Mindful manufacturing & maximum nutrition

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

I had 2 separate conversations yesterday that were on a topic that We’ve been quite obsessed about in the pre-work leading up the Krya factory. How do we process herbs and grains to ensure that they are easy and convenient to use without sacrificing the nutrients that go into them?

Grain processing for nutrient absorption is an ancient art. Archeological excavations indicate that plant domestication is about 11,000 years old. We first started domesticating vegetables like the bottle gourd, which was used as a vegetable and a container before the evolution of pottery and the art of ceramics. Cereal grains were domesticated around 9000 BC in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Apart from fruit bearing annuals, pulses like peas and grains like wheat were part of this wave of plant domestication.

4. einkorn wheat at the fertile cresecent

 

The domestication of plants and cereals grains led to a great change in our way of life: this paved the way for Man to change from being a nomadic hunter gatherer to a fixed dweller in domesticated groups which slowly evolved to cities and towns. So in a way, the cultivation of cereals and grains created human civilisation itself.

The quern stone is an important landmark in the history of grain processing. Ethnographic evidence indicates that querns were used to grind not only grains for food, but also different kinds of herbs for medicines and cosmetics. Different types of querns existed in the ancient world: saddle querns, beehive querns and rotary querns which we are familiar with in India.

2, syrian quern stone3. egyptian grain grinding

 

The evolution of the water powered mill mechanised the use of the hand quern to some extent. The force of flowing water would generate enough power for the grinding wheel to begin turning. The grinding mechanism was similar to the rotary quern and the grain would be crushed between the rotating wheel and the stationary base of the Water mill. The Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill is a Roman Watermill complex located near the town of Arles in southern France.

 

1. barbegal mill

This mill was strategically located on a Roman aqueduct created to supply drinking water from the Alpilles mountain chain to the town of Arelate (now the town of Arles) on the Rhone River. This aqueduct fed 2 parallel sets of 8 waterwheels to power the attached flourmill. The mills were thought to have been operated almost continuously for 200 years from the 1st century AD and have an estimated capacity of 4.5 tonnes of flour per day – enough to feed the 30,000 inhabitants of Arles.

How fast does it spin? 

One of the ways to analyse the quality of processing is to find out the speed of the grinding mechanism. All rotary based mechanisms where the method involves something rotating around a fixed axis ( a grinding stone in the case of a wet grinder) or even the drum of your washing machine have a measure called RPM (revolutions per minute) to measure the frequency of rotation. The greater the RPM, the greater is the precision and power of the grinding, washing or drilling device.

8. RPM - how fast does it spin

 

A modern ultrasonic dental drill can rotate upto 800,000 RPM. Depending upon the spin cycle you choose in your washing machine the drum can rotate between 500 – 2000 RPM. When cruising at a minimum idle speed, your car engine has an RPM between 750 – 900 RPM. A Formula 1 car’s racing engine is operated at nearly 20,000 RPM. The speed of ancient water mills is estimated to be about 120 RPM.

 

High speed milling machines: devolution?

With the invention of fossil fuel powered electricity, water mills were slowly substituted by electricity powered mills. Milling machines themselves also underwent several technological changes. From the stone based water mills, we moved to roller mills. Roller mills produced a huge technological breakthrough as they were able to separate wheat bran from its endosperm, helping in the introduction of “Maida” or refined wheat flour.

To achieve this super refined flour, slightly wet wheat would be passed through a roller mill. This moisture acts in 2 ways on different parts of the wheat: it softens the endosperm, helping it be ground extremely finely, and it hardens the bran leaving it as a coarse grind. Therefore, you could easily sieve and separate the super refined endosperm from its coarser, much healthier bran and sell super refined flour.

Today’s milling machines are high speed impact pulverisers. Often sold for various purposes from grinding granite and stone for the construction industry to grinding food products like grains and spices, impact pulverisers and hammer mills are sold on 2 counts: speed of food processing (as described through the RPM) and fineness of the material ground.

Krya’s experiments in herb and grain processing and our observations:

We have a line of cleaning products that include a detergent and a dish washing product and a line of personal care products that include a face wash, hair wash and a body wash. Our quest when formulating and manufacturing our products is twofold: are they able to harness all the power of the natural ingredients we use while providing our users with a certain degree of comfort and convenience during use.

The yardstick for determining whether a particular manufacturing process is good or not, really depends on the metrics for measuring a product. Most powdered products are measured on a single metric only: the size reduction of the particles that has been achieved and the evenness of the particle size. Think of any brand of compact powder or even a talcum powder you might use for your child. Apart from the fragrance, perhaps the only way you might measure the quality of your product is the even and smooth feel of the compact on your face or the powder on your child’s skin.Unfortunately this metric of smoothness and evenness has now expanded to cover all powder based products, no matter what they are originally supposed to do.

5. all powders are not the same

Turmeric grinding:

Turmeric, the ubiquitous spice in Indian cooking and medicine is used extensively as is in cooking or as a part of important spice mixes like sambhars powder and rasam powder. Turmeric is a notoriously tough root to grind. Most household mixer grinders cannot get a smooth turmeric powder, so turmeric is usually sent to the neighbourhood flour mill for processing. (Of course the mechanism of the mixer grinder is not suited to grinding at all, as it is designed for a cutting rather than a pounding action). Different kinds of industrial grinders can be used for turmeric grinder.

In very large, high capacity spice grinding operations, an impact mill or a cyclone mill is used to grind turmeric. The RPM of an impact mill starts at 1500 RPM and it can go upto 2800 RPM depending on the purpose of the mill. This kind of mill can dramatically reduce the processing time of grinding hard turmeric roots. This means that greater volumes of turmeric can be ground and processed in this factory.

Ayurvedic medicine processing:

Rasanadi chooranam is an Ayurvedic medicine which is always available at our home. This is an extremely useful preparation to control water accumulation in the sinuses. In Ayurveda, a pinch of Rasanadi chooranam is applied every time you wash your hair at the lymph nodes and certain points on your head. This chooranam helps retain heat in these points and help dry up water before it has a chance to be absorbed internally and reach the sinuses. If you suffer from water accumulation or a feeling of heaviness in your head after washing your hair, in wet weather or if your head sweats a lot, Rasanadi chooranam will make a huge difference to your health and well being.

We tested the physical characteristics and aroma of Rasanadi chooranam bought from 2 different Ayurvedic brands: One came from a government run (presumably lower funded) organisation and the other from a big brand name Ayurvedic company. The Rasanadi chooranam from the government funded Ayurvedic Company was darker in colour and coarser to touch. It was also extremely fragrant and generated a feeling of warmth as soon as it was applied on the head. However the Rasanadi chooranam from the big brand company was much lighter in colour, extremely fine to touch and had little or no aroma. It did not have the immediate warming characteristics of its poorer counterpart.

Both brands have used the same Ayurvedic formulation from the same Ayurvedic text. Both brands use a mixture of conventionally grown / cultivated herbs and forest collected herbs. The major difference lies in the way they have been processed. Clearly the bigger brand has used a more expensive, hi impact, high RPM pulveriser. This pulveriser has, through a combination of high heat, greater number of beating heads and higher energy, achieved fineness of the final product by sacrificing aroma, and some of the products functional characteristics.

Active ingredients and how to release them:

Processing food and natural medicine or cosmetics follow similar principles. The active ingredients in plants are bound up within their cell structure. Our role in creating functional products is to release these active ingredients so that they get to work as soon as you apply, soak or eat them. In grain processing which we spoke about, the active ingredients in the grain like the B vitamins and protein is readily available to the body only when we soak, ferment, or create flour. This very act of creating flour, if done improperly can completely destroy the active ingredients present within the grain.

The active ingredients of soapberry which we depend upon to produce hair magic or laundry magic in the Krya hair wash and Krya detergent is called saponins. These saponins are distributed through the outer shell of the soapberry fruit. To extract these saponins, we need to either soak the fruit in water and extract it as an aqueous extract or powder the shells and make the saponins more bio available so that they are released faster in the presence of water or mechanical action.

6. saponin extraction at krya

 

However saponins, like most active ingredients are sensitive to air, and heat. When processed in a high heat generating milling operation, they get denatured or cooked. These denatured saponins have a lower foaming action and have a completely different aromatic profile when compared to properly processed saponins.

Why process a soapberry at all? Using a whole soapberry is not as effective or convenient as using the powdered soapberry or an aqueous extract. Because it is only through subjecting the whole soapberries to some form of processing, we are able to make the saponins readily available to us.

When is herb or food processing just right? And why you should care

Food or natural products are truly nutritious and provide well being when they have been carefully made, using high quality raw materials and careful processing techniques. High heat and fast processing has 2 negative effects on plant based material: It destroys the volatile, delicate aroma compounds and it denatures vital nutrients like vitamins (some of which are extremely heat sensitive).

For example, thiamine in wheat is one of the first vitamins to be lost in high speed processing. This is especially true in high speed mills where temperatures can reach upto 204 degrees centigrade. In our skin and hair care products, we use several delicate, extremely volatile, aromatic herbs.

