There’s a popular meme on social media which appeals to a lot of Indians, especially those born in the early seventies. It shows a large plastic bag in the utility area of a kitchen – a plastic bag that holds within itself various other plastic bags that came into the household via grocery or other shopping.
The idea is that you don’t throw away plastic bags or buy them. You always reuse the ones you already have. These images or memes are often accompanied with headlines like – ‘If you do these 10 things, you are a typical Indian middle class person.’
I am that typical Indian middle class person. But it is not just plastic bags that I store and reuse, I also have a large paper bag that holds various other paper bags. I also refrain from writing something on a paper or gift bag if I am using them to give a gift. I would instead put in a small note inside the bag so that the paper bag along with its greeting tag can be reused by the person.
So what do Dingle, paper bags, and India have in common?
The story goes like this. Once we were in Valentia Island and it was raining very hard. My husband decided on a whim that we go to Dingle, a 100 something km drive, in the hope that we would not encounter rain there.
So we drove, taking in the beauty of the Dingle peninsula. As we were exploring Dingle, we came across a store that had a gorgeous window display. The shelves were lined with multi-coloured ceramics – it was as if a rainbow had imprinted itself on each piece of object that the potter had created.
Like moth drawn to fire, we entered the shop. My husband laid his eyes on two ceramic cups, and was smitten.
We went to the counter, and paid for them. I was a bit hesitant about our purchase at first; I thought the mugs were rather expensive. But I knew that these were handmade and unique, and thus we were paying for the craft and their uniqueness.
When the woman at the counter handed the cups/mugs to me, she put them in a paper bag that was fashioned out of a newspaper. The font looked very familiar.
This looks like Hindi, I said to my husband.
I held the paper bag close and indeed the script was in Hindi.
It’s a Hindi newspaper, I exclaimed giddy with excitement.
Soon I began reading the headlines.
One said ‘Kisan satyagraha ka ek mahin poora, ye ladaai lambi‘ (One month of farmer’s satyagraha is over, this is a long fight.)
Another read: ‘Kyun rukta hai vikaas?‘ (Why is progress stalled?)
Now I was enthused. The sturdy bag that carried our precious pottery had sport headlines and news in its inside flap, and various other thought and opinion pieces on the outside.
It took me a few moments to register the tag/card on its jute handle.
A square shaped card, on its front it simply had a photograph of a motley group of men, and the text said ‘Newspaper bags.’
In the inside, it began with ‘By buying this bag, you have helped an organization that was started in 2004 by ‘grown up’ street children. The India Shop has supported this group since and our orders provide 85% of their year round income…. Our recycled Newspaper bags are made by an NGO whose main objective is to provide education and shelter to street children.”
What a coincidence, I thought. And how news and newspapers ‘travel’.
Here I was. In a different country, and continent, and India had come all the way across the seas to be with me. That I should find a piece of my home in a small ceramic studio in Dingle was akin to a finding a piece of prose or poetry that reflected your mood to the T.
Needless to say that the paper bag is stored carefully in a bigger paper bag, and as we use the ceramic cups every day for tea and coffee, I am reminded of little things that make life and stories so intriguing and beautiful.
The pottery that we bought is by Hedi O’Neill, and the paper bag is distributed by New Overseas Traders.