Live your life!

Swapna Narayanan 

Until a few years back, girls were brought up in a very conditioned environment where the path of growing up was fairly well chartered. Study well, learn how to run a house, choose a profession (only for a few though!), get married, have children, and nurture a family. And while walking this path, there would be enough bitter experiences of facing obstacles, handling the eve teasers on the road, keeping quiet about a sexual misbehavior of someone in the known circles, and seeing the boys in the family having much more freedom than you.

These girls, who are women today, carry a lot of memories and baggage thanks to these experiences and are still living under the shadows, afraid to step out.​

Yet – it is time she realizes that it is in her own hands to step out and live a life filled with passion and happiness.

Unnamed (4)Today, we meet an enterprising Bengaluru based Urban Farmer – Vani Murthy, who till a few years back did not have the courage to step out, be independent and live a life of her choice. Yet she dared, stepped out, found her passion and is today living a fulfilling life nurturing Mother Earth as a composting specialist, organic farmer and a crusader to save our environment. ​

I hope reading her story encourages a few more women to come out of the shadows, identify what appeals to them and build a fulfilling life.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation.

Swapna: A shy girl, a happy homemaker and now an Urban farmer and an active crusader of ‘compost, grow and eat’, you have come a long way! I am sure it was not easy either, yet one looks at you and feels a sense of calm beneath that highly passionate individual. Tell us something about yourself.

Vani: Thank you Swapna! Yes – it has been a journey of transformation. People who knew me since my childhood are today able to see a very different me. But then, you must know that the sense of calm came after a very detailed self-introspection.

My childhood was spent in a cocooned environment. My father was a public sector employee and we lived in Hyderabad. A family full of girls – me, my twin and two younger sisters – there was always a protective layer around me. A sexual abuse incident in the childhood only took me further into my shell and under the shadow of my twin who was very brave, boisterous and an enterprising person. Post my wedding, my husband took over the chaperoning task and I got busy with my home, joint family, children etc.

Do you know, I used to be so scared and afraid to even venture out of the house all alone?

Until a point where I felt the need to step out of my shell and see the world. So, I embarked on a journey to first fight my demons and overcome the fear byself-introspecting and asking my own self – why am I scared? what are my fears? and so on.

And as a first step, I joined the Residents Welfare Association in my neighborhood at Malleshwaram, Bengaluru and started helping in smaller activities. This turned out to be a life-changing experience and enabled me to gain confidence and face the day to day activities of life fearlessly. Over a period of time, one thing led to another, and soon I got completely involved in protecting our soil and saving our environment. As I always say, we must leave a better place for our children. And through my group, we launched many initiatives like waste segregation, Saying No to Plastics, Green the Red etc.

And here I am today standing as a woman who overcame a lot of her fears, erased a lot of bad experiences, shed away the baggage and reinvented myself as a crusader to save and nurture our Mother Earth!

Swapna: In our country, it is so unfortunate that almost every woman has faced an incident of sexual abuse in her childhood. So sad, yet a bitter fact. And, each of these incidents have a long-lasting impact on the psyche of the abused girl. You have faced it too and have now come out of it. What would be your advice to all these women to help them erase those dark memories and break free to build a happy and peaceful life?

Vani: As I said, connect with yourself. Do a self-analysis and question yourself on why certain things bother you. Work out a solution that gives you peace of mind. As you said, almost every woman in our country has faced it. And yet getting out of it is in our hands only. Nobody is going to come and help you to step out.

Step out, clear your past baggage, find your passion and live life.

I did it in my 40s. And, I am glad I did it!

Swapna: Earth is our mother. In the face of modernization, we have somewhere gone ahead and disrespected our earth quite indescribably and almost eroded the green cover. Tell us something more about your initiatives that would enable us to nourish our evergiving Mother Earth back to her usual health.

Unnamed (5)Vani: Mother Earth needs nurturing and it is our duty to nurture her and regain her old health. I am part of many initiatives on waste segregation, avoiding plastic, keeping our environment clean, and avoiding sanitary waste. All of these come under the umbrella of Solid Waste Management Round Table – SWMRT.

