When I moved in to my current house 10 years ago, the adjoining campus - the backyard of the veterinary university off Mount Road - looked green. It had a rich fauna and flora. I woke up to the sound of deer clashing in friendly matches, kingfisher declaring its presence, woodpecker pecking away, treepie shouting 'cooollldrinks', snakes slithering around and parakeets protesting against its presence.
Today, it is barren as the trees have been cut to make way for the metro office. Though a PIL put a limit to how many trees can be cut, who is keeping track? Yesterday, a peepal tree was cut. The deer were relocated to another venue a couple of years ago. Birds come, but are less in number. God knows where the snake vanished to.
What price development, I wonder.
I know the land I live in also must have been a forest once upon a time. In the immediate past, though, a slum occupied this space.
It pains to think of the havoc man is creating in this world. Delhi apparently is covered by a thick smog, so much that people have been advised to stay indoors. Is Chennai going to go the same way?
What can we as individuals do to reduce the destruction of our environment? Invest in land less? Worry about the future less? Reduce our consumption of material things?
The tiger walked at a leisurely pace, unmindful of a jeep right behind it, dogging its steps. The people inside were enthralled to catch a glimpse of this majestic creature, truly the king of this jungle. The king couldn't care less. He was busy marking his territory as the rains on the previous days must have washed off his scent sprayed earlier.
But this made me wonder - how much territory did the tigers really have to divide amongst themselves? All they need - any animal needs - is forest land and trees. Food and shelter... That's all.
We reached Koodalur in the foothills of Kumily Hills near Thekkady for a bullock cart ride around the fields, looking for birds of different feathers. Two youth were waiting with cameras taking photos already. We got on to the cart and one of the boys enthusiastically pointed out the different birds flying around. It was his uncle's cart and he had already done the rounds of the farms earlier. He had seen 105 birds on an earlier trip, he said with pride.
As always, I started chatting up. The two men were from Mumbai, where they worked with Bhavan's rescuing snakes and spreading awareness about the need to protect snakes. "People used to kill snakes out of fear and I felt it was wrong so I joined Bhavan's which had started rescuing snakes," said Prabhu, a Tamilian who was born and brought up in Mumbai. His friend Hemant, was a Maharashtrian, and both worked in the same place. They had been working non stop for the last two or three years and so they were on a 15 day or one month vacation, going to different places in Tamil Nadu and maybe unintentionally focusing on the fauna around. They told us about the birds they had spotted in Kodai and Meghamalai, apart from Kudalur, of course.
"How did you get into snake rescue?" I asked.
I was stunned to hear that the two boys had done engineering, one of them in IT and the other in Civil. But as they matured into youth (they must have been in their early 20s), they were slowly drawn into rescuing the snakes, and their career path changed. They draw a salary, which they are happy with. They also do other work, but all around rescuing animals or working with children creating awareness about the need to protect the environment.
"How did your parents agree?" I asked.
"They were upset initially, but then they agreed," Prabhu, the outspoken one, said. I admired the parents who endorsed their sons' decision and are supportive. Maybe they had fights about the money spent on engineering education, but they came around and accepted it.
While going around the fields, I saw several kinds of birds and I learnt that mynah, owls and parakeets have their nests in coconut trees. I saw bee-eaters in certain kinds of fields, while some other birds preferred a different kind of greenery. They previous day, during a nature trail through Thekkady forest, the guide - a tribal whom the government had trained to be a naturalist and guide - told us about one kind of parakeets that went only for banana plantation. They had become rare to sight in between because banana cultivation had come down. But now again there was a revival it seems.
I was reminded of a story I had heard when working on a dance-play on bees - that bees in China were vanishing . I wondered if the farmers in the surroundings appreciated the rare birds that they sighted regularly. I wondered, when we cut forests to plant a particular kind of plant/crop, what happened to the birds that depended on those trees. When we replant in a different locations (if at all we do), then do we consider the need for variety? Because we cannot know which plant houses which bird and what will happen to a species if 'useless' trees are cut.
With these thoughts came the constant struggle between man and nature. Ironically, it is only men who can fight other men who destroy nature. And there will always be a conflict.
Meanwhile, we can only hope that more and more Prabhus and Hemants are created so that at some point, we can hope for the natural order to be restored.
