1st February 1994, was the day that Gul Bahao was launched by me in the company of about 20 odd people or so but without much fan fare. What made me form Gul Bahao?
The immediate reason was the garbage burning in the city, which would not allow me to open my window for fresh air to come in. But the decision to take up such an enormous task was due to a certain amount of soul searching and to thank God for rescuing me from the jaws of death on a couple of occasions. There were several other inclinations and desires in the subconscious which found fulfillment in this work and that was my creative urge to innovate, to bring up something new. The urge for scientific research was always there, ever since the time I was a teenager.
At the university we were taught that before going into practical work one must conduct research, find out what others had done on the subject so that one does not end up repeating the same thing again. I used libraries, talked to people especially those who watch serious T.V. My findings revealed that garbage, far from being a “bloody nuisance”, could be a source of immense power and wealth. I studied statistics on Karachi ’s garbage from various sources, like KMC, people doing their thesis like Mansur Ali etc. The Orange Pilot Project was one place I visited frequently. Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan was very generous with his money at a time when banks refused loans even on collateral.
During this time I found out what different factories and dealers were paying for waste paper, shopping bags, glass, plastic etc. Quick and simple calculations revealed startling facts, that dry garbage when separated from source is worth a whopping one crore rupees hard cash in a day!. Man’s innate desire to turn base metal into gold had found its response in a woman!
And this is what led to the Safai / Kamai Bank or Garbage (N) Gold Bank. Now words like the EEG (Essential Encashable Goods) have been coined. The Safai/ Kamai Bank on the University Road has been launched by GuI Bahao. It is now more than seven months old. Its progress can be gauged from the fact that from a mere Rs.37,000/- month turnover it has grown to about 6 lac rupees a month. Here, a proper rate list is put out both printed and published on a board. Goods are weighed, a receipt given out and payment made promptly. The Safai/Kamai Bank is intended to become a financial institution, of the future.
But the pace in research and innovations is never uniform. There were times when things moved very fast giving the impression that success was round the corner. At other times the pace was extremely slow resulting in alternate bouts of hope and depression. Garbage collection is not always commercially profitable, I learnt to my dismay. For instance nobody would buy the coloured shopping bags; we had so assiduously collected over a period of several months. One day my assistant and I were sitting in our tent at Liaquatabad No.10 on the bare ground. There was no chair to even sit on. The ingenious boy that Akbar my assistant was, he took a used small flour bag and stuffed it with shopping bags and gave it to me. The second attempt was wonderful; he used soft white plastic sheets and shopping bags. The effect was nothing short of a “Gao Takia”.
This incident was in my mind when during a ‘lull”, period I decided we must do something to solve the problem of shopping bogs. I now had two girls working for me who knew how to stitch clothes. They made very good pillows by simply stuffing pillowcases with shopping bags. But who would buy pillows whose contents were used shopping bags. If I wouldn’t use them how could I convince others. They say “Necessity is the mother of invention”. It rained that year in Karachi . Since, our stuff i.e. wastepaper was stored right out in the open it had to be protected and so the famous Was-tic Block came into existence.
How do we make these Was-tic Blocks?
Here the question of molecular cohesion in physics comes up. Certain objects due to their tiny size have strong cohesiveness. We put shopping bags into wooden moulds in which strings have already been laid out. With a good deal of manual force we are able to make a block just like a bale of cotton. These blocks have a tremendous strength. We have been using them alternately as partitions, walls, cubicles, floorings; a swimming pool even a room) The best part is their longevity- they being weatherproof.
I had often read that using the sun’s ultraviolet rays could be used for purifying water. It was said that this way bacteria could be removed but the minerals remained intact — an added advantage. But how? Was the million-rupee question that dogged my mind. The rays had to pass through the water in order to be effective. Leaving a vessel full of water out into the open would only invite bacteria, defeating the entire exercise.
Glass bottles are not only risky because they break, but they generally have an odour to them. Plastic mineral water bottles were the answer. This lead to the discovery of “Paaki Pani”. Un-boiled or unfiltered water is put into these bottles. These are put out into the sun light for a couple of hours. The roof is the best place as it generally gets more and continuous sunlight. Now W.H.O has announced that this technique will save the life of millions of people all over the world.
The sight and smell of a public toilet have always given me nightmares. So, I always use the natural toilet i.e. any unpaved but clean space, having enough privacy. But privacy is difficult to come by in a big city like ours. Initially I used the all-purpose ‘was-tic block? of ours to put up a cubicle for a toilet. However, though the blocks were portable, it was not convenient to ask my staff to spend an hour or so making the toilet for me.
I really don’t remember the days & circumstances under which I started using a Frigidaire carton as a mobile toilet. But the fact is that now I really cannot do without it, (a) because it is light (b) portable (c) totally see-proof, giving complete privacy and above all it is clean. On a wider but impersonal scale, I discovered this natural toilet solved our environmental problem. This wdy the human refuse need not mix up with clean drinking water supplies.
“Thandi Meethi Khad’ or ‘Instant Compost” as we call it in English is another innovation meant to reduce the composting time of 6 months to just 3 or 4 days. How did I discover “Thandi Meethi Khad”? I had done my M.Sc. in Botany more than 20 years ago with the intention of doing research in plant sciences. However, marriage and bearing three children foiled my ambitions. But as soon as I had a chance to use my knowledge of Botany, I grabbed it. While working on environmental issues I came across the concept of recycling of wet waste i.e. vegetable, peels, foods etc.
The question I had posed to many other environmentalists was ‘Supposing we were to use vegetable peels as they are, directly into the soil to be used as organic fertilizer”. Initially there was no satisfactory answer. One-day they yielded. ‘Yes, but they wouldn’t look nice as a commercial entity”.
“Looks could always be changed!” I thought to myself. My joy knew no bounds. The theoretical aspect of the problem was solved, though practical questions remained a problem due to making it on a commercial scale. Compost as everyone knows is an excellent natural fertilizer but it takes ages to form, hence it cannot be made on a commercial sale.
More than anything else collection of this wet garbage is the key problem although one sees this mixed with other dry garbage all over the city. After a number of experiments and several months gone by we have now struck on the following method of making natural fertilizer from wet garbage. Cut them into pieces and then dry out freshly thrown vegetable waste. Fresh, because neither you nor your workers would like to work with foul odour emitting garbage.
When I first started GuI Bahao, I did not have more than two assistants and that too only part time i.e. once or twice a week they would work with me. Now, by the grace of God we have a proper staff.