I have been harping about the importance of environment issues, the plastic menace, the lurking water wars. I am the first to try and point this out when I wear my project why boss hat! Imagine my surprise when this morning in in the privacy of my bathroom I found myself lost in thought brushing my teeth with the tap running.

As I turned it off, I wondered how many times I must have done this offer, or for that matter how many times must I have not done what I preach. Many must have seen the now sated skit on environment where the page 3 lady is writing a speech on the importance of saving trees and throwing innumerable sheets of paper in the waste basket.

With great aplomb I had launched a programme with project why kids called once is not enough! It aimed at teaching children to use each thing twice: newspapers, plastic bottles, plastic bags etc. It was a great programme but somehow got lost in transit. Maybe because it was another instance of not practicing what one preaches and thus did not come naturally.

Our generation was brought up in believing that water was a perennial resource, and probably it was for those who lived in water rich areas. respect and awareness of the importance of water existed even in yore years.

My mother whose maternal grandparents lived in the city of Jodhpur often reminisced about how water was a rare and expensive commodity, and how women had mastered the art of using infinitesimal quantity of water for all their daily chores. Hair was plaited into tiny plaits and then woven into a mat on the top of the head, and washed every fortnight only. Mama and her brothers came from a city were water was in abundance and could never quite get used to the Jodhpur ways.

She also told me that during the marriage of her parents, her grandfather had spent huge amounts of money on water. The groom’s party had come from Benares by train. The train had been delayed and the auspicious time had gone by. The priests had then decreed that the next propitious time would be 10 days later. Now the marriage party could in no way return to Benares so stayed on, and as custom has it, all expenses had to be borne by the girls’ family. So the marriage party stayed and used water in large quantities. Frequent baths, great clothes washing sessions and of course great waste of water that was brought on camel back from wells situated miles away, and costing the earth!

A friend and mentor told me that the biggest culprit in the waste water saga was piped water and taps in each home. If we had to walk, albeit a few meters and draw water from a well/tank we would understand how precious it was. Many do not know about the violent fights that happen each day at water points in slums. One again we live in the misplaced idea that this cannot happen to us.

In days when plastic bags did not exist, women carried shopping bags, some so tiny that they could be slipped in a pocket. Few years back when people went abroad, we asked them to bring back the plastic bags they got in shops, as these were non-existent in India. Today plastic bags are everywhere and have replaced our traditional leaf wrapping. My daughter has been waging a war against plastic bags at home, and even pointed out that on some days more than 30 or 40 such bags entered our home. She practices what she preaches and has to battle with shopkeepers who often have wrapped your purchase in 1, 2, 3 bags before you have had time to react. True that we forget to carry bags, but were we to apply the once is not enough principle, then you ask the shopkeeper for an old and used bag hence delaying its reaching the garbage dump.

Last week drove out of Delhi into tiny villages and was appalled to see the mound of plastic that lay practically everywhere and even close to green fields. The day is not far when good agricultural land will turn barren courtesy plastic.

I is not easy to change mindsets, and lifelong habits, but the onus lies with us who are educated and can foresee the disaster that looms ahead. For me this morning's incident has been a wake up call on two fronts: one to make a conscious effort in my own home even it it means sticking post its everywhere, the other is to revive the once is not enough project with all pwhy children.