Sustainability in Deshi Households

(Deshi/Desi: a Sanskrit term for the people and cultures of the Indian subcontinent including the nations Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan. However, it is a loose term and countries that are considered “Deshi” are subjective).

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If you’re a deshi or from a deshi family, you’re used to doing things a certain way when it comes to the environmental spectrum of things. Specially in the environmental spectrum of things. Sure your relatives are going to call you a hipster for carrying metal/glass straws or carrying your reusable mug, but God forbid you throw away that plastic cup at the party instead of reusing it for another time (another party). Looking back, I realize I was raised with many environmentalist values without really attributing a “sustainable” title to them because the word “sustainable” just wasn’t present in my deshi household vocabulary. Here are a few sustainable practices I’ve picked up growing up as a deshi:

The Shelf of Endless Bags at the author’s residence

The “Reusable” Bag Shelf

If you’re brown and don’t have a shelf full of a lifetime supply of plastic and paper bags, then you’re doing deshi wrong. Us deshi folks take our bags seriously; if we get hold of any bag, we save that bag. Every deshi household has a shelf full of plastic and paper bags of every imaginable size, some of which have already been re-purposed several times. I’ve personally seen the same bags being circulated in my family for years. Instead of buying reusable bags, we reuse the ones we already own.

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Whose Dress is it Anyway?

Picture this: it’s a fine morning and you’ve gotten your hands onto thick family photo albums your mum keeps locked up in an obscure shelf in your house. You’re looking through old photos of your parents, uncles, aunts and cousins—and judging their fashion choices—when you realize you’re wearing the same top as your older cousin from one of those old photos. True story. Deshi parents hate spending money on clothes for children who will grow out of them in a few months. If an item of clothing has already been bought, it is passed down through houses and often, generations. And if the clothes are too old to be worn anymore, you’ll still see the ghosts of your wardrobe’s past everywhere around the house being re-purposed as rags. 

Water and Electricity Ain’t Free

people walking near buildings during night

This one hits hard. Growing up in Bangladesh, I was no stranger to power cuts and the occasional water cuts to my home. Daily power and water cuts might be unfathomable for people from this part of the world, but we’d learned to appreciate and not overuse these basic necessities from a young age. This not only meant that our showers were shorter but that we’d also huddle in the same space where the air conditioning was on and constantly remind each other to switch off the lights/fans when leaving a room. 

Senescence in Containers

There’s an unspoken rule in deshi households that if anything you buy comes with a container, you save it. FOREVER. The memory of every ice cream, chocolates, cookies and biscuits you’ve ever tasted lingers around in containers that are now used to store curry, vegetables, spices, sewing kits and anything else that requires to be stored. It is a pseudo-scientific fact that any given deshi household will have more of these salvaged containers than Ziploc/Tupperware  and we flex about that shit hard. I mean, who the heck spends money buying containers when you can buy ice cream and use the ice cream container for the next two generations?

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Raisa Salmin Purba
3rd February, 2020

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