I’m sitting in the blouse that was my friend M’s. It’s got polka dots. I never imagined I’d wear polka dots one day! And yet, I am, feel fine and even found earrings to match. Funny thing happened the last time we put our ‘clothes exchange’ into practice here in Amsterdam. We found that what we never dreamed would suit J – a pin striped pair of pants made her look hugely elegant. A colour M could not see herself in felt super because the cut of the dress and the fit did something amazing. And so on. Some of the clothes that look really good on me have come from these recycling sessions. Weird. Like we recycle not only physical objects but whole new ideas about what we could be in the cut, shape, size and colour that someone else thought up, sought up and bought up.
In a book I recently began reading, ‘Mother pious lady (making sense of everyday India)’, I came across the following passage:
‘Clothes too, while seen as being more personal, were up for grabs. Sarees were exchanged, cousins wore each other’s shirts and, of course, hand-me-downs were the norm. One passed through shoes rather than owned them, and given that with repeated resoling the life of a shoe took on elephantine proportions, a whole brood of brothers may have ended up wearing a single pair of shoes while growing up’.
The writer, Santosh Desai calls the chapter ‘Sharing scarcity’.
This reminds me of those of us who’ve known scarcity and have not recovered from this syndrome in ‘plenty’. In the early eighties in Mumbai, plastic bags were still scarce. One could see them hanging out to dry along with the strong smelling fish, Bombay Duck (bombil in local language) on the lines in Khar and other areas dominated by the fishing community.
I still hang out plastic bags in the hope of re-use here in the Netherlands, and take them along for the next shopping round. I do this also with paper bags. My partner thinks I’ve lost it. As for the staff of the Natuur winkel, they’re a bit puzzled with the number of stickers they see on these bags when they try to scan them. It’s a challenge sometimes to find the most recent one. They’re kind of approving of my explanations about re-cycling, but I think they feel they’re quite far fetched.
Knowing scarcity does different things to different people.
My friend K visited me recently from Canada where she’s been living for the past twenty years. She told me about her mum, back home in India who lived her whole life until fifteen years ago, ‘sharing scarcity’. She brings suitcases full of clothes from India to Canada when she visits, paying the extra dollars for excess baggage if necessary. In them are clothes she wants to recycle to her daughter K and her grand daughter S. Despite repeated protests from K, who, like her daughter can’t dream of wearing salwaar kameez’s in Canada, the clothes arrive. Once a suitcase was sent through a visiting relative. Every time K goes straight to the Salvation Army to relieve herself, because she too believes in re-cycling!!
What then, I have to think happens to those salwaar kameez’s and such-like? I guess they take the flight or ship back to India or Pakistan. And in this way, they are finally recycled and plenty is shared by those who still live in imagined scarcity.