The Fight for the Planet

February 27, 2010

Every once in a while you might go outside for a walk. On the way, you might sit down, empty your mind, and take in all the beautiful images, tranquil sounds, and sweet scents created by mother nature. A little lizard might crawl by your hand. You might hear the lovely voice of a songbird. The wonderful scent of a rose might fill your nostrils. These are the marvels of the Earth’s many ecosystems… gifts that may soon go away.

Now, close your eyes, and imagine the future of the Earth. Flying cars? Nope. Magnificent chrome robots? None. Fancy spaceships flying at the speed of light? You wish. What you would see is a world laid to waste. Large pieces of coastal land would be flooded with high seas, now filthy with trash and toxic materials. The skies would be black with smog. The rivers that we get our water from would be either dried up or poisoned. Areas that once contained lush forests teeming with life would be dead, dry wastelands, with almost no animal life in sight. And worst of all, our very own species would be nearing endangerment, starving and thirsty because of the lack of food and water. This could be the future, caused by humanity’s worst enemy, ourselves.

For a long time, the planet has been a victim of mankind’s “progress.” At first, humanity was just another species, just a little more intelligent. Then, they started to form into small tribes, and in just several thousand years, they managed to spread what they call development all over the face of the planet. Beautiful, green, forests were torn down to make way for farmland, houses, and great big cities. Countless amounts of animals were killed, and plenty of species became extinct. And when all this was finished, the new people who came to live in these areas started abusing the land even more, throwing garbage everywhere, introducing invasive species, and ultimately hurting the ecosystem even more without thinking about the consequences of their actions. All of this happened so that the human population can continuously grow and live in the lap of luxury.

Some may ask, why should we care more about animals and other wildlife? I’ll give you some good reasons.

First of all, humans aren’t mini gods, superior to animals in every way. Just like us, animals can feel pain and fear, and they need places to live, which we are taking away. Would you like it if aliens came to our planet, burned whole cities down, put mines, farmland, and their own cities in their place, and drove us away to various “undeveloped” areas, only to come and repeat their actions again and again until there was nothing left for us. You would probably hate it, and feel the same way that those innocent animals did.

Second of all, when human development attacks the environment, it not only hurts the planet, but us as well! The many trees we cut down absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that causes global warming, a process that traps heat in the earth, causing glaciers in the polar ice caps to melt, increasing the sea level. We release many tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with cars, factories, power plants, and other polluting machines and buildings, so trees help clean up our mess. Also, you may not know it, but many animal species help us as well. Bees help pollinate flowers, creating more plants and  the fruit we eat. Mosquitoes spread malaria, killing millions every year, but frogs help keep the mosquito population in check. And even if a certain species doesn’t seem to help us directly, the extinction or mass extermination of a certain species can cause a destructive chain reaction that can cause an environmental crisis of unimaginable proportions. For example, a staple of the otter’s diet is sea urchins, which eat kelp and other algae. If the otter population in a certain area started to decrease, sea urchins would thrive, and attack the kelp supply in the area. Kelp is also an important food source to many other aquatic animals such as fishes, and with the kelp supply decreasing, the fish population would start to decline as well, including the fishes that we eat. In conclusion, unsustainable human development is a destructive force that is both a threat to the planet and a threat to the human race.

Now that you know about the dangers that we bring to ourselves, take a look at an area that could soon become an example of this. In the bustling city of Chennai, in India, there are many beaches facing the Bay of Bengal itself. These beaches attract people all over the city to play at game booths, go on rides, splash in the waves, build sand castles, or just hang out. To add to that, this coast is home to many fishermen who depend on the sea and its life to make a living. Apart from people, the beaches are home to much wildlife, with crabs and bivalves digging in the wet sand and Olive Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, surfacing to lay their eggs in the sand. However, these wonderful places could soon be desecrated by the monsters we call the government.

The Tamil Nadu government is proposing to build a road built on pillars going overhead along these beaches. This expressway will run along the coast within city limits and then loop around the city along all its waterways, costing Rs. 4000 crore (40,000,000,000 rupees). Its purpose is to “beautify” the beach and congest the city of traffic. However, there are many faults in this idea, faults that could hurt the city instead of helping it.

