THE INGENIOUS ART OF UPCYCLING : PAKISTANI-MOM EDITION
“Pakistani-mom” is a vibe. Ever since I became a mom, I’ve inevitably embraced this culture and leaned into its ancient wisdom. Brown moms are the OG in a lot of ways, one of which is hoarding random objects – “kyunkay zaroorat par sakti hay”. Who hasn’t experienced cabinets full of empty jars, frozen haleem in ice-cream tubs (psyche!) and cookie tins filled with sewing material. The West relatively recently popularised sustainability – for our Pakistani moms, it’s been a lifestyle forever, even before their conscious understanding of its impact on our planet . Here is how I absolutely endorse Pakistani-mom upcycling.
Planting that sustainable seed
Walking through a congested Lahori street, I was struck by a tiny garden that brightened up the drab, grey neighbourhood. Plants rose from sunny yellow planters made from painted reclaimed old tyres – I’m convinced that this poignant ode to urban gardening was the brainchild of a fellow Pakistani-mom!
I started noticing these sweet gestures towards plants more and more – the ingeniousness of using a discarded old wooden cable wheel, maybe leftover from the construction of the house itself, to adorn the gate with beautiful blooms.
Here is my dadi’s garden, where a plant springing from a ceramic achaar-fermenting jar no longer serving its purpose casts its shadow on me.
And at home, my tiny indoor garden sports all kinds of re-used containers – water and oil bottles and golden syrup cans house my little leafy and prickly friends.
Nostalgia that keeps on giving
Plants really do bring so much joy – especially when they exist as flowers in bouquets celebrating special occasions. Some seem too precious to be thrown away even when they are past their prime. My own Pakistani-mom taught me how to dry flowers, hanging them upside down in dark, cool places so they retain their colour and shape.
Scattered across my house are flowers from those unforgettable moments still cheering me on – but this time as bowls of pot pourri. Decoration and memories, all rolled into one sweet-scented bunch.
Of course having these dried flowers around always comes in handy when wrapping presents. Just sticking a stalk onto your usual wrapping instantly elevates it from gift to thoughtful gesture.
From clothes to companions
Fabric is the material that lends itself most to a sustainable lifestyle, morphing itself to suit any purpose. From the uber-traditional rilli sheets to seeing our old T-shirts turned to dusters and pochis – the Pakistani-mom will not stop at just fabric but even utilise fully stitched clothes to serve new functions!
Many clothes that have been worn during certain periods of one’s life become too special to donate or discard. My nani, like me, got emotionally attached to clothing. For each of her daughters, she collected and archived their special shalwar kameez suits from when they were young girls. Through some genius mathematical wizardry, she re-purposed their fabric to create patchwork quilts as gifts to her daughters, to be cherished forever. This particular “razai” was made for my mother who handed it down to me on my wedding – a memory of two generations lulling me to sleep every winter.
Don’t have the time to figure out a patchwork quilt? Take another one of my nani’s techniques – here’s a complete dupatta, finished off with some extra fabric on the sides and soft mul at the back, lined lightly – and you instantly have a perfect summer “dulai”.
Everything is a toy
Lastly, would you be a Pakistani-mom if you didn’t skimp on buying your kids new toys (that they’d get sick of in a few days anyway, right?) and just re-purpose ordinary objects? As a mother of a toddler, I am an expert at this (I can attest to an empty cardboard box being the best plaything).
Conjure up the days of Uncle Sargam – utilise those lone socks, glue on googly eyes, and you have yourself a Maasi Museebtay. An evening of hilarious puppet shows commences while you sit back and sip your chai in peace.
Or let that humble piece of fabric, the dupatta, come to your rescue once more. We all have memories of lazy hot summer afternoons spent playing with cousins while the adults napped, building magical spaces that transported us to another world – all using our mothers’ dupattas. Bring out all the old dupattas, string them up from chairs, across sofas, between furniture, and give your kids hours of imaginative play – it is still as fascinating now as it was back then.
Now go ahead and do your Pakistani-mom check – how many ingenious ways are you upcycling the things around you?