Blog : The Year of the Moustache #JLF2021

THE YEAR OF THE MOUSTACHE : S. Hareesh, Jayasree Kalathil in conversation with Aruni Kashyap about the novel ‘Meesha’ or ‘The Moustache’ #JLF2021

In my last post, I had started a series of blogs based on the sessions in Jaipur Literature Festival, 2021 conducted virtually from 19-28 Feb, 2021. This blog is based on the session – THE YEAR OF THE MOUSTACHE : S. Hareesh, Jayasree Kalathil in conversation with Aruni Kashyap, introduced by Tejaswini Niranjana conducted on 19 Feb, 2021.

Originally published in Malayalam as Meesha, S. Hareesh’s Moustache is a novel of epic dimensions and a contemporary classic mixing magic, myth and metaphor. The debut novel won the JCB Prize for Literature 2020 and is an extraordinary example of the importance of bringing India’s hidden corners to light through literature. In this session he and his award-winning translator Jayasree Kalathil speak with author and translator Aruni Kashyap about the work’s deep roots in the history, geography, politics and folklore of the Kuttanad region along with the process of translating this award winning novel.

I haven’t read the book so I was very confused about attending this session initially. I was worried the session might be full of spoilers and difficult to comprehend. But to my big surprise, the speakers discussed about the book, the controversy surrounding it, casteism, writing under totalitarian governments etc without spoiling the book too much for the possible future readers. So I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also felt that this conversation deserves to be shared with more people. So here goes. Throughout this blog I will be adding excerpts and thoughts from the session, often paraphrased.

The following questions were asked in English by Aruni Kashyap, S. Hareesh replied in Malayalam and Jayasree translated it to English. Some questions were asked directly to Jayasree also.

Q. How did you start writing this novel? What was the inspiration?

Hareesh: I wanted to write a novel since a long time back. I wanted to write about my place Kuttanad, the life there, its flora and fauna. Vavacahan is a real person in my village. At one point, I learnt that Vavachan once acted in a play as a policeman and like his fictional counterpart refused to shave his moustache since then. When I learnt about this, I decided to write that as a novel.

Q. The novel was first serialized in Mathrubhumi magazine. Then it stopped due to the controversy. Did you read it then? How did you get to know about the novel? What made you to take up its English translation works?

Jayasree: Mathrubhumi magazine is an important place for aspiring writers to get published and be recognized. I had read the novel in its serialized version. I was in London when the controversy happened. I didn’t watch it very closely or anything. Then Harpercollins contacted me asking if I was interested in translating the book. I had read only the first two chapters. So I asked for the full book. Once I had read the whole book, there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to translate it.

Q. Caste is a major theme in this book, especially caste politics in Kerala. Is it possible to write a caste-blind book anymore? Or will it always seep into our literature and art?

Hareesh: I don’t know about whole India in detail since I have never lived there, I only know from the news, literature etc. But in Kerala where I live, caste-politics is always there even though we call ourselves progressive. Caste-politics is not very explicit in Kerala, but very internal and implicit. Caste is there even in people’s names as suffixes. It is expressive in how wedding or funeral rituals happen. We don’t think it is a contradiction if the same person is a leader in a communist party as well as the leader of a caste community. I don’t think caste can be avoided in our writings. It won’t be true if it is done so. It is a very dishonest way of writing.

Q. Is there caste-politics in other Malayalam writings? Does Malayalam have a tradition of anti-caste, dalit writings?

Jayashree: Many popular mainstream writers are from upper-caste, some even write in a casteless way. Their language or narrative is often seen as standard, this is problematic. But we also have a lot of anti-caste, dalit writings in our literature. C. Ayappan‘s short stories, young writers like Renukumar etc are good examples for that. The recently published anthology ‘No Alphabet In Sight‘ is also an example.

Hareesh: Definitely, we have a good tradition of such writings. Pulikelappan who was a poet and revolutionary leader in Kerala, the poet Kumaranashan, writer C. Ayappan, Mukundan‘s work Pulayapattu etc are good examples. But the domination of uppercaste writings, standards etc are problematic.

Q. “Novels are free sovereign countries. We can’t take responsibilities for what our characters do.” This is an excerpt from the author notes of your book. There is a popular neo-liberal tendency where writers are accused of what their characters do, labeling it as glorification. That’s not how fiction works. What was your reason behind adding these lines? What are your thoughts about this argument?