This project will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. Instead of beautifying the beach, it will badly impair the beauty of the Chennai coast both by hurting the ecosystem and crowding the area. To add to that, the many cars that come to the area will not decongest traffic in the city, but instead will bring many more cars to the beach road, making it unusable. Besides all the harm it does to the city, it will also harm the marine wildlife there. The cars will release much chemicals and spill oil, which will poison the organisms inside and outside of the waterbodies, such as the turtles that nest there. They will also bring noise pollution, soil erosion, and adverse effects on drainage systems, which keep the city clean.

This project may also affect the lives of common people. The road will uproot several fishing hamlets along the coastline, destroying the peaceful lifestyles of the poor fishermen, not to mention killing off the fish, their primary source of income. The tar and concrete will also radiate more heat, increasing the temperature by at least 3 or 4 degrees, one of the last things that the blazing hot city needs. Also, if a natural disaster such as a tsunami or a cyclone occurs, it could uproot the structure, damaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living on the coast. This project is a true example of horrible human development, one that hurts the people and the ecosystem.

If you think this is bad, then have no fear, go ahead and stop this. On the beaches of Chennai, there are multiple protest demonstrations going on, and you can be a part of it. To find out how, contact ‘Save Chennai Beaches Campaign’ and you will get the info on the upcoming protest demonstrations and other ways you can be a help. Together, we will stop this destructive programme.

Since the dawn of man, our species has been expanding its power over the face of the planet. Already, we have destroyed much of the wildlife on Earth, and this “development” is not stopping anytime soon. However, the common people have the power to push this back. If we join together as comrades in arms, we can form a line that the big corporations with their heavy machines cannot cross.

We don’t need money or influence, all we need is numbers. Come, let us rise up and fight for Mother Earth!

Naren Pradhan

Naren Pradhan

Editor’s Note – If you are interested in contacting Save Chennai Beaches campaign, please call Sharada at – 9600040682

Adopt A Baby

February 21, 2010

You know how new moms are. New dads too. But more so new moms. They can’t stop talking about their babies. So please bear with us, while we hold forth for just a few more months about our new babies. The mangroves near Broken Bridge, I mean. Today, they are all of 21 days old. They’re looking good, despite the unhealthy load of trash that is threatening to suffocate them.

Just three days back, I was at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering at the inauguration of their environment club called CARE. Across the road from the low-key and very unlikely but pleasant architecture of this college is the Chembarambakkam Eri (lake). It is the spillover from this lake that makes the Adyar River that empties into the Bay of Bengal at Broken Bridge. The trash thrown along the winding river’s watershed finds its way through streams and canals and nullahs into the river, and eventually ends up along the river banks. A lot of what doesn’t dot the banks of the river upstream ends up near the Broken Bridge.

Today, five enthusiastic ROB volunteers (all new moms and dads of the mangroves) — ranging in age from 10 to 45 — did a perfunctory clean-up of the Broken Bridge shores. They collected four bags of trash (thermocol and slippers, carrybags and old clothes) in less than an hour before realising that they were out of their depth. More people, more trash bags and more gloves were needed.

Now we have an appeal. Any body wanting to be a mangrove parent can be part of the regular clean-up every Sunday between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m. Garbage bags and gloves will be provided. Come clean up some trash. Adopt a baby mangrove. See it grow to adulthood. After all, all the trash comes from upstream, and we all live upstream.

Check the website for updates. But this much is set. Every Sunday, at least a few of us will be there at Broken Bridge cleaning up between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m. Spread the word. There are many mangroves waiting to be adopted.

Nityanand Jayaraman

ROB

ROB has a 100 Babies

February 14, 2010

If you’re starved for good news, this blog is for you. In fact, this entry is dedicated to every one of you who participated in any way in the ROB-led clean-up of Besant Nagar, Urur Kuppam, Theosophical Society and Broken Bridge beaches. This is to let you know that each one of you is now a parent of more than a hundred babies. Yes. Read on.

Yesterday, I walked with a bunch of German social work students through Urur Kuppam to the Broken Bridge. They were visiting Chennai and had just finished an hour-long interaction with other youngsters from Chennai in our Collective’s office. Archana, Kau, Kitchi and Akila had just finished telling them about Reclaim Our Beaches and our elaborate beach clean-up program. As we hopped across the sewage cesspools and the rivulets of crap oozing their way along the sands, the Germans stared at us in disbelief. “Was this stretch part of your clean-up?” one asked.

