By Bharati Chaturvedi
Shocking pink walls, red cement fireplaces and mauve cupboards are not the usual decor of a government house in Delhi. But Bharati Chaturvedi, 31, is no ordinary lady. Art critic-cum-environmentalist, intense but good humoured, the lady defies definition. She blends panache with passion as she talks about her campaign against plastic bags led by her NGO Chintan and the National Foundation of India. "We're not saying 'don't use plastic bags'," says Chaturvedi, "We're saying 'here are the options, here's what it does, and how toxic it is', so you then have an option."
The options, and much more on polybags, are detailed clearly and comprehensively in Chaturvedi's book, Polybags, the Enemy Within (Oxford and IBH). Thanks to the Say no to Polybags campaign we now know plastic bags are harmful. But the book takes us a step further. It tells us what polybags are and how they affect the soil, poison animals and release toxic waste. And Chaturvedi's a preacher with a point: she suggests alternatives-the use of strong paper bags, cloth bags and nylon bags. "Our measure of success," she says, "is who else decides to take it up." By that yardstick the campaign has been very successful. It has been adopted by the Delhi Government, the Pune army cantonment and the Sabarimala temple.
Chaturvedi's interest in the environment began with curiosity about the politics of ragpickers in the early 1990s. The result was a year-long study on solid waste, three books, and a mission against plastics. But her approach is pragmatic. She says reasonably, "We can't totally get rid of plastics, we have to decide where they're critical." When not travelling to promote awareness, Chaturvedi admits to a soft spot for cartoons, particularly Calvin and Hobbes. But work is obviously her mainstay-even cartoons are viewed as much as an effective means of communication in her book and campaign as for her amusement and relaxation. This air force officer's daughter certainly intends to fly high-with her feet solidly planted on the (plastic-free) ground.