Power of One – The Green Warrior

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The summer of 2016 was different in more ways than one. In these eight years that I have lived in Hyderabad, never did I experience such a hot summer. The state government had send a circular to schools to reschedule the summer vacation early. As the hot season was setting in, personally I had started dealing with my own set of summer time worries – daughter’s low appetite; total rejection of milk; keeping my family protected from summer heat; maintaining her schedule; keeping her engaged constructively during vacations; keeping my work well paced during the time she is at home. Amidst all these, another interesting and life transforming event took place and undoubtedly, this must have got ingrained as a sweet memory for all of us who had contributed to it in some way or the other.

During this time, I happened to bump into an acquaintance Isha, an upcoming artist who also teaches painting. Even though we were not very close then, but still I loved talking to her as I found her to be quite sensitive, opinionated, well read and abreast with latest developments around the world. While we started conversing, the course of our discussion shifted from mundane ones to the more important ones like global warming, the ill-effect of deforestation in the process of making an area more urban, water scarcity during peak summers, benefits and possibilities of rain water harvesting and what the world, our country and we are doing to address such issues.

“It is such a vicious cycle…”

” …every year during summer, many parts of Hyderabad faces water scarcity and when the rain comes so much water gets wasted “

” …why can’t people think of rain water harvesting to address this issue?” she said. And then she abruptly exclaimed ”Can’t we do something about it?”

Couple of days after that meeting, Isha called up to discuss about the initiative taken by her and few others to increase the green quotient of nearby areas. She asked if we could join them along with our daughter. She had already chalked out a plan, which I found quite impressive. The plan was to start a movement where-in the children and adults would come down by 6am everyday and contribute in the green movement. Interestingly, the kids were to play the primary role of planting a sapling and then take care of the sapling that they plant. Their parents and interested grown ups could facilitate the kids in the process. Thus, this could be a good learning experience both for our children as well as for us.

So the next day volunteers, along with some children, assembled near the central park at 6am to discuss the next plan of action. The open areas in the society was surveyed and the area behind one of the blocks was zeroed in. The place was full of construction debris and it was quite difficult to walk, let alone have a lush green garden. The gravity of the task made me a bit perplexed as I was not sure how long and how many people could continue with this in the long run. But surprisingly, Isha’s eyes sparkled with such undeterred confidence that nothing could obstruct the path leading towards her desired goal.

Thus, we embarked on a makeover journey from construction landfill to a garden. Isha insisted on doing things the right way so as to avoid any complications later. She meticulously started a whats-app group for this purpose. Joint meeting between maintenance committee, builder’s representatives, and volunteers were held. In the meeting it was decided that as it would be very difficult and time consuming to remove the rubble manually, and a bulldozer was required to do the task of removing debris and do initial tilling. The maintenance committee agreed to arrange for it within two days. Arti, one of the volunteers, cajoled and negotiated with the committee and convinced them to provide it the same day. On Isha’s request, Mr Venkat arranged for fertile soil and laborers to dig pits in order to plant saplings. Donations were accepted as money was needed to buy saplings and equipment. She along with Arti and Ms Prathibha went to a nearby nursery and brought saplings, seeds, manure and garden implements. Even though this movement was initiated by Isha, but it looked like everyone’s movement. Each and every person in the group, whether an active or a passive partner, contributed in some way or the other. We were encouraged to share our ideas and decisions were taken weighing the pros and cons of the given idea. It was not a one person show. Instead, it was a team effort where every volunteer was considered as an important stakeholder. Thus the first hurdle was crossed and finally the stage was set for our children to convert the area into a garden.

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Next few days were simply magical. Children and grown-ups alike, showed great enthusiasm in planting the saplings and filling the pits with fertile soil. Mr Alok, a seed scientist by profession, guided us through out with the nitty-gritty of gardening. Children would start flocking from 6 am near the garden area. From their excitement it was evident that they enjoyed every bit of it. For them it was nothing less than a summer camp and for the adults the whole experience was like reliving the fun-filled days of childhood. While the children were making memories, we were going down the memory lane.

When the implements which were bought fell short to cater to the needs of so many people, Isha along with the children brought serving spoons, bowls and plates from their home and used those to fill the pit with soil. It is simply amazing to see how people can innovate and utilize available resources or how they work around a problem. It was so heartening to see the camaraderie, team work and exuberance among the group. And personally, I felt good to watch my little one taking part in such a activity which in turn would help in building her character. After the saplings were all planted, the next challenging task was to water the saplings twice a day. With no water connection in that area initially, it was all the more difficult to bring water from a distance. Soon we got a water connection in that area, but for a while it was difficult to manage. Smita, along with the children showed great commitment towards the cause by carrying buckets of water from a distance. Planting saplings in summer is quite a challenging task as the plants need lot of water to survive in this season. Ideally, rainy season would have been more appropriate but children could have contributed only during their vacations. Besides, it was a moment of now or never for Isha and for us too. When there is a strong urge, a sense of urgency and self belief to withstand difficulties, one can flow upstream to accomplish the desired. In the words of Paulo Coelho: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.