Lemongrass for instance, goes into our Kids body wash. Lemongrass is a dry, fibrous grass, and is especially soothing for delicate skin. Its volatile compounds are released by either carefully crushing the grass or through steam distillation to extract its essential oil. When the grass is dried at high temperatures (above 60 deg c) or processed using high speed cutters, the plant loses its vibrant, citrusy top notes. The resulting powder resembles dried hay, and simply adds volume without adding to the therapeutic qualities of our body wash.

9. krya bodywash for kids with lemongrass

 

The Just right level:

Much like Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a “just right” level in all natural product processing. But obviously this varies depends on the kind of product being spoken about.

Here are 3 checks for you to evaluate if your brand of completely natural food, cosmetic or household product has been sourced and processed correctly:

1. Is its colour distinctively lighter compared to the original raw material? The more an ingredient is crushed or processed, or sieved, the lighter it becomes. For example: refine white flour or Maida is super white in colour. This is because the brown coloured bran has been sieved out of the flour, and the endosperm has been moistened and pulverised to a very fine degree.

2. Does it have a characteristic natural aroma? Or does it smell cooked / roasted or burned? Is there any strong, distinctively “un natural” fragrance? If the food or natural cosmetic you’ve bought smells neutral, has no fragrance or has a burned / cooked fragrance, then what you’ve bought has been over processed. Alternatively, if you are buying a brand of natural hair wash and what you smell reminds you of a bubbly lemony synthetic shampoo, then obviously what you’re using is not very natural.

3. Is it extremely even and is the powder of a very high degree of fineness? It should come as no surprise to you that natural ingredients are not identical. No two grains of rice or wheat are alike. No two leaves from the same stalk have identical aromatic compounds of physical characteristics. Similarly, when food or natural products are processed, it is not possible to achieve microscopically identical particle size.

All a manufacturer can do is to sieve the final product to ensure that the particle size achieves a certain minimum or maximum threshold. Within this limit, variations will continue to exist. Complete evenness and near identical particle size can only mean repeated processing and sieving in a high speed mill.

If you are observing this in your flour, then you will be eating nutritionally weak flour. It would make sense to either switch brands or to decide to process your own flour. If you are observing this in your natural hair care or cosmetic product, then your product will not work as well as it could on you. The repeated processing the product has undergone has depleted it of any nutrients that could be absorbed by your skin and hair. Again, switching brands or making your own personal care products would make better sense.

Additional Information:

  • For low heat , carefully processed flour, ask for your organic store’s own brand of flour (to ensure freshness).
  • Krya’s skin and hair care products will be launched commercially in a month’s time. This is why its taking this time.
  • Krya’s all natural cleaning products for the home can be found here.

About the Series:

This article is a part of Krya’s writings on natural products and their sourcing and processing. We are passionate about promoting a truly environmentally sustainable lifestyle and this can be achieved only if we come to rely on using high quality plant based material to clean and care for ourselves and our homes. This follows our earlier series on toxic products in our home and how you could learn to identify and detox your home from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today.

If you would like to explore our toxics series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
  8. A holistic approach to beauty and health and a fermented Amla drink to make this February for your family

 

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The Tree of Life – the holistic approach to beauty & health

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

At Krya we have different lines of products:  A line of cleaning products for the home like our Detergent and Dishwash, and our soon to be launched floor cleaner, all purpose scrub and toilet cleaner. We also have a range of skin and hair care products which we have been testing in small commercial batches all through last year: our range includes a face wash, a body wash, a body wash for kids and a hair wash. In the near future will launch a line of botanical oils, serums and salves to moisturize and protect your skin and hair.
While these may seem like separate lines of businesses, to us, they form part of an organic holistic mother lode: they are all gentle, plant based products that help clean and care for you in the most natural and non toxic way possible.

Many times the human body is treated as a linear, system-wise, unconnected organism. By treating ourselves by parts, and essentially using the process of separation and division to look after ourselves, we sometimes fail to see the connection behind all the disparate products we use on and around ourselves.

It makes perfect sense to us as a company that advocates an alternate, more natural way of living and provides products to support that life to be in as many categories as possible.

Only with a large number of products can we begin to affect a change and make the impact that we would like to have possible. So for instance, if you suffer from asthma, are prone to sneezing / wheezing attacks, it makes sense for you to examine the impact of added synthetic fragrance not only on the soaps or moisturisers you may use, but also on the household cleaning products you are exposed to like your detergent, floor cleaner or dish cleaner.

4synthetic dishwash

When we started Krya, we thought long and hard about 2 things: the categories we would play in, and the ones we would not participate in.

Food (basic grains, lentils , fresh produce) was a category we decided not to participate in at Krya. This decision emerged out of several reasons: one of the most important being our belief that food, more than any other category of products should be hyper local.

Krya supports good food

Traditional medicine argues that the best health benefits accrue from plants, herbs, vegetables and fruits that grow naturally, easily and abundantly around where you live. This means that if you live in Chennai and have your roots in Tamilnadu like we do, the best cereal for you is probably rice. And within rice, it is probably the native, traditional breed of rice that was available in every season around where your ancestors lived. So instead of looking high and low for that quinoa brand or eating goji berries, it would do us a lot more good to eat traditional rices, or millets  and some Amla / Nellikai.

Mapillai samba rice

( Of course if you are a Bolivian or Peruvian national living in India, you could be excused for that quinoa craving.)

Quinoa - hyperlocal to the andes

Although Krya does not make food products, we fully acknowledge the vital role of good food for our health & well being. No matter how reverentially or carefully we create our skin and hair care products, they will only work as well as your overall health and nutrition permits.

So if you have not been taking care of yourself in this winter season, and have allowed yourself to experience its vata effects, then your skin and hair will feel dry and lifeless. Good nutrition, health, sleep and a positive attitude remain the base for good health. A good, well made product will only build on a strong foundation.

The Amazing Amla

One of the ingredients we use across all our skin and hair care products is the Indian gooseberry, called Amla in Hindi and Nellikai in Tamil. The Hindi name for this amazing India fruit comes from its Sanskrit name “Amlika”.

In Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean gave us Lord Dhanvantri and the elixir of Life, Amrit. In the clash between the Devas and Asuras over who got to eat the Amrit, drops of it were said to have scattered over our world, giving rise to the Amlika Tree.

The beginning of the Holi Festival in India, is called Amlaka Ekadashi, a day when the Amla tree and its resident deity, Lord Vishnu is worshipped. The Amla tree is ceremoniously watered and bathed, and a ritual offering is done for the tree.

Amla composite

The Amla / Nellikai has been a popular and significant gift across time in India. Even emperor Ashoka was gifted half an Amla fruit by the Buddhist Sangha – a stupa was created to mark the event, called the Amlaka Stupa.

The 2000 year old Vamana Purana, states that one can survive by consuming just the fruit juice of the Amla. Amla is also called “dhatri” or the nurse. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues, strengthens our internal organs, and is believed to increase prana, and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

Amla is one of the Three great Myrobalans used extensively in Ayurveda, Siddha and in the Tibetan school of medicine. Triphala (3 fruits), a multipurpose Ayurvedic formulation used both externally and internally has many uses ranging from ama (toxin) cleansing to wound healing and regenerative properties. Amla is one of the constituents of Triphala and ranges from forming 1/3rd of Triphala to 80% of the formulation depending on its source.

Chawanprash, an all purpose medicinal jam, or leghyam which is advertised every winter to build immunity and prevent coughs and colds, has many ingredients, but is main ingredient is Amla.

Amla works great: within & without

At our work in Krya, Amla is an extremely important ingredient. It is a Vitamin C storehouse, offering nearly 3000 mg of Vitamin C per 100 gram of dried herb. Studies demonstrate that this Vitamin C is extremely bio available for the human system compared to other synthetic sources.

Amla in Krya

Ayurveda and Siddha consider Amla as a tridoshic herb, a herb that balances all the 3 doshas. In tastes, it is said to satisfy all the 6 rasas or tastes. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues and strengthens the organs. It is believed to increase the life energy / prana and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

In its internal use, Amla is believed to impart youthful vigour, strengthen the lungs, cures many illnesses including diabetes, and anaemia, and helps activate many of the body’s systems like the circulatory system, digestive system and liver and pancreas functions.

Amla is described as a kayakalpa, or an ingredient that helps keep the body ageless and help extend life.

Obviously, Amla forms an important ingredient for our work at Krya and we use this ingredient quite extensively in our skin and hair formulations. In our face and body wash, it has been used for various reasons right from helping restore the acid mantle of skin abused by long years of using alkaline surfactants, to soothe and repair skin problems and even to firm up and tone skin.

In our hair wash it is used to soothe and repair damaged scalp and hair and help correct cuticle damage and restore the hair’s acid mantle.

Preserving Good Health

January – late February is the Amla season across India. I am of course referring to the indigenous Amla, which fruits once a year and not the hybrid Amla which is available throughout the year.

Our food traditions document many different methods of preserving Amla and enjoying its good nutrition through the year. Much before the advent of commercial jams that are full of E Numbers, synthetic flavours and colours and have incinerated any goodness in the fruit through high heat and chemical preservative techniques, we used to eat Amla murabba and Amla in honey.

