World Famous

March 1, 2010

Reclaim Our Beaches apparently isn’t a local phenomenon.

New Zealand is doing it too.

New Zealand has their own ‘Reclaim Our Beach’, an initiative to clean up Evans Bay.

Unbelievable, yes? That’s what we thought too.

It gets crazier, though. The ‘Reclaim Our Beach’ initiative was started by the local group in New Zealand.

To draw out the similarities…

Our very own ‘Reclaim Our Beaches’, was started as a collaborative effort between the ‘Save Chennai Beaches’ campaign, and the ‘350me’ group. We did clean up Elliot’s Beach. They have also done a survey of the beach, in a manner strikingly similar to us.

Well, you know what they say about great minds.




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,


Star of the Sea

January 9, 2010

That, according to Berty Ashley is what Stella Maris means. (Also according to wiki and latin translations).

And that is where we all were today. Long hours of plotting went on behind closed doors and windows. Unearthly howls were reported by terrified neighbours. Eerie music and flashing lights…
Well, that was actually the disco party at the Taj. But ROB came pretty close as well.

And we sure attracted attention in Stella! Sid and Krish’s song (with enthusiastic backup by other ROBbers) was a resounding success. (Pun, geddit? Sigh. Never mind.)
Moving on- Nityanand Jeyaraman was the judge for the Debate held at Aquilae (It’s what they’ve called their culturals). The topics had the participants stymied for a while. One doesn’t often see topics like ‘Annual Beach Clean Up by NSS students- solution or problem?’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility- eyewash or sincere effort?’ and ‘Is student activism key to capturing the essence of democracy’ as topics for a debate. Not all three together!

But they were- and defended/fought for quite well by the participants. Nity seemed in his elements asking people questions that really made them stop and think and defend their stance, as opposed to rattling off arguments they’d prepared minutes ago.

ROB volunteers floated around Stella- the white, be-turtled t-shirts could be seen dotting the grounds very prettily. The ROB stall, selling the same (t-shirts not volunteers) did pretty good business.

There was a low table covered with t-shirts and the Bhopal Calendars as well as information on the aftermath of the Bhopal gas leak.
Strung up between trees were the Robbers’ photographs of the beach, hanging between the ROB banners.  Very attractive,  (We Robbers seem high on aesthetics!) attention grabbing- and likely to stay in your mind!

The Robbers from Stella did a great job co-ordinating this outreach and ROB as a group responded marvellously.

A huge thanks to Stella Maris for allowing us a stall in the culturals! And a huge round of congratulations to the volunteers responsible for today. From where I was sitting (pretty much all over the college :D) we did great!

Akhila, ROB

Rabid Optimist

January 8, 2010

The last three days have confirmed that notwithstanding all criticisms that I’m a cynic, I am actually a horribly, hopeless optimist.

Three days ago, a reporter from a Tamil weekly called me to find out if I could speak to him about pollution in Chennai. He came along for the meeting, and we decided to cycle along the beach in front of Urur-Olcott Kuppam, and walk up towards Broken Bridge. I do this all the time. Whenever I want to impress upon people that we’re screwed, or that the Corporation is lying when it says it’s doing its job, or when I want to impress upon my students the magnitude of the problem we face, or when I just want to tell people that in Adyar Estuary and the Besant Nagar beach, we’ve actually inherited an incredibly beautiful, diverse, livelihood-supporting environment that has gone to seed, this is where I come.

Winding down the narrow gullies of the fishing village, where life is played out on the streets, we end up on the beach. Here you’re assaulted by the filth, the raw sewage flowing like a thick black snake along the white beach sand. Plastic confetti festoons just about anything that sticks out of the ground. Children are playing dangerously close to the cesspools. You have to walk carefully to avoid the shit that dots the beach like land-mines.

I talk to the journalist and his photographer about this, about how this is a blindspot for the multinational Neel Metal Fanalca vested with the contract to clean up our neighbourhood and dirty Perungudi, where the garbage is dumped. They come here once in a while, clean up a bit at a time. Not the same diligence they show in the upper-caste areas a few streets away. The photographer says “These slum people are like that only. See what happened when we moved them to Semmencheri. The Government built beautiful Railway quarters style houses. But these people have messed it up. A few years of their living and that place is now flooded in garbage and sewage.”