Hareesh: The primary reason behind adding these lines were the controversies. A few lines of conversation between two characters in the novel spurred up the controversy. The whole book and the writer’s character is judged based on a few lines in the book. They don’t even have primary knowledge about fiction; they don’t know how to read fiction. I have quoted this many times, I will repeat it again. In Ramayana, a fisherman questions Sita’s chastity. But that is not Valmiki’s opinion. Saying so limit’s the writer’s creative possibilities and artistic freedom. In one of Llosa’s interviews he says: “how a labourer argues for fair wages, its in the same strain a writer argues for freedom.”

Q. In fiction, only trouble is interesting. Fiction is interesting before the happy endings happen. We need troubled people to create this trouble. Should we give “cautionary notes” about traumatizing events in the story? Is fiction a safe place, or as a view of the real world is it so traumatic and troubling?

Hareesh: Difficult question. No need. Writers themselves should think of writing or fiction as a safe place. It is a rescue place for the writer. Totalitarians are afraid of free speech. Storytelling is a fundamental part of our democratic process: to be interested in another person’s story. Recently, this is constantly threatened. Readers and writers have to hold on to it, demand it.

Q. In an interview of Margaret Atwood, one of her readers exclaimed that reading her books made readers sad. Atwood replied that it is a preparation for a real world. Quoting another writer she said, “Life should come with trigger warnings if novels should be a safe place.

Hareesh: I agree. Life is full of mixed experiences. One such experience is happiness, it is not the only one. So fiction is also sad.

Q. Where do you think a storyteller and translator comes in, in the process of sustaining democratic tradition in 2021?

Hareesh: Covid was beyond all kinds of religion, boundaries and barriers; so was its solution. So should be democracy and storytelling. Storytelling should be unifying. I hope it continues to do so.

If you are someone like me, who hasn’t read the novel Meesha or its English translation The Moustache yet, I hope you will buy the book and read it soon. In fact, I’m waiting for my copy to arrive. Please share your thoughts about the novel in the comments. Happy reading 🙂

You can know more about the author and buy the book using below links:

https://dcbookstore.com/authors/s-hareesh

https://dcbookstore.com/books/meesa

https://dcbookstore.com/books/moustache

Blog :- Across Genres : Classical, Folk and Popular Music #JLF2021

Across Genres : Classical, Folk and Popular Music. Prasoon Joshi in conversation with Vidya Shah #JLF2021

The 14th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival(JLF 2021) officially kick-started today(19 Feb 2021). It is scheduled to be conducted virtually from 19 Feb 2021 – 28 Feb 2021, a period of 10 days. You can read all about the programs, writers involved, debates planned and register for this festival here. Personally, I’m so pumped up to finally attend this festival. Taking that long, tiresome train journey all the way from my home state, Kerala to Jaipur just to attend this festival has been on my to-do lists since college days. I still cannot strike off that dream because the Corona virus pandemic has robbed both that train journey and the experience of enjoying these wonderful conversations amidst a live crowd from me. Nonetheless, I still feel so fortunate and privileged to have the time and technologies required to attend this fest from the comforts of my home. This series of blogs are my humble attempt to make these conversations accessible to at least some readers, aspiring-writers and art lovers who might have missed them.

The first event I was able to attend from start to finish was titled ‘Across Genres: Classical, Folk and Popular Music.’ It was designed as a conversation between Prasoon Joshi and Vidya Shah. Prasoon Joshi is an Indian poet, writer, lyricist, screenwriter, communication specialist and marketer.  He has also received the National Film Award for Best Lyrics twice, for his work in the movies Taare Zameen Par (2007), and Chittagong (2013). He has also penned the lyrics for popular Bollywood films like Black (2005), Fanaa (2006), Rang De Basanti (2006), Delhi 6 (2009), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) etc. Vidya Shah is an Indian singer, musician, social activist and writer. I found her training and works in various musical genres like Carnatic, Khayals, Thumri-dadra, Ghazal, Sufi, Bhakti, tribal music etc extremely interesting especially in the context of the current conversation.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is prasoon.png

Prasoon started the conversation by talking about the human ability to appreciate music without dividing them into genres. When we are initially introduced to music, say while listening to lullabies or other popular songs as a kid, we didn’t differentiate it into any genres. Genres are something we started to recognize and appreciate as our knowledge and proficiency in music increased.

