Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | November 5, 2012

Thonga

In an India, where I grew up exposure to plastic was very limited.

Most shops in India used paper bags of different sizes (real tiny ones for 50 grams and bigger ones to hold a kilogram). These were called “Thongas”. If a big bag was required it would either be made of cloth or jute. Every month a person would visit our homes to buy used newspapers, magazines, cans and glass bottles. He would weigh them; buy them off us only to resell to people who would recycle. This has been practiced in India since ages and I am sure it still continues (albeit at a much smaller scale).

We used utensils made of porcelain, steel, aluminium or glass at our homes. The street vendors sold tea in earthen pots and so did the street eateries that sold curry.

I think the advent of plastic products started in India with the introduction of plastic buckets and mugs. Slowly every household product was replaced by their plastic alternatives. Plastic was new, fashionable and obviously light. Everyone wanted to use it and slowly it started dominating our lives.

Now that there is a reversal to using paper bags etc., some of us are perhaps wondering why the change to plastic did happen in the first place? The planet became a bit worse-off anyway. I did not realise paper bags will make a comeback and I am glad the world understood their worth.

It is fascinating to look back and remember some such things.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this post, Tanmoy. I have in fact thought more than once of writing something quite like this, but you beat me to it: good for you. Yes, it’s a good thing that the cool and chic crowd everywhere is now getting back to paper bags again: far better for the planet. The one good thing that Lalu Yadav tried to do to the Indian Railways was to replace plastic cups with the age-old bhnaar… little burnt clay cups. I hear the same is getting to be ‘trendy’ in some posh restaurants, too. I hope many other good things will come back – bicycles instead of motorbikes, to name just one. Of course, if something is really good, it can’t really be substituted by anything else: look at spectacles, now seven centuries old. And people, I think, would tire of storing photos by the thousand on their digital cameras and hanker for the pleasure of photo albums once more, maybe in a couple of decades’ time. So also with music on mobile phones as compared to the grand richness of proper music systems…


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