You may know Kalki Koechlin from Margarita with a Straw, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (which completed a decade in May 2023), but it’s also likely that you know the actor through her Instagram account where she has over 934K followers. Here, she posts about everything – from her past and present projects to slow living in the coastal state of Goa. She talks about her fashion inspiration, baby steps to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, promoting gender equality, and health and education for women.
You may also find her posting about raising Sappho, who her partner Guy Hershberg and she welcomed in February 2020. The French-Indian star is also a writer. She debuted as one during the lockdown with The Elephant In The Womb, an illustrated non-fiction book on motherhood, published by Penguin Random House.
Kalki is the real deal for practicing what she preaches about conscious living – you can notice that in her fashion choices, style of motherhood, and daily life choices, down to cleaning products. For World Environment Day, she spoke to Zee Zest about making healthy, environmentally friendly choices for her family, promoting conscious living in whatever capacity she can, and who she turns to for information on sustainability.
1. How is motherhood treating you right now?
It's good. I think the intensity of the first year has calmed down. I have started to get some rhythm back into my life, and have started to work again. It's nice to try and start striking that balance. But I miss her like crazy when I'm away from her.
2. What are the lessons you learned as a child that helped shape your idea of sustainable living?
The circle of life, just the idea that everything grows and dies. Also, knowing where your food comes from is a big one. For instance, the places where I grew up had papaya trees, lemon trees, and so on, and we were even growing our own vegetables. I knew where it came from, the amount of hard work put in to grow the produce, how long it took to grow, and how fast we were consuming.
We didn’t just go to the supermarket, and these fruits and vegetables didn’t magically appear on our trays. Also, understanding eating seasonally, and diet changes with the season, all of it makes a huge difference. I try to ensure Sappho experiences this too. We have chikoo, lemon, and passion fruit trees in our garden.
3. What are the steps you take to live a sustainable life today? Are there any new changes made after the arrival of your daughter, Sappho?
A lot, actually. One of the biggest steps we’ve taken is to shift base from Mumbai to Goa. We decided to move here to be closer to nature. Here, we have a garden and trees around. We’re living in a small village community. It’s a very different life here and we wanted her to be exposed to that.
Apart from that, at home, we mostly eat vegetarian food since Guy is a vegetarian. My daughter enjoys non-vegetarian food, so we get some when we’re out for dinner. We try and stick to local products – from foods to fashion, and even cleaning products. Basically, we try to get the things that have travelled the least so that it meets the least carbon footprint. We have cycles at home and Sappho has a seat on the back of my cycle, so we get some good cycling time.
4. Is it possible to go 100 per cent sustainable?
No, and I don't think that is necessary either. I think a lot of people get intimidated by the idea of sustainability for this very reason – because they think that to go 100 per cent sustainable, they will have to give up on a lot of things. But I don’t think that’s the case. Even if each of us can give up one meal a week of meat, it will make a difference.
We need everyone to think of those little things, baby steps, that may help the environment, and not about being 100 per cent sustainable. The whole idea of sustainability should be about how much you gain. When you start thinking sustainable, you spend a lot more time with your family, because you’re not like shopping or distracting yourself with malls and entertainment of that type. Also, you create a lot of space for mental health, I feel.
5. We live in a digital world with easy access to information. Why do you think Indians are still not pro-environment?
Sure, there is access to information, but it has not been a part of our basic education, at least not in our generation. I think if it is not part of your curriculum in school, and taught to you from a young age, then it’s very hard to embrace it later in life or learn it by yourself.
6. You’ve actively spoken about eco-conscious and green fashion. Can you tell us how you identify such brands?
You basically follow the brand on Instagram and with regular access, you will understand their policies and measures taken towards sustainability. You can also guess how genuine the brands are based on their packaging. You know not using plastic, using cloth or paper instead. It’s easiest to figure out who’s greenwashing when you receive the parcel.
7. The theme for World Environment Day 2023 is #BeatPlasticPollution. What are the steps that you personally take to avoid plastic pollution?
In terms of my own plastic consumption, my family and I have our own steel bottles and steel straws. Even in the car, we keep spare straws for whenever we stop for a nariyal pani or something. I have my own mug. Even when we have a party for kids, we’ve found eco-friendly plastic alternatives for several things including plates and cups. We use bamboo plates instead of plastic ones. I found an alternative to cling film, which is one of the worst non-recyclables. I have found wax paper, made from beeswax, for covering food.
8. Who do you follow on Instagram for information on green, sustainable living?
I follow @Greenlane.TV, which keeps updating news about sustainability. That’s a nice page, and it leads to articles in different places. @Greenpractices is a place where you can learn about composting, recycling, and everything to do with the garbage recycling process there. @GiftGreenIndia is a lovely page because it’s about buying sustainable gifts for people.
Recently, in Goa, I ran into something called @makanakaplastic, which is a group of people, who are helping the state to get rid of plastic completely. It’s a fantastic initiative and they’re giving away cloth bags, made using recycled cloth, to people all over Goa.