Another way to preserve Amla is through the brining technique. While many detailed recipes are available online, the method of preservation remains simple. After washing and drying the Amla (preferably by sun drying for a short time to remove moisture), they are preserved in pure brine, and allowed to soak in the flavour in a glass or porcelain jar. By ensuring that your hands, utensils and ladles are clean in the process, you can preserve Amlas for several years using this technique. The Amlas thus preserved are not only storehouses of nutrition but also bring in the beneficial effects of fermented and cultured vegetables, helping flood your digestive tract with beneficial gut flora.

Ayurveda also lists several liquid decoctions in its medicinal arsenal. Arishtams are boiled herbal decoctions which are fermented for a period between 1 – 3 months using cane jaggery or date palm jaggery in anaerobic fermentation. The liquid thus obtained is called an “Arishtam” and usually has a natural alcohol content of upto 10%. Our family has a daily preventive dose of “Dasamoola Arishtam” every day to build our natural immunity and strength.

Asavas are fermented liquids which are not boiled. The process of making them is similar to an Arishtam (except for not boiling them) and they are usually left to ferment in either their own biological water or added water until they are ready to use.
Amla Asava is an interesting, indigenous, easy to prepare asava that you can try during this Amla season. This Asava can be had by everyone in the family (including children above the age of 2 in small doses) everyday. Regular use is said to build immunity to respiratory diseases and infectious coughs and colds, helps increase appetite and digestive powder and helps flush out ama or toxins from the body.

Amla asava is traditionally made in homes across Kerala during the Amla season. I first got to taste it in my yoga class, courtesy a fellow student whose family traditionally made it every year. The traditional method prescribed in the Sarangadhara Samhita suggests using a clay pot for the asava / Arishtam preparation.

However traditional medicine is extremely particular about the soil from which this clay pot is made, prescribing the use of river soil harvested in a particular season. Further, to prevent any oxygen from contaminating the asava, Ayurveda prescribes the use of ghee from an indigenous variety of cattle to be used inside the pot. This ghee creates a natural air lock preventing the entry of oxygen and unwanted micro organisms into the asava.

As a vegan alternative, the texts allow the use of glass or porcelain instead, which is what I have used. Care should be taken to ensure that your hands, utensils and spoons are clean and dry when making this asava to avoid contaminating the asava.

Each home in Kerala follows its own individual method of making Amla asava. I’ve given below a recipe which uses no water. I’ve followed this recipe to ensure longer shelf life of the asava so that it needs no refrigeration. Other recipes exist which use water to increase the amount of asava that is available.

As always our recipes are a starter. Once you begin making them, we hope that you will be inspired to read and research more on this subject and introduce your own unique variations to the food and medicine you prepare for your family.

Here is the Amla Asava recipe.

Amla Asava:

Ingredients: (Please use organic ingredients as much as possible. I was able to get completely organic ingredients for the entire Asava recipe)

  1. Ripe, unbruised firm Indian gooseberry – 3 Kg
  2. Date palm Jaggery – 2.5 Kg (If this is not available, you may substitute with any aged , dark cane jaggery)
  3. Cardamom peeled – 20 gm
  4. Cloves – 20 gm
  5. Cinnamon sticks – 2 – 4
  6. Black dried raisins – 150 gm
  7. Washed, clean and dried Porcelain / glass jars to hold about 4 Kg of material
  8. Washed and clean thick large squares of cloth (for tying the top of the jar)

 

Method:

Carefully inspect the Amla to ensure there are no bruise marks or black dots on the fruits. Wash in clean cool water, wipe with a clean dry cloth and dry in gentle sun for about an hour to remove all trace of moisture.

Powder the clove, cardamom and cinnamon finely, separately, under low heat, and mix the spice powder together.

Now prepare the asava by scoring 2 / 3 cuts on each Amla fruit and lining them in the porcelain jar. Follow each Amla layer with a smattering of black raisins, some of the spice powder followed by a thick layer of jaggery powder. The jaggery powder should completely cover the Amla, raisin and spice layer like a thick seal.

Continue the process until you exhaust all your material. Ensure that your last layer is the jaggery layer. Seal the porcelain jar with its cover and tie your cloth several times around the lid to ensure it is completely air tight and does not allow any oxygen to go into the jar.
Leave the asava jar in a cool dark place for 40 days. On the 41st day, open the jar and filter out the black asava extract without squeezing the gooseberries. This extract can be stored without refrigeration for upto a year and can be consumed.

When drinking your asava, remember to always drink it diluted by adding an equal quantity of water. For children, 1 teaspoon of asava with 1 teaspoon of water is a safe dosage. For adults, 3 teaspoons of asava + 3 teaspoons of water is a good dosage. It is recommended this asava be eaten the first thing after waking up on an empty stomach atleast 30 minutes before eating breakfast to help absorb nutrition from food better and improve digestion.

Amla asava composite

Good Food: The foundation for great skin & hair

We are putting the foundation for the Krya factory to manufacture our skin and hair care products. At the same time we are always exploring the idea of what constitutes good food , which is the foundation for great skin & hair.

We hope you find some inspiration for treating your body to good food with this article.

Disclaimer: The amla asava is a wonderful, time  honoured product that is very safe to use for most people. However as good corporate practice, we at Krya must mention that this blog article does not constitute medical advice & request you to use your discretion about your particular state of health or consult your doctor, before embarking on its use.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
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6 myths & 3 facts : why toxics continually enter your home

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

In my earlier life, I worked in one of India’s leading biscuit and confectionary companies. My office was near the production facility, so 4 pm would have the odours of baking biscuits and vanilla essence wafting into my room. In the short 6 months that I was there, I came to heartily hate the smell of industrial baking. The stocks of hydrogenated vegetable oil, refined wheat flour and white sugar that went into the facility every single day firmly quashed any notions I had of eating something reasonably healthy every time I opened a freely available pack of biscuits.

Sugar is one of the largest volume ingredients in any food product. Whenever a food product is formulated, especially for children, sugar is the Hail Mary pass – when in doubt, you simply increase the sugar to make sure your consumers love the product.

A recent conversation with a friend who works in another food company had us discussing a popular children’s beverage that is marketed on the promise of giving children a “healthy fruit drink” in the evening. My friend, who is a father himself, spoke to me with some horror about his discussion with his R&D team about the contents of this drink. “They told me it contained 96% sugar, Preethi”, he said with dismay.

And this brings home one of the myths of the food industry. It isn’t “tasty” or going to “appeal to our consumers” unless we super load it with sugar or fat. Most food industry marketers do not have the confidence to launch a product that is not over loaded with sugar or fat. They believe that they cannot achieve a profitable product with mass appeals with less sugar and less oil. Contrary to overwhelming public belief that excess sugar and fat is unnecessary and in fact dangerous, the industry believes that we indiscriminately want high sugar and high fat laden treats.

Similar myths and facts abound in household chemicals. This is why, despite them being researched and found to be dangerous, they continue to be used blithely to create products that you & I use every day.

6 myths and 3 facts in the consumer product industry

 Myth 1: There is a safe permissible limit for toxic chemicals (below which they are harmless)

The general rule followed in establishing safety standards in industrial chemicals is that a higher percentage means more harm. Therefore the assumption is that it is possible to find a level below which even a toxic chemical can be used safely.

Truth 1: There is no safe level for a toxic chemical

This logic has repeatedly failed us in several industrial chemicals. For example, petrochemical derived benzene is considered toxic even in the parts per trillion range. Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was found to exhibit estrogenecity (the ability to mimic estrogens within the body and replace it) even in the very very low parts per trillion concentration range.

Certain endocrine disrupters like Bisphenol A, found in plastics, and parabens found in several cosmetic products paradoxically have a greater hormone mimicking action as their concentrations decrease.

4. no safe dose of parabens

Nano technology: growing concern

A growing trend which is of concern to us as consumers and parents is the use of Nano technology in industrial chemicals. Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring oxide and is widely used as a whitening pigment in plastics, and ceramics. Because of its high refractive index it is commonly used in sunscreens to enhance the SPF factor. Titanium dioxide is now being used as nano particles in several applications including food and cosmetic products.

We are also constantly eating nano titanium dioxide as it is now finding its way into making milk whiter, dazzling white toothpastes and in several food products that are marketed to children including cup cakes, hard candy and mints and those meant for adults like coffee creamers and even oatmeal. Researchers at Birmingham and Cornell University report that an average consumer could be ingesting 100 trillion nanoparticles of Titanium dioxide every single day.

3. Titanium dioxide in hh products

Previous cell research has already established that Titanium dioxide is cytotoxic – this means that it damages cells. A new study now reports that Titanium dioxide not only damages cells but is capable of inducing tumour like changes in exposed human cells with an increased rate of cell proliferation and a decrease in programmed cell death (both of which are traits of precancerous or cancerous cells).

