What a Waste!

Light of truth

Prema Jayakumar

When I was a child, ours was always a crowded household. We had very few household rules. Two of them concerned eating. One of them was that everyone was present at meal-times if at all possible. Another was that food was never wasted. We did not have the system of someone else serving us. Only the very young and the very old were served. We were expected to serve ourselves, see that there was enough for everyone and make sure that we ate everything we had taken into the plate. Since we had served ourselves, there was no excuse for wasting. Waste was considered a sin almost and a severe scolding came your way if you did waste. This was not the way of just our household but other houses I visited when I was young too.

When did we, as a culture, begin to find waste acceptable? Not just food, but all resources – one sided paper, clothes that could still be used, notebooks that had plenty of blank leaves. People think you are eccentric if you try to reuse the reams of paper that have only a couple of lines on them.

Where water is concerned, there seems to be a faint awareness that it is a resource that might not last out the human age and an effort is being made at least in some places to spread the word and prevent waste. At least there is talk of rain water harvesting and recycling waste water and so on. Of course there is much more to be done. The rivers are still being polluted with impunity, dug up for the precious sand for the maws of the concrete jungle, leaving them desert like in summer with desert like vegetation. Still, there is some awareness that more needs to be done.

And what about people? So many people too seem redundant in this use and throw away culture. Human beings too seem to have a sell-by or throw-away-after date on them. Grandparents had their place in the old households, as keepers of tradition, as tellers of stories, as protectors of children against the wrath of their parents. The aged of course are mostly people who have had a full life and have earned their rest. But rest does not necessarily mean isolation and uselessness. Old people don’t need to be a problem that requires a solution (‘The Problem of an Ageing Population’ says one headline), but a resource that can be used.

What about another huge waste of resource? I am talking of all the female brains that are drained into the kitchen sink. What has happened to the rank holders of the school examinations (you will admit that at least half of them were girls) and degree examinations? What about all those girls who did not get ranks but were good at their studies and efficient at whatever they did? If they were all working productively in the public space wouldn’t the country and the world at large be much better off? I’m not imputing that women who do not work in the public space are lazy or copping out. I’m sure most of them would rather use their brains in whatever discipline they were trained in if it was possible without damage to the family. What I’m trying to say is that it is up to the country and the society at large to make this resource available in their own interests. Any productive resource that is wasted is a national waste and not just an individual’s loss and sorrow that ‘the waste remains and kills.’

And of course there is the biggest waste of all – armed conflict, be it in the local situation or the international situation. How much is wasted – lives that would have lasted longer, tears that need not have been shed, youth and strength that could have been so much better employed, intelligence and ingenuity that could have been creating better things, money that could be spent productively elsewhere, so much. But one this is sure, whatever other wastes come to an end, armed conflict with its associations of glory and martyrdom will not come to an end until the world changes a lot. One can only mourn with G. A. S. Kennedy: ‘Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,/Waste of youth’s most precious years. Waste of ways the saints have trod,/Waste of Glory, waste of God,/War.’

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