From not knowing name of the river that flows a few metres from her society, to a dedicated river warrior, initiator and coordinator of “Adopt a river stretch” at Mula-Ram confluence, this is wonderful journey of Shubha Kulkarni.
Shubha recalls her first visit to the site, beginning of the project, team building around the cause, challenges and evolution of the project to the current state.
We are sure, this blog will inspire and empower many.
You can’t cross the sea by merely standing and staring at the water… Rabindranath Tagore
My husband and I were out on our evening walk one Sunday evening and we chanced upon this pristine and beautiful spot just 500 mtrs away from our apartment complex. It was love at first sight. As I walked through the carpet of dry leaves and huge trees blessing me all the way, I noticed a water stretch flowing at the far end, on the farther side of my sight. We walked through the mini forest and it felt just right! We sat there for some time and it was one of those moments where the silence engulfs you and leaves you in a haze…
I wanted to go back there more often and I wanted to get everyone I knew to that place also. The old well, the huge trees, the river, the birds, and so much more that I didn’t know about kept coming back to me. Jeevitnadi’s Adopt a stretch initiative had been launched that year and this seemed to be a way out to keep going back thereJ. August 15th 2017, a group of 10-12 concerned citizens from Aundh Baner area took a pledge to take care of this stretch and spend atleast 1 hour a week towards it. I had no idea what to do, how to go about planning activities, how to bring in awareness and what step to take next.. It felt like an arranged marriage, where you suddenly decide to spend the rest of life with someone, but don’t quite know how it is going to work out!
All the founders of Jeevitnadi came to the stretch and loved the location. I had discussions with all of them individually and realised, that its small steps that would eventually show us the path on its own. I learnt that the river I was staring at was Mula (one of the 2 big rivers of Pune) and the stretch also had another small river – Ramnadi flowing on the other side and this spot was unique in the sense that as we walked through the rich riparian forest we reached what is called a ‘confluence’- a place where 2 rivers meet; in this case- Mula and Ramnadi. Overall the stretch we adopted was a biodiversity rich, one of its kind location in Pune city. The urge to spend time more with nature, turn this time into concrete work, spread the work around all seemed to fall in place.
Also this stretch of Mother Nature we had adopted, was more beautiful than any stretch I had seen in the city so far. Though, she was masked here with a lot of our mistakes, ignorance and sheer negligence. The silence I was engulfed in as I walked into her initially held in it birth, growth, death, rebirth and also the process of ‘fixing our blunders’. We had a lot to understand through this silence….
Nature as a friend …
After the Ecological society course, if there was one take away for me, it was that I had found a new friend- nature. A perfect friend who would listen to any of your problems with no judgement and also give you a lot to learn from. But sadly I had also seen that we humans had exploited this friend like any other we have and today other than consuming this friend, we do nothing else with her! The effect was staring at us in the stretch. The trees had plastic stuck on it up to 10 feet height and mostly every leaf, thorn, branch and root had something wrapped around it making it difficult to breath. We decided to clean the stretch every Sunday 7 am to 8 am in the morning. Clean her off the plastic and get her back to her natural self. The task was herculean. But the enthusiasm was high. We had a lot of people volunteering for this activity from our society and also friends from around the area. The activity was gratifying and contagious. The peer pressure was working JThere were cases when volunteers came for the clean-up, realised the mess we are creating and promised to stop using plastic completely. Kids came there to just run around, collect stones, do some investigative work and bring home Harry Potter wands! .The first year we had a lot of cleaning to do. Just before the rains, this environmentally charged group of citizens, did a plantation drive on the main Aundh Balewadi link road. Over 120 trees were planted and over 80% of them are still growing with us. The monsoons came, and what we couldn’t clean at the stretch, the river took along with her in the rains; only to bring in a new mess for us to clean the following year.
Awareness and Transformation…
In today’s google world, everyone knows everything. Information is on the finger tips and knowledge is assumed to be in bounty. However, despite this, we don’t seem to find any respite in the problems we face. And thus, this riddle keeps coming back to me every now and then: What is the distance between awareness (A) and transformation(T) ? What actually seems to be the next step in theory, is actually a convoluted, complicated and layered process for every individual. So we started thinking of ways to walk this path from A to T along with whoever came along.