It is difficult to appreciate the difference without a before-after picture. To us (those who had been part of the clean-up), the Urur Kuppam beach was definitely markedly cleaner, and Neel Metal had been doing a better-than-usual job of cleaning up the street here. For the first time since Neel Metal won the corporation contract three years ago, bins have been installed along the Urur Kuppam beach stretch. But to the Germans, it still looked filthy. The Theosophical Society beach was cleaner, but clearly the litter was coming in. Two fishermen who were pulling in a gillnet from the shore hauled in a rich harvest of plastic trash, and two mullets, even as we explained that it was a challenge to keep the beach clean.

Broken Bridge was a humbling sight. Despite our clean-up of 30 January, and the three days of mechanised clean-up by the Corporation prior to that, styrofoam, slippers and sundry other plastic trash still littered the beach. The stretches that were cleaned, especially the area near the bridge along the water’s edge, stuck out like a healthy thumb in a festering hand. And it is here that we saw the retribution for our labour — a subtle acknowledgement by Mother Nature that she liked the small gesture of ours in cleaning up.

There are more than a hundred small, new baby mangroves that have pushed forth their seedlings from the slush. The carpet of plastic trash had suffocated life beneath it. With the deadly carpet gone, nature had taken over once again. There are a hundred new reasons why we should continue to keep that place clean, and to work out ways to prevent it from getting dirty. Give it a year, and we guarantee you a patch of healthy mangroves where one could earlier only see the obnoxious styrofoam and slippers. One youngster from Reclaim Our Beaches had just explained to the Germans a little while ago that ROB intended to defeat the Elevated Expressway. What better way to defeat it than allowing the ecosensitive mangroves to return to the Broken Bridge.

Bringing back the mangroves to the Adyar River requires nothing more than just leaving the River alone. The hundred odd ROB babies are evidence enough. My wife calls them “Thank you bouquets” from the River to us. As a responsible parent, you owe your babies a visit. I’m sure you’ll understand if they can’t leave their place to visit you. If you get to Broken Bridge, walk beneath it. But tread carefully. And if possible, carry a sack and clean up whatever you can. Every sack counts. In early March, let’s have a celebration for the month-old babies.

Nityanand Jayaraman,

ROBber

Sangeetha-the Restaurant is planning on opening a new outlet at Broken Bridge.

Or so we’ve been led to believe by the truckload of their personal property that’s there.

Our story begins (or began) when Sangeetha hired a man who had hired a flat in the Urur fishing hamlet, to take care of their trash. The mountains of rubbish that hundreds of hungry Chennai-ites help them generate everyday. When the contractor took on the contract, like most people with a job to do, he wanted to do things the profitable way e. i.e. By giving Sangeetha maximum satisfaction at minimum inconvenience to himself.

So the trash was sent to Broken Bridge. Whole plastic bags, torn plastic bags, tattered plastic bags…all leaving a trail of this noxious insides behind. An entrail trail, actually.
That was how the residents of the Urur Hamlet came across it. An emergency meeting of the Hamlet was called and the contractor was arraigned before the panchayat. In his defence he did not have much to say and he was ordered by the panel to have the beach cleared of the trash in 2 hours.

ROB volunteers are currently gathered at the Broken Bridge taking photos and estimating the amount of filth generated. Archanaa Sekar, a ROBber was unsettled at “the amount of trash one restaurant generates in one day”. She said there was every possible type of waste out there- dry waste, wet waste, organic, inorganic, bio-degradable and stuff that would outlive us by a couple of centuries.

But while the trash is worrying, the current concern is getting it off the beach. When Sangeetha hired this man to do a job, they should have followed up HOW he was doing it. With their experience, they should have been well aware that most contractors would follow the ‘no pain, loads of gain’ principle. The trash they generate is theirs. They cannot disown it by handing it over to someone else.
While the contractor is responsible for the litter landing up on the beach, as one ROBber argued, how is he worse than the normal litterers who come by and drop off little gifts of gutkha packets, cigarettes, spoons and tins..etc..? True, he was making a profit. He was taking advantage of being situated near the Broken Bridge to use it as his private dumping ground. But what’s also true is that he is, in essence, doing what every other litterer does.

The only additional problem he caused, as yours truly sees it, is he put the Hamlet at stake. While the people of the hamlet know that the man isn’t a resident, proper, there most outsiders would view this as the ‘hamlet’s new dumping ground’. Fingers would be pointed to the hamlet, filthy aspersions would be cast by thesaintly middle and upper classes at the hygiene of the hamlet- people would use this as an excuse to further dump on hamlet ground. ‘After all, they do it why not us?’

