Conserving the environment by minimising wastage is not a green living fad for 78-year-old Kalliammal Kanagasabai.

Her parents had instilled in her the importance of careful spending and living with basic necessities from young, and she has always been thrifty.

“I grew up during the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s. During the war, times were tough. Food and money were hard to come by. To survive, we had to plant vegetables, sew our clothes and think of ways to save money,” recalls the retired rubber tapper from Jitra, Kedah.

Even though times are easier now, Kalliammal has not forgotten the lessons from the war years. She continues to lead a frugal life and can’t bear to be wasteful. The grandmother still mends her clothes rather than throw them away. It’s a good way to save money, she said, while keeping her occupied during her free time.

“There are many things that require stitching such as curtains, sarees and bedsheets. It keeps me busy and mentally alert. I also sew my own cotton bags for grocery shopping.”

Kalliammal has been carrying her own recyclable shopping bags for over four decades. Whenever she heads to the market, she carries her trusty baskets and her handmade cloth bags. She has always refused plastic bags from shopkeepers as she finds them flimsy.


Kaliammah has always refused plastic bags because she finds them too flimsy. Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

“I’ve always carried rattan baskets, gunny sacks and batik cloth bags to buy groceries. While plastic bags may be convenient, they fray easily, unlike my baskets and cotton bags. Some of my cotton bags have lasted over 20 years,” she says proudly.

Kalliammal also tends a garden where she plants flowers such as roses, hibiscus and jasmine; vegetables such as okra, broad beans, brinjal and drumstick; and fruits like rambutan, durian, mango and ciku.

A small patch of land is allocated for herbs such as neem, holy basil and mint.

“I learnt how to plant vegetables during the Japanese Occupation. I have been planting my own food for decades and I’ve grown to enjoy gardening. I hardly buy vegetables as I worry about the high pesticide content. Homegrown vegetables are cleaner, fresher and helps to save money,” explains Kalliammal, who spends most of her time gardening.

She says it is her way of giving back to the environment.

Gardening is also a rewarding hobby for Kalliammah as she has enough harvest to share with her neighbours and friends.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing the fruits of my labour with friends. Instead of letting the vegetables and fruits rot away, it’s nice to pass them around so others can enjoy the healthy greens.

“I make garlands from flowers such as jasmine, roses and hibiscus and offer them at the Hindu temple close by.”

Kalliammah also makes her own compost as she is convinced organic fertiliser is good for her plants. She encourages others to make their own compost fertiliser so that they too can enjoy bountiful produce from their gardens.