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Environmental Activism in small things

I have been involved with writing and environment activism for quite some time now. Like many writers in formation, I have already had a string of jobs, and very little money. But I knew this was going to happen as I had closely followed the lives of other writers. When I was a young kid, I wanted to be a poet. But as I grew wiser, I realised that for people to take my poetry seriously, I would have to dabble in fiction. And as my hair became greyer, I further realised that to support my fiction career, I would have to write useless articles and adult literature. But at Green Clean Guide (GCG), I have been able to shake off this mantle of an adult writer as I can do some serious writing and pen my thoughts without having to bother about if it’s a right fit for the market.

In a departure from tradition, I am not going to harp on the environment theme for this year, nor will I talk about the emission cuts policy. Let me instead talk about how you can do your bit for the environment in small, easy steps. It is possible. You don’t need to follow the UNDP for daily updates or wonder what the IPCC is up to.

My father, once he retired, purchased some land in a village in Uttarakhand and started farming. He later built a house and has since then permanently settled there. At first, this irked me. The village had no 3G connection and I could not pursue writing or earn any money. But the place was awesome and away from the pollution of Delhi was a welcome experience. My parents soon took to teaching kids in the village who were surprisingly sharp. But most of them were first generation learners and had little experience with the alphabet.

If you are familiar with Kaveri Nambisan who without a doubt is the best contemporary writer I have ever read, you would be familiar with this question-

“How does one help the poor?”

Kaladhungi ForestMy neighbour said that you couldn’t and what you aimed for was to help yourself and in the process hope that some of the help would trickle down to them. I now realise how foolhardy this approach is. My father told me to teach them some English and after a couple of days, I was exhausted.

“You don’t know it well enough if you can’t pass it to a three year old kid,” said my father smiling. This irritated me. Wasn’t I an alumnus of institutions people can only dream of gaining admission to? Then how couldn’t I teach a three year old? But there it was. The child couldn’t progress beyond ABC and in numerical, he always missed out the number nine. We tried a different approach and taught him with stones so he’d remember the numbers. This worked. Papa got him admitted into a local school which had previously refused him admission because he was the son of a labourer. After papa negotiated with the principal (the school had but one staff, a female teacher who was Principal, Admin and teacher all rolled into one), he was granted admission. Slowly, the child showed progress and every morning, he would go to school.

The children slowly grew in number and the last time I talked to my father, he told me that now his class has expanded manifold. How is this helping the environment? Well, aren’t humans part of the environment? My father utilised his experience as an educationist and sure, he doesn’t have tons of money to donate to useless charities, but I think he is doing his bit for the environment in his own small way.

My father, a chronic diabetic patient no longer takes medicines ever since he’s shifted to that village. His blood pressure is under control and he has cut down on his cigarettes. Perhaps, not living in Delhi post retirement was the best decision he ever took. And catering to my advice, he has decided not to utilise pointless fertilizers to increase yield. We grow less but we eat healthy. And in the process, our soil remains uncontaminated.

Last November, my mother suffered from a boil on her cheek. We saw doctors who said it was best to left it untouched as laser treatment would leave marks. Fast forward to life in the village, our neighbour said Lajwanti could cure it. Him and me ventured into Jim Corbett Park and he dug up the root of Lajwanti. The plant was familiar to me as “Touch me Not” plant or Mimosa pudica. But I had no clue that it had medicinal properties. “Rub the oozed out liquid of Lajwanti on any sore or boil and it will disappear miraculously in 48 hours,” said my neighbour and he was right. There is so much traditional knowledge scattered away in the forests that it would take me two lives to chronicle it properly.

I point to my village again. The corporation water supply was inadequate and sporadic. So the village came up with a scheme known as Swajal (My water). The entire administration was handed over to the village committee who sadly turned out to be more corrupt than their political masters. But my father threatened them with RTI’s and complaints and the scheme is functioning again. In fact, my house is supplied with the very same Swajal scheme. My father wrote just two letters, one to the DM and one to the local MLA before the committee realised that an educated man was now in their midst and they could no longer afford to be corrupt. I was afraid that my dad was making more enemies in this new place we had shifted to, but later many people came up to me and pointed out that they were highly grateful that the Swajal scheme was running again.

“We neither have the knowledge nor the money, we are unable to meet ends and cannot spend time running around officials but we are happy that at least you are taking the initiative and reviving Swajal scheme,” said the natives of the village.

Restoring a water scheme in a rural village! Now that’s doing your bit for the environment. How much time and money did it cost. Less than hundred if you calculate the internet and electricity costs that I spent on drafting and sending the RTI’s. You don’t need to go out of your way to help the environment.

Start by teaching your maid’s kid, and disposing of garbage in its rightful space. You will be doing a much greater service for the Delhi environment that you can by donating a few rupees to Greenpeace.

I read the article from that American journalist who somehow felt that running away from Delhi on account of the polluted air was worth writing about. Well, I don’t have that luxury nor do the thousand Delhites who dwell in this city. We can’t run away to New York each time the air is polluted. And where will you run to when New York air starts becoming polluted one day? Antarctica anyone? I would have liked it far better if he had instead proposed some solutions. But he’s American. Why should they find solutions for our problems? But then why complain about it too?

Delhi no doubt is a polluted city but the citizens are gradually becoming aware of environment security and when we see seedlings being planted on environment day by school kids, we know we are on the right track. Generating civic sense and making cleanliness a habit among the citizens of Delhi will be a long drawn process but at least its citizens are not running away. My father did not run away. He was always from Uttarakhand. He is doing his bit for Uttarakhand. And I am sure Delhites will finally wake up to the plight of air pollution in the city and demand answers. Neigh, better still, propose solutions and help in their implementation. One small thing at a time…

Picture credit- Taken by Basant Ballabh, near Kaladhungi (where the editor’s parents currently reside.)

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