We started the Nature Walk event at our stretch. The walk, takes you through Ramnadi , the Baner Sewage Treatment Plant, the Confluence, Mula riparian zone and finally we walk by Mula river. Here we speak about the river ecology, stresses on the river, toxin free lifestyle, and the biodiversity that an untouched river bank can have. As guides, we speak to the group about our own movement to a toxin free lifestyle and how even a tiny drop can be the beginning of change. We also include a session of cleaning the stretch after the walk. The group of people attending this walk varied from school kids to international diplomats. We have already conducted this walk for over 700 people in the last 1.5 years. Information shared by the river, along with stories, facts, figures and actual cleaning, we feel is one step towards the T! We had a few people who after the walk have engaged with us in the regular clean up and others who kept coming back for these walks, bringing in different group of people with them. But we still didn’t know if they were transforming??
When we compare the recall of information from a classroom vis-a vis a movie, the latter always is way ahead as a medium. When entertainment is combined with information, there is better awareness created, I believe. So a series of ‘Events by the river’ was introduced. We have had summer camps for kids, storytelling sessions, stone painting sessions, a tree banding exercise, art installations, and also music programs at the stretch. Entertainment when is turned into a celebration, I believe is another step towards transformation. The group at this stretch had put together a music program of all songs related to rivers and since most of the participants were volunteers themselves, the connection of the program with the audience was at a different level. The team has also come up with a street play and full length Marathi play both on the issue of environment and I believe this celebration of creativity has definitely sparked the Environment quotient in at least few of the 25 + participants, varying in age from 8 years to 70 years; hopefully to stay a little longer in their lives.
At the entrance of the Aundh Balewadi link road, there is a gulmohar tree which acts as a perfect natural divider. One fine day, we realise (for once we realise, before the actual act!) that the tree is going to be felled due to traffic issues. We spoke to the Corporator and tried convincing him that the tree actually is acting as natural divider and all that would be needed is some reflectors to prevent mishaps in the night. He didn’t seem convinced, but promised us to think over options and not fell the tree immediately. One of our volunteers suggested we do a tree guard from old recycled tyres and paint them with fluorescent colours, so as to aid vehicles during the night. This was a clear cut ‘awareness to transformation’ exercise, where old and young were involved and we have guarded the tree successfully until now.
Everytime we go to the stretch, there was something new we notice. Either it is a butterfly, a bird, a flower, some new growth, or some new dumping and destruction done by unknown-unseen humans. The whole of the river stretch running along the Link road, is under threat of illegal building of small time establishments and constructions. Just constantly going to the stretch every week, has brought to light a lot of these activities. We were once threatened by a farmer who was building a wall right by the river for letting him know that what he was doing was not right. Illegal dumping of rubble and cutting of trees has been petitioned against in the Corporation and the work was stalled with immediate effect. A lot of such confrontations have led us to realise that there is no ‘one solution’ to any problem. There are hardworking and ignorant people in the administrative system and likewise, there are adamant and naïve people in the general public too. Every solution cannot be given birth to from the system and every problem is necessarily not created by individuals.
But there is a holistic functioning in the scheme of things and also resilience in the way nature behaves and this is a learning, for us to carry on our work at this stretch. We have started documenting this piece of beauty for understanding her better and help us save her from any ignorant move towards her. We do some experiments with the limited knowledge we have and her reactions to these experiments, help us realise the way she works. Sprinkling Jeevamrut at the banks of Mula and Ramnadi has been one such experiment. For 3 years we have been doing this exercise and the growth of invasive species seems to be reduced due to this. We have had a team of limnologists visit the stretch and help us learn more about the beetles and bugs a branch of organisms we know very little of, but which seem to thrive on the stretch in plenty. Lead and Cadmium are heavy metals that exist in high amounts in the river bank and despite this we see a determined re-growth of plants and shrubs every year. Isn’t this just amazing??
This journey this far has been enriching and lovely until now. This Mother’s silence is slowly beginning to make some sense to us. But as we understand her more, we start reflecting a lot within ourselves. This journey through Jeevitnadi has been a great one individually and as family for me, as it is for all the volunteers working at the stretch. The connection of the stretch to our lives is intertwined like the lyna on the umber tree at the stretch J
As Rumi says… “ yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”