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Colour me a GREEN DIWALI

Green diwali? Pshaw!” the sceptic in you will sputter. You have a point. The only green thing about the festival of noise is perhaps the snot-green smoke that fills the air every time someone decides to pummel your eardrums with a blast of crackers. Or the green cellophane that chokes the boxes of greasy sweets you get.

But. On an earth trampled by the carbon footprint and in the year that that an Indian won the Green Nobel, we had a challenge: celebrate a green Diwali and not just by saying no to firecrackers. Here is what we came up with:

Dazzlers in the sky: A green life is not a killjoy. No, that doesn’t mean we suggest you head for the cracker shop. Instead, arrange a laser show. You can watch the sky being sprinkled with colourful shards of light without the noise and the smoke. A basic laser show of sparklers and colourful lights can cost anything between Rs 60,000 and Rs 1 lakh. Professional vendors who create shows for major events have customised programmes that can be picked off the rack. Yes, it’s expensive but not if the entire neighbourhood pitches in. Which brings us to the next point—a green life is about fostering a community. Get together and celebrate. There’s strength—and the earth’s safety—in numbers.

Green glow: A green life is about not taking the shortcut. So don’t call your colony electrician to truss up your home with garish electric lights and expend valuable energy. Light diyas but don’t buy the wicks. Make them yourself. “Once you discard the earthen lamp, it will be broken down by natural processes and go back to the earth. This is the way our grandparents celebrated the festival and this is what we should return to,” says ceramic artist Manisha Bhattacharya, the first Indian to get a Fulbright scholarship for ceramic art.

For more inspiration, look to tradition. In Maharashtra, aakash kandeel or paper lanterns made of handmade paper are an integral part of Diwali decorations. There are many more versions of eco-friendly lanterns available in the market, those made of cardboard, cloth, ice-cream sticks, papier mache, appliqué art, bamboo sticks and even recycled glass. These lanterns can be bought for anything between Rs 30 to Rs 300. Candles are another good option and any lifestyle store stocks plenty of varieties. Good Earth outlets in Mumbai and Delhi have a special range of candles made of wood resin or actual beeswax as opposed to chemicals used in normal candles. “When these burn, they do not release toxic fumes. Even the aroma that we use is pure essence of oil. No chemicals are used,’’ said Saswati Roy, marketing head of Good Earth in Delhi. An entire range is produced for Diwali.

“India has one of the biggest markets for designer candles and so there’s lots to choose from,’’ says Sabaah Sheikh, who has been making designer candles for 11 years and supplies to Good Earth. This Diwali, Sheikh has created a special handmade line of candles with a Mughal theme: a set of five candles costs Rs 3,000-3,500.

Green décor: Hang up a bell at the entrance to your house. Let the visitors ring it instead of the electric door-chime. It saves a bit of energy and is music for your ears. For a rangoli that lights up the house, use flower-petals, coloured rice grains, pulses and colored sand instead of synthetic colours. Good Earth also has a new range of “organic” textile material from which they make cushion covers, bedcovers and towels. “These are either linen or made with natural dyes,’’ said Roy.

Dress green: Think beyond the Nehru jacket and khadi silks. There is a wide range of fashionably-cut garments, ranging from saris to kurtas, skirts to dupattas at khadi centres across the country. Even designers are catching up. Many, like Bangalore-based Deepika Govind, have incorporated khadi and other natural fabrics in their work. “Organic means bio-degradable and completely natural, with no harmful effects and no use of synthetic ingredients in its manufacturing. If you can add eco-friendly washes to it, it works out even better,” she says. Govind has worked with lightweight fabrics like khadi, cotton and even nouveau textiles like bamboo knits to come up with sarees and dresses that have no chemical dyes or synthetic blends. She has used traditional techniques like ikkat and hand-painting to add colour to the textiles. So, if you opt for these clothes, it means no acid washes or no synthetic surface treatments to make your clothes stand out. The prices range from Rs 3,500 to Rs 15,000.

For the sweet tooth: If you can’t bear to look at another laddoo, try this “organic” option. Cafe Turtle in Delhi has a range of chocolates that does not have artificial colours or synthetic fragrances. There are four different options: classic milk and dark chocolate, soft centre with mint, orange and truffle, and nutty ones with almond, hazelnut and honey. Try the ones with brandy and rum centres. These chocolates are priced between Rs 20 to Rs 54 a piece. But gobble them up fast. The shelf life is roughly two weeks.

Green giving: To start with, let’s cut down on those hideous, shimmery gift wrappings. That’s advice that comes from no less a person than Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore this year. “One feels concerned that a festival with so much ethical and sentimental value has become so materialistic. Gifts are wrapped in elaborate ways. This is a deviation from tradition. Deepavali seems to have become like the Christmas celebrated in the developed world, which is very wasteful.’’

True. Also, it doesn’t take a second to tear the wrappers apart and if they are plastic, they end up as non-biodegradable trash—remnants of another polluting Diwali. If you must gift-wrap, you could do so with recycled paper or wrapping paper made of recycled cotton rags and hosiery, like the ones India-Aeon Overseas has introduced.

How about gifting something that grows every Diwali? Visit a local nursery or Triveni’s Prakriti if you are in Delhi and send a plant. And, let the plants breathe; skip the gift-wrap.

Or take a leaf out of Goonj. The organisation will be going to about 100 schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Jallandhar and ask children to not just say no to crackers but to give a part of their pocket money to buy stationary and books for rural schools.

For the intense types who are seriously worried about the environment, a DVD of Al Gore’s award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, should be just right. The documentary urges people to reduce their carbon foorprint. The DVD itself makes a green statement: the packaging uses 100 per cent recycled paper and inks and coatings formulated to emit virtually no volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. There are no inserts, no laminates and no plastic. For health freaks, a box of green tea is a good gift option. Theatre and cinema vouchers bring great joy, as people can choose for themselves what they would like to see. For children, a gift of a day riding ponies or a visit to an adventure park will bring memories that will last much longer.

Party hopping: OK, let’s admit it. A green life is a little tough. So if you are visiting friends or relatives, don’t take the car. Cut down on emissions and take the public transport instead.

Clean up, recycle your gifts: Finally, let us not forget the post-Diwali clean-up. We consume far more bottles and paper at Diwali than at any other time of year. Therefore, it is crucial that all this gets recycled, if we are to slash our Diwali CO2 emissions. Charity shops love good-quality cast-offs, and council recycling points often collect all forms of old clothes, shoes and used cloth. This Diwali, those in Pune can contact the Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group and donate things that they have enjoyed using and would like to give away, not because they are broken and useless but because they would like to share them with someone else. One person’s horror of a present is another’s dream find, so after Diwali make sure to do a good spring clean and take unwanted presents down to your local charity shop. Every single Diwali card we send comes with a carbon price. You could send an e-card with your own personal message instead; or, alternatively, buy Diwali cards made from recycled paper.

Finally, a green life is a simple life. So spend less, think creatively about using your resources. And tell us if you have thought of a better way to spend a green Diwali.

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