Both the speakers gushed about their shared love and appreciation for folk music in detail. Prasoon wondered how easily folk songs tiptoes into our subconscious. Before the realization dawns in, we are already humming the song or singing along. In Bollywood, he said, there is even a playful saying among the musicians – “when in doubt, always hear a folk song.” Like the smooth stones on a river bed, folk songs are perfected by time and many generations of people who edits and improvises it. Vidya lauded this metaphor and opined that there is an element of familiarity and accessibility associated with folk songs that make them so enduring and heartwarming. Folk songs, she felt, are basically for people, by people and about people. Prasoon added: even though there is an element of artists’s self/ego/individualism in music or any art form, there is also a sense of collective in it which is so obviously evident in folk music. In fact, a lot of our culture has been retained through folk songs. The folk songs reflect our people’s minds, their emotions, the time they live in, their society and their sense of collective belonging.

Vidya reminisced about her work with Thumri genre, she even demonstrated the genre by singing a few songs. The genre as such was created for the royal audience in olden times but slowly opened up to the common people after a few generations. She explained how folk music have left its mark in other music genres like Thumri, classical music, popular film songs etc. Music has a property of osmosis. It easily crosses boundaries and genres to permeate into each other, she reasoned. Prasoon also gave examples of how the songs in Thumri, especially their lyrics, were often tweaked to adapt to the current generation. In an old love song, a woman would wait for her lover’s return the whole day. Today she can’t, she has to go to work, he mused. Such adaptations and improvisations are important, in his opinion. Music must be contextual, otherwise it will become a museum piece.

Both speakers talked about the representation of genres like folk and classical in film music. Vidya felt that the linear slotting of classical or folk genres in music were problematic. Linear slotting here means portrayal of these genres without showing their nuances or influences from other genres of music. While Prasoon was okay with adding minor tweaks in folk, thumri, classical songs etc to use them in movies, he condemned the tendency of musicians to use them just to sound “cool” or to add “masala”. As long as the soul of the song, its intention, nuances etc are portrayed in its real sense without any superficiality, he felt these songs were in safe hands. However he expressed his concerns in the narrow representation of folk music in films; often using only its rhythms, catch phrases etc, that too solely for entertainment purposes.

According to Prasoon, artists in entertainment tend to write(or create) what people understands or appreciate in general. But he said, as artists, sometimes we also have to challenge people to seek true art. Shabdh/word is a culture in a nutshell. However, art is beyond mere communication. When we hear a Shabdh, we imagine it and a picture comes to our mind. So music is in real an art form co-created by the musician and the audience. That is what A.R. Rahman meant when he said, “Music is in between the notes.” Most of the time, we get so obsessed with the message in music. But sometimes there is no message, sometimes we just have to get lost in the sounds. We have to let music to submerge us emotionally and intellectually. The ultimate music is in the silence, it transcends all genres.

Overall, I loved this session despite not having much proficiency in music. I just wish the switching into Hindi language at times, was followed up by an English translation of that portion considering non-Hindi speaking listeners also. Also, I wish the Hindi lyrics were at least roughly translated into English for wider comprehension. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this discussion very much.

I would like to conclude this blog by sharing a personal experience. If this discussion happened even one week back, I might have skipped it to attend something more closer in theme to books or literature. Music has never been my forte. I don’t sing or play any instruments. I never really understood music. I often fell in love with songs just for the lyrics. My favourite songs are usually the ones with great lyrics, irrespective of their tunes or rhythms. I don’t even understand such terms in its full artistic, musical sense. But one week back, I randomly chanced upon few videos with just instrumental music, mainly using percussion. And for my own big surprise, I was hooked. I have been watching one video after other of concerts playing various instruments especially percussion. I know these musicians are legends. But I still don’t understand a thing about the ragas or thalams they are portraying. But when I listened with great interest and attention, I could feel the musicians pushing beyond their human-limits, playing their instruments with such ecstasy, connecting to each other in some magical sync, transcending… Here’s one such video I particularly enjoyed. I hope you will feel it too. Maybe then you will fully or partially begin to understand what the speakers mentioned above about music and silence. 🙂

Poem : The Lean Cow

The lean cow cries
Yet the grass is taken away
“It’s not green enough”, they says

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The lean cow cries
Yet the grass is taken away
“It’s not green enough”, they says
Instead, they lead them astray
To the butchers and milkers

“Better feed”, they promise
But the cow knows the truth
So does the knife
And the ones holding it
Spectators clap star-struck

Such ruckus over a rope?
How ungratefully it moos!
What a lucky, lucky cow!
Lick and chew thorns awhile
Such green, green pastures in store!