And coming down to the basics of course- where was the Corporation in all of this? While they had no part of the deal between hotel and contractor, surely they should be alert to what is happening on Corporation land? The Broken Bridge falls under their watch. And when the trucks rolled in, the Watch was asleep.

ROBbers on the beach right now are awaiting the finale to this morning’s episode. Cameras, phones and pen and paper are noting various details that the corporation or Sangeetha are likely to miss.

Update: Two ROBbers filed a complaint with the police who sent in men. A case has been filed against Sangeetha.

The beach has been cleaned up. Again.

Ussayale…

February 1, 2010

As part of Sunday night’s programme, the Ussayale dance was performed.

The Ussayale dance, really.
Orchestrated by Kaushik and Ashwath of ROB, the dance snakes way back towards the duo’s schooldays where they performed it countless times for the school. The Ussayale dance, the 12B dance, as it became known, turned out to be famous enough to appear in two movies- one home produced by 12B, the other produced by 12C, spoofing it.
Never did a single song inspire such cheering in an audience as The Ussayale has done for years now!

And Sunday night, when Kaushik and Ashwath danced, reunited on stage together after nearly 2 years, there was not a single silent soul spectating. The audience, especially K and A’s schoolmates were screaming themselves beyond hoarse as the duo, with Arun, Srinidhi, Deeptha and Charanya from ROB rocked the stage.

As K and A’s schoolmate, watching the dance brought back an insanely giddying wave of happiness. It reminded me of school, of happiness shared, of mad pranks and silly jokes- it brought back that certain quality we call innocence which cynicism seems to destroy so easily as you approach 20.

To most people it was a fun, enjoyable dance. To me and to my schoolmates, last night was a return to a place of unassailable happiness. If the ROB weekend was double chocolate, choco-chip ice-cream, this was the cherry on top.

Monday Morning

February 1, 2010

Monday morning, another week dawns. Another weekend has ended.

But what made this Monday seem to rival anything Garfield’s ever seen, was that it followed such an amazing weekend! Saturday morning, the ROBbers awoke by 5. By 6 all the volunteers were on the beach, stall set up, loudspeaker squawking and general goofiness being passed around. Yours truly was at the registration desk, gloating at the people lining up. Really, it’s incredible how many people want to clean the beach! I thought most would give the clean up a miss and come the next day. But apparently I grossly underestimated Madras’  enthusiasm!

The clean-up went off quite marvellously (though this eyewitness had departed early on) and the results could be seen that evening in sparkling clean sand.

As to how much trash we collected…*gulp* If you really want to know, the most conservative estimate is 200 bags. Of trash that is. Fantastic, fabulous, outlandish trash it was too. The sort of thing you collect and gawk at. The kind of thing you want to show people. Which of course, is exactly what we’re going to do!

The next day began…well the previous night really, with the Turtle walk, followed by a know-your-beaches walk. There was cricket and football on the beach. And painting and essay-writing for the landlubbers. Thakli making annd composting- two activities that seem laughable, perhaps. Unless you’ve sat and watched Gautam anna from KFI ‘spin the yarn’. I was dragged back to my volunteer duties kicking and screaming, so engrossed was I in the mystery that was unravelling in front of me.
(For those of you who missed those awesome puns, ‘thakli making’ is spinning thread from cotton. Now go back and laugh, do.)

And that evening..oh! That evening. We began with Sid and Krish, our own, home-grown talent, opening for many, many other acts. The MSSW singers and dancers had the crowd  cheering and hooting, as did the Guru Nanak college students with their incredible energy!

The two surprise elements of the evening though were Antony Ala and Haemesh from Urur Village. Antony’s dancing/singing/mimicry show had the audience gasping and cheering in awe. As for Haemesh’s Michael Jackson impression- Ishwar’s heartfelt, “Michael Jackson isn’t dead and gone…he lives on in Haemesh” was no exaggeration. His moonwalk received ‘once mores’ and a standing ovation.

Then of course, *ta da* you had the ‘Ussaile’ dance from the ROB team. And the ROB song. And then the ROB volunteers performing, not missing out on the bharatnatyam recital by two young ROBbers, early on!

All in all, as I walked back home, my head was spinning a bit and I was grinning at random strangers. What an evening. What a weekend. Who knew Beach Clean Ups were so much fun?

Now if only we can do away with the Clean ups and just have the ROB concerts more often!

Akhila, ROB