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Updated: March 6, 2013 15:30 IST
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Urban farmer with an army of assistants

Deepika Sarma
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Just can’t get enough: Campaigner for solid waste management and Malleswaram resident Vani Murthy uses three different methods to make compost at home. Photo: S. Mohan Prasad
The Hindu Just can’t get enough: Campaigner for solid waste management and Malleswaram resident Vani Murthy uses three different methods to make compost at home. Photo: S. Mohan Prasad

Vani Murthy’s passion for solid waste management extends to the worms in her garden

“I’m hooked on composting, and I don’t think I can ever stop,” says Vani Murthy, minutes before she plunges her hand into a container of compost in her balcony to pull up a clump of fragrant earth and wriggling earthworms. She has a teeming terrace garden in which she grows herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables, but she admits that it isn’t so much the gardening she enjoys as making compost — believe it or not, she makes three different kinds.

Vani is an extremely active campaigner for solid waste management, and is one of Malleswaram’s most recognisable faces. A member of We Care for Malleswaram, Yes in My Back Yard, the Malleswaram Swabhimana Initiative and the Solid Waste Management Round Table, spreading awareness about why and how waste should be segregated is one of Vani’s primary activities in the neighbourhood.

Grabbing eyeballs

“I believe in visual communication,” says Vani, who seizes the opportunity to provide creative displays that grab attention while driving home the message. So if it’s a campaign to segregate different kinds of household waste, for example, she’d be there as part of a demo with “funky hats with CDs and bottles hanging from them” or aprons explaining what waste goes where. Plenty of pictures and lots of colour are her trademark, something you notice even before you enter her tidy home, which has colourful decorations proclaiming the household’s commitment to waste right on the front door.

Vani says she has definitely seen a shift in attitudes towards solid waste management in recent years, even if this hasn’t been on a large scale. Although Malleswaram is one of the first localities in Bangalore with a Residents’ Welfare Association and an active network of residents committed to taking responsibility for the waste generated in their neighbourhood, Malleswaram’s battle with waste has a long way to go in terms of building a sustainable system for managing waste. “We still don’t have a dry waste collection centre,” Vani points out. “We need to be able to manage our dry waste properly before we begin to handle our wet waste”, she says, “decentralising management of wet waste is hard.”

Tiny helpers

Moving on to the management of wet waste in her own home, out in Vani’s balcony, she points to a partitioned container in which vermi-composting takes place. One portion of it holds compost that’s nearly ready, while the other holds mud and food being broken down by fat earthworms having a field day. “I like to put in things they like, like coffee or tea powder, and guava,” Vani says fondly, rummaging through the mud to expose pieces of guava and pea pods, “so no orange or lemon peel for them.”

Green laboratory

On the terrace, Vani has the familiar stack of Daily Dump kambhas, where aerobic composting of her garden waste takes place, and in her kitchen, she uses the ‘bokashi method’ — which involves mixing microorganisms in with food waste — to break down kitchen waste.

“The first time I composted waste, I failed miserably. I had a stinking mess on my hands and didn’t know what went wrong.” Once she learned what she didn’t do right, it took a year to get into the groove of things, and there’s been no looking back since.

“I feel like I’m getting back to nature,” Vani says, before listing the herbs, greens, fruits and vegetables she grows in her garden.

She regularly shares her experiments and adventures in her garden on Facebook, which she says has given her the opportunity to reach out to people. “I feel connected to friends I’ve never met. After 50, I’ve got something fresh,” she laughs.

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