Poem: Emerald Eyes

Emerald eyes
Carved-butter brown curls, anime-hair
Awkward, shy, falling

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Emerald eyes
Carved-butter brown curls, anime-hair
Awkward, shy, falling

Infinitesimal reality
Lovelorn perennial autumns
Exponential bomb blasts
Inside my head

Whatever I write
He still casts his shadows.

Poem : Thoughts

In the long voids between destinations
In the lonely and monotonous journeys

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the long voids between destinations
In the lonely and monotonous journeys
I don’t need a headset to play me music
I don’t need a book to feed me words
I have my own music, my own poetry,
my own dance moves and acts to play.

It’s all in my head
and I’m rehearsing it
Every moment I am free
Every moment I breathe

Thoughts… you are my fire,
You are my food,
You are my anger,
You are the change I want to see…

Come, make me restless
Take me in your hands.
Give me wings!
Let’s wander
Let’s get lost…
Let your thoughts keep pouring in and in and in…

Book Review: In Memory of Begum Akhtar by Agha Shahid Ali

‘In Memory of Begum Akhtar’ is Agha Shahid Ali’s second book of poems, published in 1979, by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. It’s a short book with 48 pages containing 25 poems.

‘In Memory of Begum Akhtar’ is Agha Shahid Ali’s second book of poems, published in 1979 by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. It’s a short book, about 48 pages long, containing 25 poems. This book is currently out of print. But you can purchase an e-book copy by contacting the publisher (https://www.writersworkshopindia.com/contact-us/).

My only other outing with Shahid’s poetry is his first book – Bone-Sculpture. You can read my review about the book here. Back then my only source of reference about the poet was his wiki page. But this time, I decided to research a bit more widely about the poet before attempting to read his book because the poems in his first book were full of references from his personal life, culture and Kashmir.

There is very little we can learn about the poet from the author bios of these two books. Bone Sculpture, the poet’s first book of verse came out in 1972, while he was teaching English in Hindu College, Delhi. But the second book of verse, which we are discussing today, came out in 1979 while the author was pursuing his doctorate in English literature from The Pennsylvania State University. So the migration he hinted in his first book had already happened. But no other clues about his personal life were given.

To begin with, I needed more info about Begum Akhtar. It was crucial to decode the relationship between the poet and this singer who is credited as one of the most influential people in his life. Not just the title of this book, but two full poems within the book, ‘In Memory of Begum Akhtar’ and ‘Begum Akhtar’ are clearly about her. Luckily, I found this wonderful article by Manan Kapoor : “How the legendary Begum Akhtar influenced the life and poetry of Agha Shahid Ali.” It was everything I was looking for. Do read it. I will mention the points relevant to our discussion here:

  • Akhtari Bai Faizabadi (7 October 1914 – 30 October 1974), also known as Begum Akhtar, was an Indian singer and actress. Dubbed “Mallika-e-Ghazal” (Queen of Ghazals), she is regarded as one of the greatest singers of ghazal, dadra, and thumri genres of Hindustani classical music. (Source: wiki)
  • Begum Akhtar was one of the most influential people in Agha Shahid Ali’s life. Two of his most celebrated achievements – his ingenious experiments with English Ghazals and translations of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s verses can be traced back to her influence.
  • Shahid successfully adapted the form of Ghazals, an Urdu/Persian literary tradition, to English language. This resulted in the posthumously published collection Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. Begum Akhtar fueled his love for Ghazals, the other influence being his father Agha Ashraf Ali. Begum’s Ghazals influenced how he perceived and understood the form. Features of her ghazal rendition—such as wit, wordplay and nakhra (affectation)—were present in Shahid’s poetry as well.
  • When Agha Shahid Ali wrote to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the most famous Urdu poets from Pakistan, in 1982 to seek permission to translate his poems, he lured Faiz to say yes by offering in return a rare recording of Begum Akthar’s rendering of ghazals.

The first poem in the collection, ‘In Memory of Begum Akthar’ is an elegy written by Shahid soon after the death of Begum Akhtar in October 30, 1974. The poem is dedicated to Saleem Kidwai, the poet’s friend, a historian and translator, who introduced the poet to Begum. Together they attended Begum’s concerts in New Delhi in the early 1970s.

