This & That

Kolkata's Lake District

The two most powerful words in the English language are 'What if...'

Living across the 192-acre Rabindra Sarobar provides me with the opportunity to dream with my eyes open.

An April 2013 thunderstorm uprooted eight trees across this national park. As a general practice, whenever these trees fall, a contractor's team emerges, chops the wood and carts the pieces off. What was nourished for decades becomes someone's furniture or firewood within days.

This could have been the fate of the 2013 victims as well. Until my environmentalist friend Arjan (Nature Mates) and I decided to do something daring. What if these trees were revived, we asked?

That single line initiated the process for doing something that has possibly never been attempted within Rabindra Sarobar. Re-erecting the trees.

One, we requested the Kolkata Improvement Trust for permission to rehabilitate rather than destroy.

Two, Arjan's team used chemical agents to re-energise root activity.

Three, we spoke to our longstanding corporate well-wishers - Quippo, Tantia Construction (owns JCBs) and Harjit Singh of Chetan Crane (owns a crane). What if we could utilize their heavy equipment to dig the ground, lift the trees and put them back in? Wherever it was not possible to use these heavy vehicles due to a paucity of space or ground softness, we engaged citizen Adhiraj Singh of Howrah to drive his Willys jeeps (with winches) and lift the trees off the ground. None of these Kolkatans said, 'How much will you pay us?'

The result is that a team of seven individuals expended no more than Rs 6500 and succeeded in putting five trees back into the ground (if we can rope Rallis into our programme to contribute tree-root energising chemicals, then it could technically be a cashless operation).

A number of big ideas cost small money.

Take another instance: until a couple of months ago, our 192-acre showpiece did not have a single swing (jhoola). A passing inspiration: What if we could install some and see the impact?

That fleeting flash became the motivation to ask Saurav Mittal (managing director, Greenply) to create all-weather planks. Within a month, Saurav's marketing team had customized 35 durable planks in Rajkot and sent them to my office. Ruchi, a friend's daughter intending to study environment science, volunteered to hang them from robust tree branches. By the third week of August, 29 swings had been installed across the Sarobar.

The finding: the swings are being used by people of all ages (surprise) and the swings have not been carted home by miscreants (bigger surprise). The entire 35-plank project could not have cost more than Rs 30,000 (planks and rope). That's a breakdown cost of less than Rs 1000 for limitless non-television (hence pure) entertainment.

I will end with two speculative what ifs.

* What if someone released 200 ducks and swans inside the Rabindra Sarobar?

* What if the Safari Park caretakers (Lions Club of North Calcutta) kept the park open for children throughout Saturday and Sunday instead of mindlessly locking it from 9am to 3pm ('the caretaker needs to have some rest') and shooing children away?

What if. Potent cynicism antidote. Try it sometime. Makes magical things happen.

[Read previous posts on This&That by Mudar Patherya >>]

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Comments (2)
Kaushik Reply
January 13, 2014
Happened to chance upon this site and regret not having done so sooner...have bookmarked the page and shall definitely follow developments closely and participate where possible..... Commendable thinking and, above all, implementation!! Kudos to all persons involved!! I wish you would figure out a way to keep us posted about forthcoming initiatives. Bests!!! Kaushik
Debajyoti Reply
September 17, 2013
Really good initiatives... if local people can unite then many little things can be done for the betterment of our society.
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