From the time I shifted to Chennai a couple of decades ago, my refrain has been: Water, water, nowhere, Nor any drop to drink. Though it has been raining almost every year, since Chennai receives rains onlyduring northeastern monsoon, the summers are dry and water lorries rule the roads - water pouring generously from all directions though similar oil lorries seem to be able to seal the precious liquid more tightly. And I wonder for how long this can sustain. How long can water sources from nearby villages sustain the water needs of the growing city of Chennai? Then I heard that despite the heavy rains that Mumbai experiences, there is still a water shortage in the city and water lorries feed the city. Cherrapunji, the place with heaviest rainfall, is facing water shortage because of deforestation and water running off the hills! Can this be a sustainable solution? Isn't there an alternative? We may have money for the water lorries, but soon, will we have enough water to buy? RO plants are criminal in the water that gets thrown out as waste. How then can we access safe water and improve our resources? When the discussion for budget for water came up in my apartment complex, I remembered speaking to one Dr. Ragade a few years ago. I met him sometime in 2005 for an article in a magazine and knew he had done something for water management in his building. His logic was simple and his solution elegant. He reminded me of how water was recycled in each home and he had replicated that model in his apartment complex of roughly 32 flats. Could it work for us? Opportunity presented itself when I did another article on his solution for another magazine and realised how basic and yet sensible his solution was. Dig shallow wells, connect them to the rainwater system on the one hand and the borewell on the other. The shallow well can be kept closed, so it can even be in the parking area in small apartment complexes. All one needs to check is the quality of the soil - is it conducive to retain water without stagnating. We also thought the quality of our ground water was bad since the bath water, which is what the groundwater was used for, was yellow and dirty. We got water tested in a lab but could find nothing wrong. It was embarrassing how he went straight to the root - the source of water - with just a long nylon rope knotted to indicate the feet and a lota. Worse was to know that the water was excellent and the yellow colour was due to the water from the latest borewell that had been dug which was yielding yellow water. Since it was being mixed with rest of the water in the tanks, even good water was turning yellow. I was thinking that in our dependence for modern technology, we do leave common sense behind! Under his guidance, we just finished constructing a shallow well 6 feet wide and 23 feet deep in our complex. Apparently, we struck water at 10 feet from ground level, going up to 12-13 feet below. It is early days, but according to Dr. Ragade, who also works with the Rain Centre in Chennai, and has authored the book 'Self Reliance in Water - A practical manual for city and Town dwellers', the rain that Chennai receives is enough to cater to the needs of the city-dwellers. In a couple of years, the well will be enough for us. If entire neighbourhoods dig shallow wells and divert rainwater to these wells, the water situation can improve. Even if we do not completely eradicate the need to buy water in the short term, I am hoping that this system will at least reduce our dependence on water lorries. It is not just the direct cost incurred that will be saved, but we will be contributing less to the water loss that happens in transportation, and also decrease the demand for such water. I am taking the liberty to post some links not just about Dr. Ragade but others who have tried various techniques to increase water sustainability and sufficiency. May we take a leaf out of their lives and do our bit. Even small apartment residents and independent house owners can implement these simple measures and motivate others to do so too. Surprisingly, it does not involve anything complex. Links: http://cseindia.org/node/1637 http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-propertyplus/canna-plant-solve-your-water-woes/article4933047.ece
There was a time when 'wasting money like water' was a commonly understood maxim. Commonly accepted in fact. But today, the consequences of taking water for granted is hitting us badly. Globally there is a shortage of drinking water. Water resources are drying up. And rain flays us or fails us but does not do much to fulfill our water needs.
Because, we use more than we need... more than nature designed for us. We flush water down the drain, we flush waste into water bodies and think that somehow, money is going to find us water all the time.
Having got used to this system, it came as a shock when one retired IAS officer pointed out to me - we shit in water which is considered holy, pour more water to flush it across the city thus adding volume and then try to remove the waste and make that polluted water usable in some form. It has become fashionable to say 'recycle' but not 'stop polluting'.
Ecosan toilets has been tried successfully in some of the regions with high water table and a retired IAS official who had worked with it wanted a book written. After I met her to ghost write the book for her, the comforting sound of a full flush tank emptying itself in my toilet makes me feel guilty. These toilets work on the principle of liquid separation, letting the waste dry hygienically and use it as compost at the end of a period of time. Like in the traditional system, but with hygiene and privacy, it helps maintain the ecological balance and puts less stress on water. As I did some research to add supporting data, other consequences of the sewage system also came to the fore, as also the increasing demand for potable water.
Yes, it needs a huge mindset change. But it is either that, or running out of water sometime soon. Instead of grappling with more and more expensive technology that only addresses water purification after it has been polluted, it is important to look for ways to curtail the polluting habit.
We can no longer afford to waste water. The sooner we realise this, the better.