Strange, how well entrenched the stereotype is of the poor being dirty, even loving the filth. Try this experiment in a well-to-do locality and see if you come up with a different result. Take Gopalapuram or Poes Garden, or our own upper-caste island of Besant Nagar. Tell Neel Metal that they can take the next week off. Tell Metrowater that we’ll make do without their piped water. Disconnect your bore pumps for a week. Despite your Chanel or Yves St Laurent, I think you’ll stink. Your street won’t look a lot different from Semmencheri.

The difference between the middle-class neighbourhood and Urur Kuppam is in the infrastructure. There is all of 16 public toilets each for men and women in all of Urur-Olcott Kuppam. No running water in the beachfront houses. Go figure.

I said as much to the photographer. We then walk up to the Broken Bridge. The tide was just coming in. The edges of the River were littered with trash. The water was black with sewage. What has been lost in terms of biodiversity due to pollution in the river is now more than made up by the diverse kinds of trash that the river and sea bring in.

The most populous visible trash species is perhaps the thermocolus indicus — commonly known as thermocol or styrofoam. Competing with this white, ghost like packaging material that cushions electronic material from the rude shocks of the real world is the chappalia booticus, or the Common Indian slipper that keeps human feet from feeling the earth. The volume of trash is mind-boggling. If all this trash were fish, our fisherfolk would be living in Besant Nagar, right next to the IAS officers, smelling downright pretty.

All this trash is what is brought in by the River with every flushing. After every rain, the river and the sea angrily throw back at us a small portion of what we cast off as post-consumer waste. Last November, after the first rains, the Corporation collected the trash from the stretch of beach between the Broken Bridge and Urur Kuppam. More than 50 bags of trash were collected, neatly bagged and left on the beach. Then, it appears, that the Corporation ran out of will. The meticulously bagged trash was never removed from the sand to the trash cans 200 metres away.

In mid-December, the boys from Urur Kuppam reported sighting penguins on the beach. They were referring to these black bags, flecked with white sand and half-buried. From a distance, the fluttering pieces of white and black did resemble penguins.

Three days ago, when I walked along the beach, the penguins were all dead, gutted and spilling their innards — thermocolus indicuschappalia booticus and a variety of trash species belonging to the genus plasticus abominus — onto the beach, right along the surfline.

Wave after wave of cynicism hit me. How in the hell are we going to leave behind something that vaguely resembles what we inherited for our children? We’re told time is running out, but society, government, people, you and I are behaving as if we are living in a motel, as if we have another planet to go to when we wake up tomorrow.

On January 30, a bunch of youngsters (the same guys that put together this awesome website are sowing some seeds of revolution. They are planning a voluntary, beach clean-up. They are planning to pile up the trash two storeys high in the middle of Besant Nagar beach as a monument to our stupidity, as a statement that we may have sent rockets to moon, but that we’re not potty trained. And they’re planning to celebrate on the beach on 31st. They plan to celebrate a celebration that will leave no trash on the beach after its over. That is some ground for optimism. Actually, I’ll clutch at straws, and youth action may actually be a lot more robust than straws. . .more like floating logs, I think.

I’ll end this rant with a poem by a dear friend from Bhopal. His name is Sathyu, and like me, he is a “rabid optimist.”


I am a rabid optimist
For me
Every tree that continues to stand
Every stream that continues to flow
Every child that runs away from home
is an indication
that the battle is not only on
It is being won.

You may tell me about
the nuclear arms race
And all I can tell you
is that an unknown child
held my hand
with love.

You will try to draw me
into the plateau of practical life

Tell me
that not only god
but all the religious
and irreligious leaders are dead
And all I can tell you
is that across the forest
Lives a young man
who calls the earth
his mother.

You will give me the boring details
of the rise of state power
after every revolution
And all I can tell you
is that in our tribe
we still share our bread

You will reason with me
And I will talk nonsense like this
And because
the difference between breathing
and living life
is the difference between
reason and poetry
I will read poems to you
Poems full of optimism
Poems full of dreams
And maybe a poem better than this.


Nityanand Jayaraman, ROB