Because nanotechnology is relatively new, the existing bio safety norms do not cover the effects of using Nano particles of what were considered generally safe ingredients. A Nano particle is sized between 1 – 100 billionth of a meter in diameter – at this size, their absorption rate into the skin significantly increases and they have extremely potent effects on our body as compared to the larger, non Nano particle size of the same ingredient.

Non traditional dose response dynamics

The Endocrine society states that one of the most worrying properties of Endocrine disrupter chemicals is their ability to cause reproductive abnormalities at “even infinitesimally low levels of exposure, indeed any level of exposure” particularly if this exposure occurs at a critical developmental phase. They have also stated that low doses often exert more potent damage compared to high doses.

Myth 2: You can get poisoned only if you swallow a product. Your risk of exposure is very little apply it on your skin

Truth 2: The skin is a living organ. It can absorb a wide variety of substances and pass it on to teh bloodstream inside.

We continue to believe that the skin is a non porous physical barrier. Nothing else explains why we continue to carelessly apply extremely toxic substances directly on our skin.

Nicotine patches and contraceptive patches are marketed and have been used by millions of consumers. The route here of absorption is direct dermal absorption, i.e. the skin.

The dermal route of chemical absorption is often faster and more deadly compared to the oral route where you swallow the ingredient in question. The body’s digestive system with its strong acid barrier can help filter out many deadly toxins. However the skin application route has no digestive system to filter out potential toxins. When we use nano particles to further reduce the size of our toxic ingredients, they are able to penetrate faster into the body through the skin, and directly enter the blood and lymphatic systems and our fat reserves where they can bio accumulate and persist.

 Myth 3: If something has been advertised on television, and is available in supermarkets, it is probably safe and has been tested

The U.S FDA lists that household and personal care products use over 100,000 industrial chemicals.  In its entire functioning history, the US EPA has managed to ban or restrict only 5 substances and that too only in specific applications.

Industrial chemical do not need to be tested before combined with other chemicals and launched as products into the market. If a new chemical is used, companies are rarely required by law to disclose safety data, and voluntary disclosure is almost never practised. In the U.S the burden of safety testing is put on the FDA. If the understaffed and stretched FDA does not block a new chemical within 90 days or ask for safety data, then the chemical is cleared by default.

Truth 3: Product testing by companies or the government is not fool proof. It is rarely able to simulate the effect of chemicals over a long period.

Pharmaceutical history is rife with instances of companies learning after launch that the products they marketed were actually toxic and dangerous.

The tragic history of DES – how a drug marketed to protect pregnancies caused vaginal cancer

Diethylstilbestrol (DES), was routinely given to pregnant women between 1940 – 1971 (for more than 30 years!), to help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and losses. Originally considered safe for both pregnant women and their foetuses, DES was aggressively marketed and routinely prescribed.

In 1971, DES was found to cause a rare form of vaginal tumour among girls and women who had been exposed to the drug in their mother’s womb. It is to be noted that this research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and action was taken by the FDA. The companies involved in marketing the drug neither funded nor did this research or took the effort to withdraw the drug.

Subsequently the US FDA withdrew DES for use on pregnant women. The drug itself was only very slowly taken off the market. It continued to be prescribed for different medical conditions some of which were later found to be not approved at all by the FDA. During the 1960s, it was even used as a growth hormone in the beef and poultry industry until it was phased out in the late 1970s after its carcinogenic properties came to light. The last remaining manufacturer and marketer of DES in the U.S, Eli Lilly, finally stopped making it in 1997; a full 26 years after the FDA banned its use on pregnant women.

Estimates suggest that more than 2 million people may have been exposed to DES across the United States, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands in the period between 1940 – 1971. DES is one of the first transplacental carcinogens discovered in human beings, a toxin that could actually cross the placenta and harm the foetus. Besides vaginal cancer, daughters exposed in utero were also found to have “an increased risk of moderate to severe cervical squamous cell dysplasia and an increased risk of breast cancer”.

The most recent published research in 2011, lists the cumulative risks of women exposed to DES as follows:  33.3% infertility rates compared to 1% in the general population, spontaneous abortion 50.3% vs. 38.6%, preterm delivery, 53.3% vs. 17.8%; loss of second-trimester pregnancy, 16.4% vs. 1.7%; ectopic pregnancy, 14.6% vs. 2.9%; preeclampsia, 26.4% vs. 13.7%; stillbirth, 8.9% vs. 2.6%; early menopause, 5.1% vs. 1.7%; grade 2 or higher cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, 6.9% vs. 3.4%; and breast cancer at 40 years of age or older, 3.9% vs. 2.2%.

The study also states that Daughters with prenatal exposure to DES may also have an increased risk of uterine fibroids, and incompetent cervix in adulthood. In the 1970s and early 1980s, studies published on prenatally DES-exposed males investigated increased risk of testicular cancer, infertility and urogenital abnormalities in development, such as cryptorchidism and hypospadias.

By studying the history and tragic consequences of just one drug, we are able to see how ill informed and unprepared governments and the companies are. This extends to both understanding the consequences of the chemicals they use and their efforts to make amends once they understand these consequences.

If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we will be condemned to repeat it.

Myth 4: It is impossible to formulate without manmade chemicals

Although the cosmetics industry is more than 4500 years old, today, we entirely depend upon industrial chemicals synthesized in the last 100 years for all our daily products.

Methyl, ethyl and propyl paraben, are common preservatives used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They are found in shampoos, moisturizing products, shaving gels, toothpaste and make-up.

However, the ester bearing form of parabens have been found in breast cancer tumours indicating that they have migrated from a product that has been applied on the skin (deodorants, creams) into the body.

Most cosmetic and personal care products available today use paraben preservatives. Even products marketed under the guise of being natural or sometimes even organic use these deadly chemicals.

Truth 4: Natural alternatives are available & have always been used

Natural alternatives have always existed. It is the responsibility of companies to use them and protect the health of their consumers. Some of the exciting options include grapefruit seed extract, vitamin e and extracts of plants with powerful anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties like neem, turmeric, thyme and rosemary.

Formulation path followed at Krya

The more water a product contains, the shorter its shelf life becomes, necessitating the use of cheap and dangerous preservatives like the paraben family. A powder or a solid formulation is more stable and depending on the ingredients used does not need synthetic preservatives.

When we formulate our skin and hair care line at Krya, we eliminate water. Our consumers add water when using our products. Therefore, we are able to create formulations without synthetic preservatives. We also use plant ingredients that offer powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungicidal properties – for example, rosemary goes into the Krya Kids body wash, and thyme and peppermint go into the Krya hair wash.

5. krya natural formulation pathway

Myth 5: There are no long term ill effects in the products I use everyday

Truth 5: There are many long term ill effects caused by everyday products

Gene disruption, bio accumulation , transplacental migration & latency of exposure are some of the ways products as innocuous as a sunscreen can affect you in the long term.

Epigenetic disruption

As we saw in the case of DES, the exposure of the first generation affected not just the second generation but also continued to have effect on the third generation or the grand children of those who had been exposed to DES. This makes chemicals like DES epigenetic disrupters- where they modify gene copies ensuring that these modified / mutant genes get passed down from generation to generation with the same tragic consequences.

Bioaccumulation

Persistent endocrine disrupters have a high lipid solubility, therefore they bio accumulate in fat tissue. No endocrine system is immune to this class of chemicals so every one of us is likely to have this class of chemicals in our body.

Latency of exposure

The  Endocrine Society refers to Chemical endocrine disrupters as having “latency” of exposure”.  This means that there is a lag between the time someone has been exposed to the chemical to the manifestation of a disorder.

So we would not be able to observe the effects of this exposure immediately. It may manifest as we become adults or as we age.

Myth 6: I have been using these products for years; I cannot see any ill effects, so I must be safe.

Endocrine disrupter chemicals (EDCs) have extremely diverse and complex mechanisms of acting out in the body. A single EDC could be both estrogenic and androgenic.  Some could break down or metabolise to generate sub products with different properties. Sex steroids target many organ systems in the body including the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal system, the breast, uterus, cervix, vagina and other non reproductive tissues like the bone, muscle, and skin.

Truth 6: You could have several ill effects later that could never be traced back to the detergent or face wash you once used.

The many organs targeted and the long gestation may lead to a diverse set of symptoms that could never get traced back to the toxic chemicals we have been exposed to.

 We looked at some myths. Now here are some facts.

Fact 1: There is too much money at stake

We discussed the effect of several human carcinogens which are implicated in breast cancer in our last post. In 2004, a tally of all the research done on BPA showed that of the 104 independent studies done, 94 found adverse effects and 10 found no effects. However, of the 11 studies conducted or funded by the manufacturers of BPA, none showed BPA to have any adverse effects.

Let’s understand the economics behind this.

In 2002, U.S companies produce 2.8 million tons of Bisphenol A.  The value of BPA sales in 2002 in the US was 5.3 billion dollars, a single year.

Simply put, the stakes are too high. These high stakes are applicable to all industrial chemicals.

Fact 2: Depending on how the tests were conducted, the results can vary

Why is it that independent studies and industry funded studies always differ?

