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 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,


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.


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


January 26, 2010

Pondicherry beach…doesn’t exist. In the general sense of the word.

You have the pavement and then you have a small wall of rocks and then- splash! Waves crashing against them and sending up a delightful spray onto your face.  Or you falling off the rocks and into the sea. Either way.

The Pondy sea-front is stunning. Not just beautiful- but so calm and serene. Even when there’s a rock concert on, like this weekend.  Of course there are crowds. Of course there are people selling things. But you don’t feel like you’re in a mad rush of humanity as you often do in Madras on the weekends.

Almost no vehicles, no speeding maniacs, no random screaming and hooting- and surprisingly small amounts of litter. (As far as I could see and memory guided me). All of this is made easy of course by Pondy’s size and by more than half, if not all, the sea-front being owned by the Ashram.

Here you have an ‘organisation’ that believes in simplicity, cleanliness, beauty and quiet. And they own your sea-front. What more could you want? Alas! That Madras belongs to the people.
Or is that what we’re going to change?


Turtle Walks

January 16, 2010

So after much procrastination on my part I finally got down to writing a blog post!

Its 12 o’clock in the night and Neelankarai beach is eerily quiet.

The beach is so much more alive and happy at this time of the day, and its actually cold! Plastic bags flutter around in the breeze, leftover by the crowd that was probably here.

Anyway before I begin to ramble…Its turtle walking season again!

Hopefully some of you have been on a turtle walk. For those of you who haven’t, you’ve definitely missed out on something! 6 kilometres of walking on the cool wet sand and searching for turtle nests and hatchlings, a wildlife lovers paradise! I’ve always wanted to visit Gahirmatha in Orissa and watch the Arribada.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when turtles mass nest on the beach! And by mass nesting I don’t mean a few, but hundreds and hundreds of turtles converging on the beach at the same time! Chennai has its own nesting sites all along its coast for the Olive Ridleys. We do get an occasional Green turtle too.

Sadly this year there have been numerous dead turtles washed up on the beaches. We even found a sperm whale last week!   Trawling and gill nets drown the unsuspecting creatures and wash them onto the shore. Hatchlings die of dehydration as soon as they are born because of the lights on the beaches that distract them from their goal – the sea.

What is the cause for all of this?  Who is responsible? It’s us! Every year they put up more lights on the beach for ‘safety’. More trawlers are sent out to the sea to fish, and more people come to the beaches and litter.

There is a solution to this just like most other problems : If you live near the sea switch off your lights from 12 to early morning during turtle nesting season (which is from January to April)! Clean up after you have fun at the beach! And don’t forget to use those trash cans! Only then will you be awe struck like I usually am when I go on a turtle walk or visit the hatchery.

Nothing beats watching turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests. They truly are magnificent creatures.

Anjana, ROB