In 2017, we live in the era of consumerism. An age where it is easier to grab your smartphone, click on any one of the scores of e-commerce mobile applications that are now available and order what you need straight away. It is definitely much easier to live by the definition “out with the old and in with the new”, but did you ever stop to think where all the old stuff goes or thought to yourself “Hey, I can fix this” ?
Well, that’s exactly what Martine Postma had in mind when she opened the world’s first ‘Repair Cafe’ in Amsterdam, Netherlands back in 2009. A Repair cafe is just like your cafe next door offering beverages and snacks but it is also so much more. Here, visitors can bring along broken objects or appliances and learn how to fix it themselves. Martine believes that an initiative that taught local communities different ways and techniques of being sustainable was desperately needed to combat the ever increasing threat of consumer waste that is now a real existential bane to global ecology conservation.This initiative is known as the “Repair Cafe Foundation” which Martine kick-started in 2011 with a vision of ethicizing the push toward sustainability. Today, there are over a thousand repair cafe’s across the world including one in Bangalore that is conceptualized by Antara Mukherjee and Purna Sarkar!
Purna and Antara have been instrumental in laying down the foundations for the first outlet in our country and her motive is rather simple and straightforward. The Manufacturing of any new product is always reliant on demand and demand is always reliant on its consumers. Speaking in a similar tone Purna explains “We need to think of an entire lifecycle of a product. Some materials may have an adverse environmental consequence when extracted or processed, but relatively benign in use and easy to recycle. The product life cycle has five distinct phases, all of which interact with the environment. We were with this realization that through repairing one need not to repeat the entire lifecycle of a product manufacturing and thus it reduces CO2 emission to the environment.” And we can’t help but agree with her logic as it certainly make a lot more sense in more ways than one. The significance of this venture has several cultural overtones according to Purna. Before the advent of consumerism, India and Indian society actually believed in conserving and maintaining things that could be fixed rather than throwing them away.
In fact, the origins of our all too famous “Jugaad” skills take inspiration from this very belief doesn’t it?
She also specifies the huge environmental difference this can make to our country. “Today India is generating 62 million tonnes of waste a year which will grow into 165 million tonnes by 2030. It may pose a serious health problem to both urban and rural communities, if it is not handled well.” she points out.
For an initiative such as this to garner success however, it needs the combined effort of informed citizens and environmental organizations in order to raise goodwill and awareness among the general public.It is the sole reason the cafe also conducts “Repair Workshops” where they go to the homes of people and communities and help repair household items in cooperation with the communities themselves. The repair cafe also conduct training programmes that are priced at INR 800/- a head.
Purna thinks this is doubles up as a great social opportunity for societies as people of all ages, professions and walks of life meet each other and learn repair techniques as well as exchange ideas and expertise. After all a sustainable community is also reliant on the symbiotic relationship and understanding that people have between one another. “We have received an encouraging response from people of all groups. It is because this cafe connects people irrespective of their age and education together with the satisfaction of repairing things and getting things repaired.” she adds.
Some of the objects that people love restoring the most are electric toys, Akai CD cum cassette players from 1990, hair dryers, heaters, hand irons, MP3 players, Shoes, toy cars and LED lights to name a few. There’s a sense of nostalgia and contentment that one feels as soon as they finish mending their most beloved material attachments that bring people back time and again. There is no charge for minor repairs , however major tinkering with a certain item will attract workmanship charges coupled with the price of spare parts.
Certainly a step in the right-direction, this fun yet quirky way of helping the environment is an extremely fulfilling lifestyle for Purna who feels the best part of her job is hearing people adopt the message the cafe is trying to preach. Here’s hoping we see more outlets such as these across the country in the years to come.
You can register for the cafe’s next workshop on home electrical appliances here.
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