3 straight explanations exist for this:

  • Lab animal diet – If the rates / mice in question have been fed on a diet of soy, which can itself be mildly estrogenic, the results are skewed in endocrine disrupter studies. For example in a study testing the effect of paraben on cancer, the lab rats should not be fed soy.
  • Housing rats in plastic cages or stainless steel cages can again skew results as plastics disrupt endocrine levels but metals do not. So a study on Bisphenol A should house a rat only in metal cages and not the cheaper plastic cages.
  • What breed of rat was used?

o    Independent researchers have found that industry funded research almost always uses the Sprague Dawley rat supplied by one particular company. Apart from being chosen for its calmness and ease of handling, this breed of rat is so tough that its response to estrogenic compounds is extremely muted. This practice obviously severely tones down the results of endocrine disrupter studies resulting in claims that these chemicals are extremely safe.

2. Sprague dawley rat

Fact 3: Industrial chemicals need to be studied as a system and not in isolation

In 2005, Kevin Croft an EPA researcher published a chilling finding. Kevin Croft gave rats different doses of mixtures of 3 classes of common industrial chemicals – dioxins, PCBs and dibenzofurans at different concentrations, from those commonly found in human exposure to 100 times higher. At the time of his research, even the highest dose was considered safe when studied in isolation.

These chemicals were chosen as they are common industrial contaminants found in human foods from fish to breast milk.

At the lower doses, the researchers found that the effect of the mixture was additive and it significantly reduced the animal’s thyroxine levels, which is the most common thyroid hormone. At higher doses, the thyroxine reduction had a stronger multiplicative effect – the sum of their effect was greater than simple addition.

This means that any study that singly examines an industrial chemical is not sufficient. Neither is a ban or elimination of one type of chemical enough to guarantee our safety. We have to look a radical new products that completely eliminate the use of ALL harmful chemicals.

A new paradigm

There is grudging and reluctant response from the industry to consumer protests on safety. It is appalling to read the official statements given by companies when they commit to removing toxins like parabens. They give themselves atleast a 2 – 3 year window to “phase out” something that is toxic.

It is not practical to depend on governments to look after what goes into our detergents or moisturizers. Our government is still working on basic sustenance issues like food, water and sanitation and do not have the resources or the bandwidth to get into the complications caused by industrial chemicals. Investigative reports suggest that cosmetics and skin care products sold in India are still fighting basic norms like heavy metal contamination. We have not begun to go into the effects of leachates and feedstock industrial chemicals like parabens, phthalates, etc.

Our education today should not end with subjects like Mathematics, Physics and Geography. We have to expand our mind and begin exploring the connections our health has to food, and the products we use around ourselves.

We end this piece with a quote by Masanobu Fukuoka.

1. Fukuoka quote.

 This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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A little green goes a long way – a guest post by Rashmi Vittal

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

And we are off on a field visit. We are going to be spending this week visiting 2 organic farms in Karnataka and round it off with a visit to a hand loom weaving centre. In this trip we will be following an organic and Khadi trail of sorts. One of the organic farms we are going to be visiting is a passionate advocate of using indigenous cotton seeds, growing the cotton organically, hand spinning it and weaving it to make Khadi fabric. The weaving centre we are going to be visiting is the centre which weaves all of Tula’s magical rain fed cotton fabric.

Our blog posts this week will be filed from more exotic locations than our office in Chennai. We will be “reporting” live from the field and are excited about meeting these passionate custodians of the land who have been generous to offer to share their time and expertise with us.

Which brings me back to a basic question: why organic fabric? Most of us now understand the need to eat poison free food. Is choosing organic cotton an esoteric exercise? Isn’t it going to be un-findable? Is the expense worth it?

To answer these and many more questions, I’m happy to introduce you to Rashmi Vittal, founder of Little Green Kid. Rashmi’s passion for environmentally sustainable living led her to start Little Green Kid in the quest to help parents replace their current basket of toxic-full clothing for their children with safe, sustainable alternatives.

1. rashmi vittal founder

Started little over a year ago, Rashmi is building a strong team of designers at Little Green Kid along with resources from the export garment industry to create a company that is focused on great design and good quality.

Here is Rashmi Vittal talking about a subject very close to her heart, Organic cotton.

Why I prefer organic cotton over diamonds

Sometimes you use something every single day without much thought and then you suddenly learn something new about it and go, ‘Wow – I never knew that’.  Organic cotton was like that for me. It was paradigm shifting to learn that the humble cotton that you take for granted has a very interesting story.

Cotton, as we know it, is yet another crop – just like any other vegetable. But this one single crop uses 20% of entire world’s pesticide production. Yes, that’s right – that much of pesticide for just one crop.  The first time I read it, I had to re-read it to really understand the magnitude. ‘But why so much?’ Just because nobody eats cotton, there are no limits on the harshness or the amount of the pesticides used on it. While it is a proud fact that India is one the largest producers of cotton in the world and fluffy white cotton is made into garments and sent off across the world, the flip side is that all those harsh pesticides and chemicals remain behind on Indian soil and water.

1024px-CottonPlant

I don’t eat cotton, so why do I need Organic Cotton?

 When I tell people that we run Little Green Kid, an organic cotton clothing company focusing on kidswear, people often ask, ‘I don’t eat cotton, why should I bother if it is organic or not? I can understand that organic food grown without harsh pesticides and chemicals has direct benefits on my health. But how does wearing something made of organic cotton give me any benefits?’ A very good question.

When we look at a t-shirt or that cool kurta in a shop, we look at it in its singularity. As shoppers we do not want to be bothered with the comprehension of how that piece of garment came to be on that shelf.  We want to trust the store where we bought it at and let them worry about how it was made. But today we will ask you to join us take a peek behind the scenes and share a few secrets. If you think about it, cotton is everywhere – the dress that we are wearing at this moment, the sheets that we slept through last night, the diapers on our baby, the towels we used to wipe ourselves and more – all made from cotton. What we may not know is that sometimes even the food that we eat, like chips and other snacks, are fried in derivatives of cotton seed oil. Nothing from cotton goes a waste and is used in some form or the other that you may not explicitly be made aware of. So where does the journey of this omnipresent cotton begin? What are its dirty little secrets that we need to know as a consumer?

Lets zoom out a bit and start with the macro picture. The demand for cotton rises every year and to meet that demand, the worldwide production has been rapidly increasing as well. When there is high demand for a commodity, companies in that space come up with ways to rapidly increase the supply, often via unconventional means. So what did they do to cotton? How successful was their attempt?

Long time ago farmers in India used to set aside a small portion of their cotton flowers for seeds for the next season. Seeing the great potential for high yielding and pesticide resistant seeds, big companies poured money into research and came up with genetically modified (GM) seeds. In 2002, the Indian Government introduced Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cotton trying to encourage farmers to grow more. The farmer abandoned the natural seeds and bought the GM seeds with dreamy eyes. The yield in the first year of adoption was good, but the crop was highly susceptible to damage due to variation in climatic conditions. As well intentioned as it seemed, the seeds did more harm than good in the long run for cotton. Remember those automobile pamphlets that tell you X kms/liter mileage but only run X-y kms in real conditions? It was and is the same with these seeds. In Indian agricultural conditions the seeds did not thrive and created controversies instead because it was not just the yield that was disappointing. These genetically modified seeds are four and half times more expensive than the traditional seeds. Specially formulated chemical pesticides and fertilizers were recommended whose expense constitutes almost 60% of the cost of growing cotton. What was worse was that not all promised were warded off.

While the GM seed companies made money, on the other side, with low yield, dropping cotton prices in the market, huge debts and a land that is ripped off all fertility (due to the use of super harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides) the farmers entered what is called a ‘Death Spiral’ – a few years of which lead the farmer to commit suicide. Today the so-called ‘Cotton Belt’ of India has become a ‘Suicide belt’. In 2012 alone 13,754 farmers committed suicides in India. Suicide is only the tip of the problem iceberg.

8. vidharbha farmer suicide

As of 2014, Bt Cotton has taken over more than 93% of the seed distribution and original seeds are very hard to find, making it immensely difficult for farmers to go back to original seeds even if they want to.

If you think, ‘Well, the Government needs to take care of the farmers as I am paying my taxes and how does organic cotton have anything to do with me?’. Well, lets now dive right in. The customized harsh synthetic pesticide and fertilizer concoctions that were developed to go hand in hand with the genetically modified crops do not vanish after the cotton is harvested. They are left behind in the soil, are carried through water and dispersed through air – pretty much as expected. It is the magnitude of this toxicity that is worrisome. The land is so toxic that it requires three years of pesticide-free cultivation just to detox the land. Give this a thought – if it takes three years with three seasons a year to get rid of those harsh chemicals, do you think that a few washes during manufacturing would have gotten rid of all of those harsh chemicals on the cotton fabric? Laboratory tests reveal that they don’t. Have we stopped to ask why do we see more incidences of skin disorders in children today – irritations and issues that we as children did not face?

