ajju also swears by being frugal about overconsumption. She believes that one should only buy how much they need. However, no-one is perfect and ajju isn’t either - so she makes an exception to this rule with regards to books. 

Her thrifty behavior comes not from wanting to save money, but because she is a lover of nature and does not believe in burdening it. Finishing all the food on her plate, always finishing her glass of water or not ordering her favorite dish in a restaurant because she is unsure if she can finish the whole thing are some tenets she has passed down to me. These have not only helped me live sustainably, but also lessened the strain on my pocket. 


Along with being pragmatic with her daily habits, she is also the biggest supporter of eating and buying local. If my form of retail therapy is window shopping in a big mall, hers is visiting clothing or food exhibitions. She is a regular visitor to almost every exhibition or trade fair in the vicinity. My childhood memories include her buying the yummiest food items made by small businesses like garden cress ladoos (also known as aliv), which are a great source of protein and help to keep satiated or Green pea pastries (also known as matar karanji), made from fresh seasonal produce. Her collection of handloom sarees, and hand painted dupattas are some of her famous purchases that I absolutely adore (and steal every chance I get!). 

Ajju is simplicity personified. Less is more and beauty is natural are her golden rules of life. An epitome of organic living - we can all learn a bit of sustainability from ajju <3 (which reminds me, I should probably call her!)


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