The Gypsy house
The next few days in Ismail’s absence I tried to befriend the other caretaker, Chirag. He must be one of the most soft-spoken people I have come across in many months. A smile that never erases from his bright white skin and a head that always nods to respond affirmation. Chirag has recently completed his Bachelors in Arts and still dreams of completing his Masters in Tourism Development. Well, it makes sense when you have grown in the mountains and climbing up and down the hill is only a matter of habit. Currently, he is a trek guide and one needs to meet him to see the little child inside him juggling with euphoria every time he goes up to Pin Parvati, as though it’s a school marathon. He quietly sits beside me and talks about his family of 3 brothers, a sister and parents. Then he questions my lame acts of trying to clean a hill that has given me nothing. With a smirk, he says, “I will help you when I am around, not because you make sense to me, but because you came that far to do something for my area”.
Chirag posses for a picture
The thing about a Gypsy is that you are given the freedom to make this your home. The kitchen is yours, with the most basic ingredients and the whole forest section is also basically yours to wander about. My first encounter with Ismail was after a week for he was down at the nearest town bringing merchandises for sustenance. Ismail is basically from Kerela who has been staying in Kalga for the past 5 years. His love of mountains captured him in Kalga and that is how Gypsy’s came into being. It made so much sense now as to why almost 90% of the people coming and staying there were all Keralites.
Ismail, the homemaker
For the past 4 years, Ismail has been collecting all his waste. This sounds like hyperbole but when I saw the room he used to capture all the waste, I was startled myself. Being the owner of the Homestay he could have given the whole room for accommodation. But for him burning or dumping waste is a far bigger crime than we think of it in the normal discourse. I have seen his man share words of sustainability before and take payments later. He gave me the authority to take sessions will all the guests every evening on keeping Kalga clean and green. So here I was, a complete stranger to him, who would eat the heads of youngsters coming there to escape from their daily lives, giving them lectures on bottle bricks, composts and waste management. How intensely he must love nature to have taken the risk of losing his clients over this.
The waste shop!
Over the next two months, many small successes met both Ismail and myself. We started off with cleaning the whole area and stuffing all the plastic waste inside bottles. There were already about 100 bottle bricks sleeping under a shade, few half-filled and few tightly packed. Ismail picked this concept up at Rishikesh when he met one of my former associates. The difference between a knowledgeable man and an educated one is that former implements the ideas in real life and the later runs after paper degrees. After cleaning the so-called compound, the next week was dedicated to clearing out the room that tapped waste of 4 years. This was a tough job because the waste was all non-segregated, a mixture of wet, dry, solid, liquid you can name it all. One by one I and few other young hands cleared the sacks and segregated the waste into different clean and dry sacks. Next was the challenge of packing the broken glasses. Because Kalga has no road it is the mules that carry down the recyclable waste. The broken glasses are most often rejected by the scrap dealers because of the risk of injury. Using all the old, tattered clothes I packed every broken glass piece with caution.
Clearing out 4 years of collected waste
Ismail and I were standing in awe and mourning when we had to burn some of the waste because they were completely contaminated. This is what happens on a much larger scale in a landfill. It stays there forever emitting harmful gasses or spoiling the soil and groundwater. Because there is no municipality system in Kalga the plastic waste had to be given a different form. Soon we decided to use the bottle bricks to make a small centre table and build a workshop out of the very shed where the bricks were kept. All the tetra packs of milk were joined together to create a “Wall of Waste”. Ismail was more than happy to give me the space to build a workstation for all the young lads to come and usher their productivity. A live example of how any waste can be converted into a resource.
As we burn that which could not be saved
The Wall of Waste in making
It has been four months now and the work is still under progress. This journey around Himachal Pradesh started on a very hazy note but Ismail and his Gypsy house certainly made the way for me and people like me easier. He still fights with the local authorities to not burn their plastic waste. The result is most often not a bright one but as he says, “We cannot force anyone to do anything, but we can always try to make a difference”.
And the journey still continues