7 of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton contain “likely” or “known” human carcinogens (cancer causing). Almost half of the pesticides sprayed on cotton is classified as ‘hazardous’ by the WHO even today. Aldicarb is a toxic nerve agent developed in WWII and termed as ‘extremely hazardous’ by WHO. US$112 million worth of this chemical is applied on cotton crops alone. Endosulfan was used in huge amounts in India until banned recently. The damage that it has done to a generation of farmers in India is beyond anything we could agree as humane. Even in the United States DDT and Toxaphene were banned recently, but continues to be used in India, China and other countries. Insecticides like Parathion is 60 times more toxic that DDT! . Carbofuran, one insecticide kills one-two million birds annually and whole colonies of honeybees have been wiped out. We, the human race, continue to grow cotton at all costs – environment, animals and ourselves. I suppose you remember that your favorite crispies may have been fried in derivatives of cottonseed oil – the same, which comes from these pesticide sprayed farms and may not even know about it.

The GM cottonseed manufacturers argue that they have a seed formulation for fewer pesticides. What they conveniently do not tell you is that the pests grow pesticide-resistant with every passing year and they have to make harsher and harsher pesticides every single year. It is like drug abuse. It only gets worse. Ironically, for all the effort that these GM companies invested in it is estimated that less than 10% of the chemicals applied to cotton accomplish their task, the rest are absorbed into the plant, air, soil, water and eventually, our bodies. While these companies started with a good intention of creating a win-win situation for themselves and the farmer, their product has gone horribly wrong. It is as if they opened the Pandora’s Box. To continue on the same path is being both ignorant and stupid.

What we should really ask ourselves about the Bt Cotton seeds is that – can we have dinner made from the veggies grown on the same field that Bt Cotton is being grown with the toxic pesticides? Before toxic pesticides and before Bt Cotton the answer would have been an undoubted ‘yes’. That is how our grandfathers cultivated their land – which we now call ‘Organic farming’. While Organic cotton might seem like a respite there is more than that which completes the picture today – lets hold on to that thought a bit longer and see what else is in store on the journey of cotton once it has left the pesticide ridden field today.

I died dyeing

Once the cotton is harvested, it is washed and spun into yarn and then made into fabric. To keep the costs low, conventional methods use harsh bleach chemicals. While that does not sound good, they are not the monsters yet. The big bad ugly monster is the chemical used in dyeing. Dyeing is the act of adding color to fabric. As simple as it sounds, it harbors another dirty little secret of this industry.

2.noyyal runs black

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, which is dubbed as the t-shirt hub of the world, houses a very large amount of dyeing units all of whom got there because of easy access to the Noyyal River. The dyeing chemicals are harsh and again fall in the ‘carcinogenic’ category. Noyyal River, downstream from Tiruppur, found blackish water in their tender coconuts, as hard it is to believe. They fought a case against the dyeing units in Tirupur, which was finally presented at the Supreme Court of India. Dyeing units are now required to filter their waste. During inspection the effluents were found to be so toxic that 20,000 acres of land downstream had to be declared unfit for cultivation. The locals are still working with the government to enforce laws to ensure filtration of water before it is let into the river. The effort is still in progress.

 Organic Cotton clothes: A good way forward

 World over farmers and consumers have woken up to realize that the current way of cultivating cotton with pesticides or GM seeds has been a recipe for disaster as tricking nature is not so easy. What can the solutions be? What started as a small experiment about going back to basics with natural farming methods and scientific ways of bio pest management is going very well today. It is called Organic Cotton. The farmers are happy, the environment is not compromised and the customers are happy. Today, 30% of the babywear in the European market is made of organic cotton. India produces 70% of the world’s organic cotton today. But organic cotton is still merely 0.7% of the entire world’s cotton production and but is a growing phenomenon. We have a long way to go, but meanwhile people are striving to do the right thing and learn from the mistakes.

 Why is organic cotton better?

When you buy organic cotton clothing today – it is more than just non-GM seeds or using fertilizers available in nature or using biological methods of pest control.

Organic cotton clothing is about  ‘Sustainability’ – creating clothing with a 360-degree approach to ensure that all involved parties including the environment, the consumer and future generations are kept in mind. It’s a philosophy of ‘Sarve sukhino bhavantu’ (May everyone live happily).

An organic cotton garment means that

1 – The farmer is looking beyond immediate yield and is willing to detoxify his land of harsh chemicals and fertilizers by making it a pesticide-free zone for three years at a minimum

2 – Various third party certifying agencies such as SA Certification (Soil Association) help test and evaluate the authenticity of the land during these three years. Some of these certification agencies are NGOs themselves that initially started working in this field to prevent farmer suicides and have now progressed to do more. Various NGOs also help the farmer with tools and training during this period.

3- Seeds used are heirloom/natural seeds, which help preserve the diversity of cotton. This stops seed or company monopoly as well

4 – Various bio PMTs (Pest Management Techniques) that are scientifically proven are used to maintain yield

5 – Better irrigation techniques are practiced for better yield among other seasonal techniques to ensure better yield

6 – Dyes are either natural dyes (which are yet to be widely available and gain popularity) or certified eco-friendly dyes, which upon using a purifier will not release any chemicals harmful to the flora and fauna of a water ecosystem

7 – Every little detail like – the threads used during the stitching of the garment, the water used during ironing just before packing, etc – are all checked for eco-friendly measures

8 – Some of the standards even include additional check points – if the garment factory workers were paid fairly, if they have adequate sanitation, if their children are attending school, so on and so forth. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

9 – Last, but not the least, surprise checks are made at any point in the lifecycle by picking a random shirt of the rack at any step to check for prohibited chemicals.

Buying organic cotton clothing

Organic cotton is new to a lot of people and just catching up. As a shopper try and look for an established organic cotton certification. Since this is still a developing category, all organic cotton may not be certified as yet.  So we encourage you, as a shopper, to always ask your shop for the source of organic cotton if the certification label is not available. Companies like Disney who support organic cotton on some of their collection even let you track the farm where the cotton was organically grown.

Little Green Kid

At Little Green Kid, we thought that it would be a shame to leave behind a polluted earth for our children. We started this company in 2013 because of our interest in creating ecofriendly products that will help people make better choices. We believe in a better tomorrow!

2. safe organic clothing

Little Green Kid offers cute organic cotton clothes for children of ages 0 to 5. Our mission is to give parents a choice of great looking clothes that were made without harming any one or any thing.

We are on this journey and we are more than happy to share our knowledge or vice versa. Please write in to us. Our favorite question in the world is ‘What is organic cotton?’ . That lights up our faces. We hope that answering this question is a short lived excitement as we look forward to the day, sooner than later, when all cotton is organic cotton – cotton that is grown responsibly without resulting in any harmful side effects to people or the environment.

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End Notes:

Thank you Rashmi for that educative and inspirational piece on organic cotton. You can find out more about Little Green Kid either by looking up their facebook page or writing to them at thelittlegreenkid@gmail.com. Do consider supporting their work by buying their well designed, and comfortable clothing for children.

Our organic cotton and Khadi trail series continues tomorrow from the field.

This post is a part of our continuing series on Sustainable fabric and India’s textile traditions. The rest of our series can be read here: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
  11. Our post on the Sustainable Fabric Workshop conducted at the Green Bazaar exploring natural dyes is here.
  12. Our post with notes on Kalakshetra’s Natural dyeing workshop and a guest post by Kavita Rayirath of Indian by design on inspiring Handloom appreciation is here.

 

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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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The Sutra of Thread – Part 2

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

One of the reasons the Indian handloom and handicraft sector is so much in the doldrums is because as consumers, we lack knowledge. We do not know our sustainable fabric basics which is why we sometimes easily forego our traditional textile crafts.

The incident that happened to us a few days back, illustrates this lack of knowledge.

An advertisement in the newspaper about a State government run handloom and handicraft exhibition had me visit an event. When asked where their advertised vegetable dyed handloom sarees were, I was shown a pile of sarees of which apart form a few, the rest were clearly dyed using synthetic shades. After some questioning, the salesman took out 4 – 5 sarees from his large pile – these were dyed in shades of green, brown, red and black, and he confirmed that only these were “pure vegetable dyes’ and that the rest were vegetable dyes that were mixed with synthetic dyes.

I felt the texture of the sarees and their weight and asked him if they were indeed handloom sarees. The manager at the billing counter told me that they were all power loom sarees, and that handlooms would be coarser and bulkier in comparison. I had to contest this statement. He replied that they did not have any cotton handlooms in the expo as they were much more expensive compared to the power loom saree. But the event was advertised as a “handloom” exhibition. And the sarees were sold at the counter as “handloom “.

Ignorance, in this case is not bliss. Our ignorance is costing us our water, soil, air and is putting an entire generation of weavers at risk as we no longer appreciate or even know anything about what they create. Here is the second part of Richa’s informative post detailing how the textile crafts of India follow our seasons. Here are the textile crafts that suit monsoon and winter.

Following hard on the heels of the scorching summer, are the cooling rainclouds. The country revives with the cooling drops of life-giving rain – (barkha in urdu). And the rejoicing that marks the season finds its way into the patterns and designs of Indian fabric.