“Ghazal, that death-sustaining widow,

sobs in dingy archives, hooked to you;

She wears her grief, a moon-soaked white,

corners the sky into disbelief.” (From the poem, In Memory of Begum Akhtar)

The intensity of the poet’s sense of loss and despair can be felt in lines like:

“no room for sobs,

even between the lines;

I wish to talk of the end of the world.”(From the poem, In Memory of Begum Akhtar)

Apart from Begum Akhtar, Shahid also pays tribute to many other poets and influences in this book. In the second poem ‘Introducing,’ he talks about his early influences like Shelley, Keats, Mahjoor(Kashmiri poet); being surprised by verse-libre (free verse) in his late teens and life becoming a waste-land (reference to T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland) during his doctorate days. The poet confesses, at that point, his poetry became all about wars and deaths. This theme is again explored in the poem ‘Warscape.’

“Unawares I was caught in wars

and wars, …”

“…Death punctuated all my poems.” (From the poem, Introducing)

His tributes continue in poems like ‘K.L. Saigal’ and ‘On Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali.’ Reading Ghalib is mentioned multiple times. The poem ‘Thumri for Rasoolan Bai’ is about Rasoolan Bai’s house burnt during the 1969 riots in Ahmedabad. Rasoolan Bai was an Indian Hindustani classical music voice musician. This poem is both a sorrowful tribute and vivid depiction of violence.

“(I knew they’d axed

her voice)”

“I could only preserve

her breaking voice

while the house burnt its bhairavi.” (From the poem, Thumri for Rasoolan Bai)

Just like in his first book, apart from death, one of the most repeated themes in this book is also Kashmir: her history, her beauty and sorrows. Poems like ‘Painting a Kashmir Landscape’ and ‘The Legends of Kashmir’ are examples for this. His secular and multi-linguistic upbringing becomes themes in poems like ‘Note Autobiographical – 1,’ ‘Note Autobiographical -2,’ and ‘Learning Urdu’. A sense of regret or loss soaks poems like ‘Notes from Autumn’s Wars’ and ‘Deepavali, 1973.’

friends know here’s a poet

with his anthology of regrets” (From the poem, Notes from Autumn’s Wars)

Whereas, we watch the poet grow aware of his own privileges and the stark contrast of poverty around him in poems like ‘Profile’ and ‘The Wallet City: 7 Poems on Delhi.” Of course, these are all just one of the themes of these poems. If we look closer, we can again see that its all political, eternally inseparable from his own life stories, stories of Kashmir and events from Indian politics.

“We walk through streets calligraphed with blood.” (From the poem, Qawwali At Nizamuddin Aulia’s Dargah)

I will repeat my opinion about Shahid’s first book of verse here also. His poems are not passive reads. They are eternal references to the history, poetry, music, stories and blood spilled in his land. I’m sure I haven’t even touched the surface of its meanings. How many lines of his poetry still await to be deciphered? I hope, as I read more about Kashmir and the poet’s own life, more mysteries in these lines will reveal their secrets to me. Until then, all I have for my solace is this hope to read these lines again, to make more open and sensitive attempts to understand and empathize with the emotions of these poems in the future.

Disclaimer : I’m just a student of literature. If there are any mistakes in the write-up or any new/different perspectives about the book that you wish to add, please reply in comments.

Environment: Conversation with Amazon Customer Service about Plastic-free Packaging

I stumbled upon an online link that claimed that a simple chat with Amazon customer service is enough to get plastic-free or minimal-plastic packaging for all my future orders with Amazon. This is what happened when I tried to verify this news with the Amazon customer service.

Introduction

My relationship with plastics is a constant battle caught somewhere in between the extremes – “I hate you because you pollute seas” and “I use you because I don’t know how to replace you.” I’m sure people who have been living a zero-plastic or zero-waste life will cringe when they read the second part of the statement. I know there are many ways to reduce plastics. I say no to straws, I use cloth or jute bags. I reuse old plastic bags every time I go shopping, I refuse plastic wrappings for my veggies but these measures couldn’t even touch the tip of the plastic-iceberg at my home.

This is the sad reality of the shop from where I usually buy household items. Almost every item comes packed up in one or more layers of plastic.

All the photos used in this collage were taken with the verbal consent of the owner of the shop. These are used for demonstration purposes only.

And this is how items arrive at our homes when we make online orders from e-commerce platforms like Amazon.

All the photos used in this collage are from orders placed in January 2020 or before. These are used for demonstration purposes only.

