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Jyoti Shah has converted the terrace of her modest apartment into a garden of vegetables and flowers

Jyoti Shah is a diminutive woman. With henna dyed bright orange hair and a visage that has weathered many a milestone, Jyoti Shah could be the proverbial aunt in your neighbourhood. Yet true to her name, there is something that shines through that sets her apart from the pack. “I am the garbage guru,” she claims with an infectious smile and a toss of her short wavy hair.

As I climbed the rickety stairs to her first floor modest apartment, I had no idea that Jyoti would be like any other housewife, maintaining a spotless home, making cloth bags for vegetable shopping out of torn sarees and bed sheets, whilst offering refreshments and shooing her help away. As we engage in small talk, Jyoti and I ascend one more flight of stairs and there, resplendent, is her verdant garden patch, setting her apart from the rest of her ilk.

Eleven years ago when the bio bug bit her, Jyoti, threw in her trowel to help the ‘go green’ movement, and has not looked back ever since. On her terrace, [there is not a spot of seepage in her apartment below for all the watering her plants demand everyday] mango, guava, drumstick and pomegranate trees vie for attention welcoming us with weighed down branches. Brinjals, amla, chikku, pumpkin creepers and succulent green peppers and chillies, pregnant with their proud burden, blend harmoniously with hibiscus and marigolds and roses. The terrace is a profusion of colours and fragrances. I stop in wonder beside the five year old mango tree as I shade my eyes to look up the drumstick tree whilst Jyoti chatters on with quite pride.

The brainchild of a professor Natarajan from IIT, Powai, the catalyst for this terrace garden is a 5gm pack of enzyme mysteriously labeled Biosanitiser. Mixed with an equal amount of regular top soil it becomes manna for seven plants for life. All that the happy plants then need are a good helping of kitchen waste (be it peels, bones, eggshells, even human hair!) once a week and a palm full of water daily and voila! You have a green revolution in your garden that puts even shrinking violets to shame!

The astonishing feature of this whole terrace garden is that the plants and trees have grown with kitchen waste as their fuel and practically without any earth soil. You do not see soil around any plant. It is difficult to believe that plants can grow without soil; however, Jyothi’s terrace garden stands proof that this is possible. It also demonstrates that kitchen waste can be so productively used, helping the environment.

Today, Jyoti is on a mission… that of spreading this awareness free of charge. Jyoti’s other projects are as revolutionary as her first love… she has transformed the garden in an orphanage with bio-waste made from (hold your breath…) soiled baby diapers, and if the profusion of greenery there and the cooing of a variety of birds therein are any indicators, our ‘lady with the lamp’, has sure struck pay dirt!

Aparna Shekar

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