Lahariya – the very name suggests its wave-like fluidity is a tie & dye technique that can be seen all year round in Rajasthan – on pagdis (turbans) and odhnas (versatile wraps). However there is no season when it comes as alive as during the monsoons in the rainy months. This technique of resist wrapping and dyeing is typical of Rajasthan. The pattern of diagonal lines is said to be inspired by the direction of rain drops – of special significance in the desert state.

2. leheriya printed saree

 

A variation on the plain lahariya involves a second overlay of diagonal stripes, creating a grid. The pattern is named mothra because of the grid’s resemblance to the motth – a lentil grown in Rajasthan. These wrap resist tie-dyed patterns were traditionally done on fine mulmul as it enabled tight folds which meant a finer patterning.

In times gone by, the Leheriya style was worn exclusively by the Marwari community in Rajasthan. The Royal class wore Leheriya in blue.

However, today the lahariya technique has made its way across communities and onto other materials like georgette and chiffon which lend themselves to this technique. Interestingly, Lahariya is so much a part of the collective consciousness of Rajasthan, that it is one of the most popular mehendi designs applied by women on Teej , a north India festival that celebrates the monsoon.

1. teej celebrations

 

As the frenzied beats of the monsoon wind quieten, the evenings become cooler and it is time for the all-too-brief Indian Autumn. The Sharad Ritu has arrived, heralded by a host of festivals and celebrations. And how can the festive season be complete without new clothes?

The season of festivals naturally entails a series of rites which involve ritual purity. Most Indian rituals involve a deeper meaning than mere symbolism and this extends to textiles as well. It is for this reason that in the strictest adherence to ritual, silk is not worn at havans or pujas because of the inherent violence committed during the production of silk, where the silk worms are boiled alive to yield the filament that then becomes yarn.

So, adherents of the old school still prefer the thicker khadi, which through its slight coarseness, creates a sophisticated, slubby texture that bespeaks honesty. In its thinner avatar, khadi lends itself to upcycling through the kantha technique of Bengal, just as the year freshens up after the monsoons.

Sujani Kantha or simply kantha was initially a quilting technique applied to rags and tatters to recycle them as bags, covers and wraps which were exchanged as gifts between friends and family. It was based on the principle of giving new life to things that have outlived their usefulness. This cycle of life is also manifested in two popular deities Cinidiyadro, the Lord of Tatters and Chithariya Bhairavi “Our Lady of the Tatters” who are believed to give a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to them.

4. nakshi kantha

 

When the lights of Deepawali have dimmed, North India starts to get cold – very cold. By the time the month of Paush comes around, chill winds are howling through the valleys and plains. It is the season to stay warm at home, think of the past and tell stories.  One tale comes to mind – the story of the paisley.

Once upon a time, long long ago, a teardrop from Babylon made its way to India. There it caught the imagination of the weavers of Kashmir. They stylized it in the shape of the raw mango – the kairi or ambi and began weaving this into the exquisite pashmina shawls they made.

These shawls were highly prized and went by the trade name of Jaamevar or “that which is woven in the length of a garment or jama”. They took upto 3-4 years to weave and were prized by royalty, who were about the only people who could afford it. History also states that The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, had a Kanni Shawl or a Jaamevar in her marriage trousseau. At the time, a Jaamevar shawl would take upto a year to weave!

empress josephine

Then, in the 18th century the officers of the English East India Company discovered the Jaamevar shawl which they took back to England as gifts. Their sweethearts and sisters were so taken with this that it soon became all the rage in fashionable circles. So coveted were these shawls that they formed a prized part of Josephine’s dowry during her marriage to Napoleon.

Over the years, the fashion burgeoned and the weavers were no longer able to keep pace with the demand even embroidering designs instead of weaving them. In the 19th century, the mechanized jacquard loom was introduced in Europe and used and inferior quality of wool to reproduce a semblance of the hand-woven shawl. Several of these looms were set up at a weaving town called Paisley in Scotland. For a while the looms of Paisley brought abundant prosperity to the town and gave their name to the shawls, as well as the stylised ambi motif typical of the Jaamevar. But fashions are fickle – the bustle came into fashion and the Paisley shawls became outmoded. The town became a ghost of itself but the name that it had given to the ambi stayed.

3. kanni shawl

While the finesse of the original Jaamevars is lost in the mists of Kashmir, there has been a revival in the village of Kannihama, a little way away from Gulmarg, and select wool still finds its way into Indian shawls today. And Pashmina wool remains popular option for Indian women today. (thankfully, toosh and shahtoosh varieties of wool have been outlawed for their brutality.

As the winter fog lifts to give way to spring, the cycle of seasons is complete, and the timeless saga of Indian textiles comes a full circle as well.

We would like to thank Richa Dubey, for taking the time to educate us through this wonderful, lyrical 2 part series on the textile traditions of India.

 

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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The Sutra of thread – part 1

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ignorance, in the case of Indian textile crafts is certainly not bliss. As I put together this series on textile crafts and the sustainable fabric tradition of India, I am continually amazed at how rich, varied and wonderful our textile traditions are.

I am also angry at the myopic school system that I studied in: none of this made its way into our curriculum, and was only offered at an advanced level in college or as a part of a Masters Programme. This compounded ignorance led me, in my early working days to mass produced clothing which I found in Malls. This clothing was not really cheap, but it was easily available, and seemed to be the norm around me.

Today, when I see power loom fabric being passed off as handloom, and synthetic dyes and screen printed fabric ruling the roost, I remember my time as a young working adult, making financial choices, and realise my choices have created the word I see today.

As I reached out to textile enthusiasts and people passionate about handlooms and crafts, I found a world of information, environmental sustainability and beauty just around the corner. And I’m happy to see the Krya blog hosting this information.

We are happy to share this guest post written by Richa Dubey on the textile traditions of India and how different types of weaves and fabrics exist for the different seasons in India.

Richa wears many many interesting hats. She conceptualised and runs a gender activism campaign ( see www.bitly.com/GurgaonGirlcott ); leads public affairs for a prospective national innovation university; built an advocacy strategy for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s India office; anchors a breakfast show on national television and manages an international world music festival.She also leads the marketing practice at niiti consulting a for-profit social enterprise consulting firm. She is a passionate believer in environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability (which is why she works at niiti). Her life is currently ruled by her children (one each, canine and human) her work and her passions (and all of them intersect, so it’s fine)

We are especially proud that Richa is a passionate Krya consumer, and that is how we came to meet her and know of her work.

 Here is Richa Dubey’s lyrical, eloquent piece on how Indian textile crafts offer different fabrics for the different seasons of India.

How often have we heard of the diversity in India? Its climate, food, culture, philosophy (in the 6th century BC there were at least 200 different schools of philosophy that co-existed). One example of this rich diversity is textile. Marvellous in its variety, texture, fibre… not forgetting the textile techniques that embellish a fabric, there is possibly a traditional textile that exists for every single occasion in your life, though we shall limit ourselves to the seasons in this piece.

However, before embarking on this journey through the warp and weft of India, where a common thread of understanding runs through the land, it is important to touch upon, at least briefly, the reasons why it holds such an important place in our lives.

Right from the philosophical to the everyday, the understanding of fabric has been intrinsic to the understanding of India. The Rig Veda pictured the universe as a cloth woven by the Gods – the cosmos an infinite length of fabric with its warp and weft constructing a pattern upon which all life is painted.

Much later, Kabir, the 14th Sufi poet-saint (who was also a weaver) likened the Absolute to the divine weaver and our souls to a pristine scarf which is sullied by a life of ignorance and sin in “Jheeni jheeni beeni chadariya” (incidentally, this piece by the late Pandit Kumar Gandharv is my favourite rendition)

2. kabir

As with other facets of daily life in India, philosophy and common wisdom spills over into textiles as well. Just as Ayurveda advises the eating of fruits and vegetables in season, it makes sense to pick traditional textiles according to the season as well.

Beyond being weather-friendly, these natural weaves and techniques also reflect the changing moods of the year and incorporate festivals into their lexicon.

The essence of Spring

Beginning with the season of Spring which takes the first place in the time-honoured Indian cycle of seasons, we see it blooming in textiles as an expression of eternal rejuvenation. Vasant is the season of rejuvenation of cosmic energy. It stands for new beginnings represented by fresh blossoms. It is also the time when Kamadev releases his flower-tipped arrows of love.

The essence of Spring has been captured in the repertoire of Indian motifs known as butis, butas and bels. Different regions of India have interpreted these motifs according to their own aesthetic sensibilities. While the Bagru tradition from Bagru in Rajasthan  is famous for floral designs in dark vegetable colours, the Kalamkari tradition from Macchlipatnam interprets them differently. In North India where Mughal influence still lingers, they take on a stylized air in gracefully drooping flower-pots. From whichever region, whether painted, embroidered, hand-block printed, or more recently, screen printed, they form an integral part of the Indian design lexicon.

One of the most popular motifs which are symbolic of eternal Spring, is the Tree of Life. Although not native to India, it has been a symbol of life, fertility, livelihood, food and protection for centuries.

4. tree of life sweden

Thus, when Indian crafts persons or women at home sought to embellish textiles it was natural that the tree motif was often embroidered, woven, printed and painted on fabrics.