For me, the revelation of this massive problem came when I visited the landfill near Bengaluru. It was such a shock to see that as residents we are creating such a big mess without even being aware of our actions. The visit was a gory realization of the reality and only propelled me to go further on my mission to save our environment and ensure we leave back a green and healthy Mother Earth for our children.

We began with the 2 bin 1 bag initiative where we encouraged people to practice a three way segregation – organic waste, dry waste and sanitary waste. SWMRT helped set up dry waste collection centers all over Bengaluru to encourage recycling of dry waste. For example, one ton of waste paper recycled saves 17 trees from being chopped to make paper!

Another thing I am very passionate about is saying no to single-use disposables. We have abused enough by making plastics a core part of our lifestyle in the last few years, and it is time now for us to course correct and eradicate single-use disposables from our day to day lives.

Swachagraha is another initiative which encourages people to compost, grow and cook.  That will ensure the cycle of life continues and we regularly give back leading to an enriched soil.

Swapna: ‘Composting is a very stinky affair’ is a common misconception and acts as a major deterrent to manage our household waste. How does one compost without the stink?

Vani: Let me begin with why do we need to compost first. Organic waste is very valuable, and you should not trash it away. Also, I think as responsible citizens it is our duty to not contribute to the mess. Pollution is not only the Pollution Control Boards’ responsibility. It is ours too. We must be accountable too and ensure that we try and recycle the waste we generate at home.

So composting is a process of generating fertilizer at home using your kitchen waste. It takes about 40-45 days for a good amount of compost to form from a can full of waste.

To compost at home, you should:

  1. Use a composting bin with provision for air circulation.
  2. Add the greens – these are your daily waste from the kitchen. The waste peels, pulps, and pieces from your daily fruits and vegetable consumption. Ensure the waste is in smaller chunks to ensure better composting.
  3. Add the browns – you need to add to your greens an equal amount of browns like dry leaves, coco peat, saw dust etc. to ensure the wetness of the greens is absorbed.
  4. Add microbes to accelerate the breakdown of organic matter. Sour buttermilk is the easiest accelerator available at home.
  5. Repeat the above in a layered format till the bin is full. Repeat the process every day and turn the pile once in 4 days to keep it breathing.
  6. And in 45 days, you should have a good pound of rich organic fertilizer for your garden.

With respect to stinking, if you ensure there is enough air with the browns and there is a no lump formed with constant turning in, you will never feel the stink or see some unwanted creatures.

Swapna: According to you, post the compositing, the next logical step is growing organic vegetables and fruits. Do we not need a large plot of land to set up a kitchen garden?

Vani: While nothing beats the joy of farming in a large plot, it is not a necessity. If you have a good terrace, you can start your kitchen garden there too! Start with whatever you have, but ensure you grow your own greens that are pesticide and chemical free. It is such a sad state that today all vegetables and fruits that we get in the market have a lot of pesticide residue that does not go away with washing. And we are consuming these veggies regularly and inviting diseases.

I personally garden on my terrace only, but I do have a dream of building a farm of my own.

For me, nourishing our body with safe food, grown without the use of chemicals is very important. Food has to be grown on living soil and to make that we need to build soil by nourishing it. My dream is to build a sustainable green living space, grow most of my food on healthy living soil, feed safe food to family and friends, have a home amidst nature and to put the least burden on this planet. I want to leave something better for the next generation to hold on to and continue nurturing the earth and contribute to a healthy planet.

Swapna: SWMRT has launched a book called as Trashonomics. Tell us more about it.

Vani: Trashonomics is a book to introduce children to the concept of waste and tell them how it is a gold mine that needs to be recycled. After all, garbage management is a global problem but needs local solutions. The book acts as a guide to understand waste and its impact on our planet. It is available in 3 languages – Kannada, Hindi and English – and has five chapters with activities to grasp the issue of waste.

And we want to empower children with this knowledge so that they can lead this change of better waste management and harnessing of the gold lying within our garbage.

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