Why I Decided to Chat with the Amazon Customer Service?

So when I stumbled upon this link that claimed that a simple chat with Amazon customer service is enough to get plastic-free or minimal-plastic packaging for all my future orders with Amazon, I was really happy. At least, all those plastic wrappings from my online orders will be gone, right? 

I decided to contact Amazon customer service to verify this info. I was hoping to find some solution similar to these:

  1. An option at the user level to opt for plastic-free or minimal-plastic packaging for all my future orders
  2. An option at the user level to opt for negligible or zero packaging in all my future orders(with an option to opt-out in case of products that require privacy)
  3. A label that helps me distinguish between sellers who pack in an eco-friendly way and those who don’t so that I can select an eco-friendly seller for all my future orders manually  

The Chat with Amazon’s Customer Service

This is how our chat went. The name of the Amazon representative is removed to avoid any privacy issues.

Fake News

Clearly, the above Reddit link and screenshot was fake news. I’m glad that I got it verified. But as soon as the chat ended, the pessimist inside my head started commenting sarcastically: “All businesses are driven by their desire for profits. You were too naïve to believe they would allow it.” To be honest, I was disheartened. The only way I can have a plastic-free experience from Amazon is if:

  • I order a plastic-free product and
  • The seller “chooses” to pack without plastic   

The first point is totally understandable. I usually order books from Amazon. I was also planning to order some eco-friendly products made from biodegradable materials. These are plastic-free products. But if the seller chooses to pack them in plastics, they will come home covered head to toe in plastics. What use is my switch to biodegradable products then?

Amazon’s Initiatives to Eliminate Single-use Plastics

Is there any other option? I was desperate to hear some happy news. I googled a bit more. I found two articles from Amazon about their initiatives to provide plastic free packaging.

The first article, titled ‘Moving towards plastic free packaging’ was about their sustainable packaging initiative started in September, 2019.  

Important points from the article are quoted below:

  • “Amazon India unveils long term sustainable packaging initiatives; aims to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by June 2020.”
  • “Paper cushions to replace plastic dunnage in all Amazon India Fulfilment Centers by end of the year.”
  • “With recent efforts, less than 7% of the packaging in Amazon India Fulfilment Centers is single-use plastic in nature.”
  • “The company will collect plastic equivalent to all the plastic packaging material used by the Amazon Fulfilment network in India from September 2019.”
  • “This environment-friendly and fully recyclable packaging solution has already been launched in select fulfilment centers (FC) and will be extended across all FCs of Amazon in the country by the end of the year.”
  • “The company has ensured that its packaging material in the form of corrugate boxes and paper cushions contains as high as 100% recycled content and is also fully recyclable. The plastic currently used in packaging mailers and bubble bags is made of 20% recycled content, and is also recyclable.”

Yay! Even the fact that they were trying to implement these ideas made me happy. But the second article, really caught me by surprise. In this article, titled “Amazon India successfully eliminates 100% single-use plastic in packaging across its Fulfilment Centers” Amazon claimed that they had achieved their targets mentioned in the first article. Hey, that’s great!

The Ground Reality

But… the recent orders that I made from Amazon didn’t look much different from the older ones! They all had plastics!

A few doubts popped into my head:

  • Are they not considering these plastic packets as single-use because they are recyclable? But that’s not much right? Statistics says that the total % of plastics that ever got recycled were meagre. A significant change will be possible only if we stop producing and using new plastics. Creating and packing with new plastics with the excuse that they are recyclable is not an effective strategy for plastic elimination at all.
  • Are these orders not packed by Amazon fulfilment centers? But how to distinguish this?
  • Was these orders packed directly by sellers? What is Amazon’s policy regarding this?

I went back and re-read the articles. I found these lines from the second article.

“Amazon India has taken several steps to achieve complete elimination of single-use plastic in its own fulfilment network. The first milestone towards this goal was achieved in December 2019 when the company replaced plastic packaging material, such as bubble wraps and air pillows, with ‘paper cushion’ in its packaging. The company then introduced 100% plastic-free and biodegradable paper tape earlier this year, which is used to seal and secure customer shipments. Additionally, the company has replaced thin cling films for customer deliveries among other material with packaging options that are not single-use plastic in nature. All other plastic packaging material originating from the Amazon Fulfillment Centers is 100% recyclable through available collection, segregation and recycling channels. Amazon India continues to educate sellers, who directly fulfill customer orders, to join in this directional change in packaging.”