3. tree of life in kantha

 

Its symbolism has been shared in ancient cultures across the world and the tree motif has found expression, both in natural and stylized representations, in varied art forms. At another level the tree is a representation of the Great Mother Goddess. The physical and metaphysical source of life was considered to be manifested in the life-giving powers of the earth and the feminine body, which the Tree is said to symbolize. And there is perhaps no better a time to celebrate this form of fertility than the season of spring, when there is an abundance of blossoming life forms.

 

The summer begins

The fragrant breeze of Spring gives way to the scorching wind of the summer – the loo. People venture out only when absolutely necessary and then, clad themselves in the lightest fabrics possible. The thread of seasons weaves into fabrics like mulmul, jamdaani and kota…

The quality of the fine muslins of India was probably best described by the Sufi-poet Khusrao in the 14th century. “One would compare it with a drop of water if that drop fell against nature, from the fount of the sun. A hundred yards of it can pass through the eye of a needle, so fine is the texture…” So sheer was this fabric (woven in counts of 2000) that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is said to have berated his daughter for her indecency in appearing unclothed before him. The daughter responded that she was wearing seven layers of cotton mul!

According to Laila Tyabji of Dastkar, What is unique about India is that it transformed cotton from being a kind of a village fabric in to something that kings and emperors and queens… not just in India but all over the world used.

The most prized muslins were woven in Dhaka and were so coveted since ancient times that Roman texts blamed the vanity of Roman women for emptying Roman coffers of gold for Indian cottons. Some of these were especially reserved for the use of royalty. In fact it was these same muslins that drew the British to Bengal . The picture below is a depiction of a Bengali girl clothed in layers of fine Dhaka Muslin.

1.Muslin girl by renaldi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal was also home to a special muslin weave – this was the jaamdani – the ethereal weave which uses an extra weft and gives the motifs the appearance of floating on the ground. Jaamdaani lives even today as the fabric of choice for the humid summers of Bengal. UNESCO has declared the art of Jaamdani weaving as an Intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

5. richa in jaamdani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But despite the historic and near cult status of the Jamdaani weave, the Jamdaani weaver has no financial motivation to continue creating this textile art. A senior taanti or “ostad” earns about Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per month. Junior weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600. As a result many weavers do not want their children to come to this profession. For many, the Bangladeshi garments industry, despite its several dubious practices and poor working conditions, is a better alternative to this craft.

 

Summer in West India

Beyond the East, the western part of the country also devised its own textile strategies to cope with the heat. A charming, but probably apocryphal story tells of the development of Kota. Kota which is now known for its coaching centres devoted to getting students into IIT also has a special place in India’s fabric tradition.

 

The story goes that a hill princess married into the royal family of Kota. But much as she tried to bear up under the fierce heat of the Thar Desert, she wilted under the heavy, coarse fabrics that formed the traditional garb of the region. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she commissioned the local weavers to create a light fabric for her. The weavers wove the lightest, airiest fabric that they could – the princess was still not satisfied. Then they pulled out the threads from the warp and the woof at regular intervals to create a lacy chequered fabric. This grid-like ethereal fabric took the eponymous name of Kota.

5.richa in kota

Initially these were woven only in the seven shades of white prescribed in the Vishnu Purana: – light white, tooth white, pure sandal white, autumn cloud white, autumn or sharad moon white, conch shell white and motia or pearl white.The texturing of the fabric was done by the simple expedient of varying the number of threads and the shades of white in the warp and weft of the grid giving it a subtle sophistication.

Today, however, Kotas are available in various colours (and regretfully, synthetic yarn too) and remain a popular summer option.

This post continues tomorrow with Richa describing the fabrics that were woven for Monsoon and winter.

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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The One Person Satyagraha

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

2001

In 2001, in the first month of my first job, after wading through knee-deep rain water and slush, I boarded a rather random, crowded bus to Motihari, in the Champaran district of Bihar and famously, the birthplace of George Orwell. As weird as that was, I found it even more surreal that the purpose of this trip was to learn the art of selling a wide variety of consumer goods for an American company. It was not that I found my situation particularly repellant or devoid of glamour compared to say my friends working in a bank in Wall Street. What bothered me was the fact that in a million years I could not have imagined myself doing this at the culmination of 21 years of formal education.

Motihari is a very small town and in my very first visit I learnt that George Orwell was born here in 1903 , courtesy of a bust and plaque in a prominent part of the local geography.

George_Orwell_press_photo

 

 

George Orwell’s Press photo above

In fact there is rather proprietary air in which the local people refer to Orwell & you could be forgiven for thinking that he wrote 1984 sitting in a tea shop in Meena Bazaar. In actual fact Orwell left Motihari as a one year old baby in 1904 and that was about it.

 

It was only in my third or fourth visit to Motihari that the very real and very important connection to Mahatma Gandhi dawned on me. While I could vaguely sense the spirit of Gandhi in street names and the memorial pillar in the town center, it was only when a distributor reminded me of the Indigo movement that I realized that this was the the Karmabhoomi of Gandhiji. In a sense after South Africa, the indigo movement and the related Satyagraha was a seminal event in Gandhi’s life helping him on the way to becoming the Mahatma. I was happy to be making monthly trips to that sacred land.

 

The First Indian Satyagraha

In 1916, Gandhi inspired the very first Indian Satyagraha, in Champaran. The local farmers were forced to grow the Indigo plant, a natural blue dye, for the British textile industry instead of food crops of their choice.

The development of a cheaper chemical substitute, lead to a crash in the prices of the natural Indigo dye. The production of natural Indigo worldwide fell from 19,000 tons in 1897 to 1,000 tons by 1914. The British planters started paying ridiculously low prices for the Indigo leading to a very desperate situation for the farmers. They also tried to recoup their losses in many ways through farmers who had leased their land from them. They increased the lease rents, seized their cattle, looted their homes and imposed several new illegal “taxes” on various aspects of life. The planters beat the peasants and put those who resisted in prison.

One of the Indigo cultivators called Rajkumar Shukla, persuaded Gandhi to travel to Motihari, to study the situation first hand and to provide a solution. On his arrival at Motihari, the local district magistrate ordered Gandhi to leave immediately. Gandhi politely refused this order and proceeded to make Champaran his home for the Satyagraha. Since the farmers had no legal recourse, Gandhi assembled a team of lawyers including Jawaharlal Nehru & Rajendra Prasad, who worked with him to build the case.

3. Champaran satyagraha

The team under Gandhi surveyed 2841 villages and recorded the statements of 8000 indigo farmers to understand the problem in depth. They also realized that apart from the economic struggles due to forced indigo cultivation, there was a deeper problem of education and health. They helped set up Schools and improved local sanitation. Gandhi and team published a detailed report to government which favored the farmers unanimously. The government was forced to accept this report and lead to the formation of the Champaran Agrarian Bill which provided the relief to the Indigo farmers.

The Champaran Satyagraha was the very first of its kind and was the first major milestone in what eventually became the grand Indian Independence movement.

Remains of the day

Natural indigo cultivation is on the decline today and is replaced in large part by synthetic Indigo. It is continues to be used in small amounts in natural textile and tie and dye art like Shibori. However , the largest use of Indigo dye is now synthetic Indigo dye, as is used in your favorite pair of mass market jeans.

5. indigo dyed shibori

Perhaps there is not much Indigo cultivation happening in Champaran despite the major historic associations. However to me what remains from that period , the philosophy of Satyagraha, is of vital importance.

Gandhi coined this term from Satya (Truth ) & Agraha ( holding firmly to) and over his life perfected the philosophy of Satyagraha as a powerful , non-violent opposition by the oppressed in any situation.

I believe that anyone finding themselves in an uncomfortable life situation can start a Satyagraha. Even if it is a one person Satyagraha.

 

So, If you are bored by globalization of fashion and find yourself and every third person wearing cookie –cutter clothes , find yourself a local handloom to suit your needs.

India is one of the largest producers of cotton worldwide. The rampant spread of genetically (GM) modified cotton, which now accounts for 93% of cotton in India, is a cause for concern. The correlation between the growth of GM cotton and farmer suicides is a debate which cannot be ignored any longer. We will write in depth about this later this month. However you can start your one person satyagraha today by choosing organic cotton.

If you are constantly bothered by reports of the Ganga turning black due to the effluents from chemical dyes meant for textile mills polluting it, you can look for textile which is naturally dyed like Malkha , or Tula or other designers like Bindu of Chakra Design.

2. effluent discharge

If you are hot and sweaty in a size 40, blue colour ,button down office shirt, go a to nearby Khadi Bhavan outlet and experience the joys of breathable fabric , that keeps cool even in an Indian summer.

Looking back at my monthly trips to Motihari in 2001, I wish I had taken the train instead of the Bus. The railway station is appropriately named “Bapudham Motihari” and rightly reminds all visitors about the man and his very important Satyagraha. George Orwell does merit a footnote in the history of the town but should not be the first thing that hits you.

So if you find yourself worrying about a 1984 like situation, don’t wait, Start your One person Satyagraha today.

 

 

 

 

 

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