It was the last day of the outdoor adventure camp. The campsite was right in the middle of lush green nature with the ethereal mountains by the side. It was a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna, a perfect storybook destination. Kind and friendly villagers lived in the nearby hamlet. It was these sights and sounds, the warmth of the people around, the fresh unpolluted air and the collective experience of everything around that made Praveen come here again and again. Praveen was the camp in-charge. Every year in the month of May, Praveen and his team organised nature-connect sessions for children.
Dhruv and Atharv, like everybody else, were packing their bags. As it was their last day, not much was planned. Dhruv, shoving his jacket into his sling bag said, “Atharv, I just don’t feel like going back!”
Atharv replied, “Yes, Dhruv. I’ll miss you and all our new friends and all the fun that we had together when we went trekking, kayaking, bird-watching. Needless to say, I’ll miss Praveen Uncle a lot!”
He went on to add, “He taught us how to pitch a tent, how to break those branches for a bonfire and so many other things. And how can we forget that interesting lesson on bird sounds?!”
It was breakfast time and the aroma of hot poha filled the air. Praveen was coordinating with his team members. Dhruv and Atharv waited for Praveen to take a pause. Praveen smiled, looking at the boys in front of him.
“Good morning, boys. So, how is the poha?” asked Praveen.
“Tastes yum, Praveen Uncle. Thanks for everything and for the wonderful camp," Dhruv replied.
‘'Yup, we had lots of fun. Wish we could give you a thank you gift, but there are no shops here to buy you a gift,” sulked Atharv.
“Hmmm... you can give me one if you want to,” said Praveen with a plan in his mind.
“Ok, tell us what do you want?" asked Dhruv.
Without any hesitation, Praveen walked away replying, “Get me some dry leaves that are of no use to anyone!”
Walking down a familiar path in the forest, Dhruv and Atharv wondered why Praveen Uncle had asked for such a strange gift. Anyway, it wasn't going to be difficult to get this strange gift, they thought. Under the tree, they found a stack of dry leaves. As they bent down to take them, an old farmer ran up to them and said, “Arre, don’t take these leaves... dried leaves are excellent mulch... have you heard about mulching? I have collected them to be used in my field.”
The boys left the pile alone and started walking further down. Dry leaves, which are of no use to anyone‒that’s not going to be very difficult to find, they thought.
Two women from the nearby village were collecting dry leaves. “What use are these dry leaves? Why are you collecting them?" asked Atharv to the women. “We pin the good ones together to make plates and bowls for temples. Temples use these to give prasad to devotees. We sell some of these in our village bazaars and earn our livelihood. We use the torn ones as fuel in our homes.”
Now, this was becoming way more challenging than expected. As they took rest under a tree, they saw a big bird swooping down to pick up a leaf and flying away. Dhruv said, “I think birds use these dry leaves to make their nests, let’s not take any of the leaves from here.”
“Atharv, let’s start walking. It’s time to go back,’' said Dhruv with disappointment. Who would have ever thought that finding dry leaves which were a waste, would be as challenging as it has turned out to be! “Dhruv, wait! Let’s check near that lake. Close by, they found a leaf afloat. Carefully, Atharv picked up the leaf. On it were two big red ants. The ants stopped moving. If not for the leaf, the ants would have drowned in the water.
Boys looked at each other. Dhruv looked at the ants and said, “We didn't mean to bother you, guys!” He carefully left the ants back into the water.
Phew! It turned out to be a wild goose chase. Dry leaves which were a waste, of no use to us, were impossible to find! Praveen Uncle saw the boys approaching. He passed his ball to his teammates and walked briskly to join Dhruv and Atharv. The others were too engrossed in their game of volleyball to notice anything else around them!
“Sorry, we’ve come back empty-handed, Praveen uncle," said Dhruv. “We couldn’t find any dry leaf that was of no use to anyone. There is no dry leaf that is a total waste!”
“That’s right, my boys. There is no dry leaf that is of no use! In fact, there is nothing in nature that is a waste! From ripe to rotten fruits, green leaves to dried leaves, twigs to seeds to dead wood everything has a purpose! Even animal waste isn't waste; it makes the soil fertile. Everything is of use in a forest ecosystem. The very concept of waste does not exist in nature. Don’t you think there‘s a strong message in that for us?" finished Praveen Uncle with a smile. This was one lesson that was very close to Praveen’s heart. And with this lesson, the camp came to an end.
Dhruv and Atharv were lost in their thoughts as the train started. Memories, experiences and all the lessons learnt from Praveen Uncle kept playing in their minds. And of course, they wouldn’t forget the ‘dry leaves lesson’.
Going back to the city, to the world of consumerism, this lesson was going to be even more valuable. Zero waste or no waste may be difficult for most of us, but minimal waste generation is definitely possible! Right?
The story is based on an ancient Indian tale.