Did you see that highlighted portion? The first line in the highlighted section clearly states that Amazon Fulfillment centres still use some amount of plastic in their packaging. As I already mentioned above, producing new plastics, even the ones that are 100% recyclable, is not a proper solution. Especially in a country like India that has no or highly inefficient systems for collection, segregation and recycling of waste. Now let’s examine the second line in the highlighted section. Amazon says they have removed all single-use plastic packaging across its fulfilment centers. But as customers, we are still far from a plastic-free experience, until the sellers pack differently. Until then, our Amazon orders might still look something like this:   

All the photos in this collage were taken from orders placed and delivered after June 2020. These are used for demonstration purposes only.

Suggestions as a Consumer

As I already mentioned, switching to 100% recyclable plastics in the fulfillment centres won’t make much difference. Big companies like Amazon should aim for a zero-plastic or minimal-plastic policy for their packaging.

The fact that Amazon intends to “educate” the sellers makes me happy. But isn’t a policy change more effective? Can’t it be one of the guidelines given to the sellers? Can’t packing in biodegradable packets be a mandatory condition that sellers have to fulfill? Can’t Amazon supply(or help in procuring) the biodegradable packaging materials currently being used in their fulfilment centers to these sellers as well? I understand that this is a big chain of logistics to figure out. But if anyone can figure it out, it’s Amazon, right? They are one of the five big companies in the world. They already have a huge chain of logistics in place. I know it won’t be a piece of cake. But if they wish to do it, it’s doable, right? Imagine the huge reduction in single-use plastics all across the globe, if a company like Amazon goes plastic-free in its packaging!

The ground reality that even a customer service representative associated with the company is not able to give any assurances about such plans makes me sceptical. In fact, the representative talked about it in the future tense and not as a plan currently under implementation within the company.

Conclusion

But hey… we all have an eternal optimist also inside us, right? So do I. I’m really going to hope that someday, in the nearby future, within a few years, companies all across the globe, not just Amazon, will pack without plastics. I hope they will switch to bio-plastics and other biodegradable materials. Also product designs should prioritize minimum packaging and minimum wastage measures. I’m glad that Amazon has these initiatives in place, I hope they become effective soon. Meanwhile, let’s keep on working individually or in groups with our local bodies and NGOs to catalyze these positive changes.

Feedback Request

  • What are your thoughts about these initiatives by Amazon? Have you experienced any difference in the way your recent orders’ were packed?
  • What are your thoughts about the plastic-based packaging system in general, not just in online stores but also at each brand and product level? Do you think businesses, their product-designers and marketing agencies will someday soon give priority to eco-friendly packaging options instead of plastic?
  • Do you know any companies that use bioplastics for packaging?

Let me know in comments. It will help me to get educated further on this topic. Also, maybe I will find some interesting environment heroes and ventures I’m not currently aware of. Thanks in advance. 🙂

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New Year Wishes!

Since it’s the last blog of the year I just wanted to add a short personal message. There is no easy way to say this. 2020 was a really hard year and we have no clue what’s in store for us in 2021, the good and the bad. But to all of us out there struggling, striving despite all the odds I want to say – You are a fighter! You deserve a self-pat on your shoulders for walking through it all. Please give a big hug (personally if it’s possible, otherwise virtually maintaining the social distance) to all your loved ones who pulled you through this year. They deserve it. If you are an essential worker, please take a bow. You are our heroes. I mean it. My heart goes out to all the families who lost a loved one this year.

I hope the pandemic will be a great realization for us. I hope we will heal. I hope we will change for the better. If there is something that I have learned from this year, it is this. Man is no island. We need our families and our close-knit circle of friends. We are indebted to every human doing his/her work because they are also doing it for us. Last but never the least, environment is not a side project or hobby we can ignore and pick up at our leisure. It should be our top-priority because we are a part of it.

Here’s a video that inspired me this year:

Hope you all had a great Christmas time. Happy New Year in advance! 🙂

Stay safe! Be kind! Love… live and let live!

Disclaimer:

  • I have taken Amazon as an example in this blog because I’m an active user of their services. The same suggestions apply to all online and offline businesses. This is not an attempt to defame any individual or business. I’m stating my concerns as a consumer and as an environment-conscious citizen. Please consider this as a rating or review from the consumer.
  • The rights of all the shared videos and Instagram posts belong to their respective owners.

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