In the meanwhile few more shrubs were brought, and therefore we needed few more pits to plant them. As it was decided that we would dig those pits ourselves, the children and adults joined in the digging task. During the time we were digging smaller pits, so many virtues of Isha came to light. One such instance, which is difficult for me to forget, was when the children after struggling for more than an hour to get desired depth of the pit, had started giving up. Isha sensed that, so she sat with them and started to help them with the digging. While doing so, she asked them, “Why were you giving up?” Together they spoke out “We tried a lot but the cement block is huge, and we could not take that out”. Isha said “When you found out that it is difficult to take out the block, you could try to dig around it. Lets figure out the edges of the block, try to remove the soil near that area and slowly lift the cement block” she said. Isha and the kids chirpily went along with their work and in due course of time were successfully able to to take that out. The children as well as Isha were delighted, they rejoiced the achievement with high fives, clapping and laughter.

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Time and again I have noticed, whenever the going got tough, Isha came up with her characteristic smile, infectious energy and humor, which had a potential to lift the spirits. She was the catalyst which kept the whole group going for such a long time. Otherwise, I have seen many such initiatives loose steam midway, before achieving anything substantial. After the jubilation was over, Isha said again “Always remember this children – whenever you face a hindrance in your path, don’t get disappointed and leave midway. Instead, work around and change your path a bit. Thus, you could reach your goal”. I thought, this could be an important lesson for an young impressionable mind and for anybody for that matter. Usually people would spare about an hour in the morning before heading for office or other daily chores. Occasionally, Mr Sinha would treat us with hot tea prepared by his sweet wife Vijaita and Archana treated the children with juice as refreshment. During this break, adults and children gathered in two separate groups. We had come together for a purpose and we gelled well as a community of like minded individuals.

By the time the schools were about to reopen, the garden had already taken shape. We withstood all odds with team work and determination in order to convert a debris laden area into a garden. It now boasted of around 25 saplings which would grow into big trees someday and more than 40 smaller plants which would add glamour to the garden with either their looks or their flowers. Surprisingly, a thick carpet of grass was also starting to grow in the area. The plants were growing properly and few of them had started to flower too. Watching the branches and leaves swaying in the breeze, the fresh feel of the morning air, cheerfulness of the flowers, soothing rays of the early morning sun… all together had such a mesmerizing effect, as if you are one with whole of nature. The volunteers decided to celebrate the success by having a small tea party in the garden. The morning started with wall painting, which was suggested by Mr Abhay. The children and grown-ups thoroughly enjoyed trying their hands at wall painting. This was followed by the potluck party. People laughed together, shared jokes, congratulated each other. In short, the whole team felt accomplished. For some, the day was the finale of the event which had unfurled at the onset of summer vacation and for few others, the journey continued.

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Personally, I felt privileged to be part of this movement. The anxiety which I had at the onset of summer could not really bog me down. Instead, those were dealt with in a matter of fact manner, as the main focus was the garden. It was amazing to see, how a single person’s enthusiasm could become a passion for many. Many of us think of doing something but become skeptical and hesitate to move forward thinking what if we don’t get support. From this experience I can tell that don’t ever hesitate to come up with your idea, and like minded people would definitely come along. The idea could be anything which is close to your heart, which could define your existence in this world. It could be about a social cause, or even a new business venture. Last summer it took a shape of a movement. Summer is approaching again, and I hope it becomes a revolution this time around. Its all up to us… believe me. We just need to ask ourselves the same question that Isha had asked “Can’t we do something about it?”

Power of One – Introduction

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Buddha had said “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle”. One candle may not be able to light up a whole room, but it certainly has the potential to light many candles which can make a room vibrant and illuminated. Same rule of the thumb should be applicable to us also. But I would often wonder, how much of a significant change can one bring just by changing oneself? Or how far can a person walk alone?

If one looks back at history, one can cite numerous examples from the past where individuals have stood for something they believed was right. When Mahatma Gandhi raised a voice against racial epithet, he was the first one to do so. Non-violent methods of protest preached by him was something which revolutionary leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela got inspiration from. I sometimes think about Malala Yosufzai, the courage which she exhibited at such a tender age in withstanding the suppression of women and children (their right to education) was par excellence. The list of such fiery people is endless.

One could think that such great men and women were extraordinary individuals, driven by surreal talent and determination. Their stories of struggle and success are inspiring no doubt, but not everyone aspires to change the world. Most of us are simple people, having quite a few responsibilities upon our shoulders, and thus can’t give all our time for a cause.

Of late I have witnessed a remarkable series of events, which has totally changed my perception of the power which is within an individual. During this period I have seen around me what exactly the power of one person can do. This power that I am talking about is a strong and persistent desire to do that which is right, even if it meant standing against the flow or coming out of their comfort zone. I have seen a few people taking up causes for overall welfare of the society in-spite of their responsibilities at home, work commitments, their health issues. They are neither big names as crusaders of the cause, nor are they the first ones to initiate them. But still their contributions are priceless as in spite of their busy schedule, they were able to walk that extra mile and in that process motivated many. Sometimes, when we see someone amongst us make a difference, they could be more inspiring than all the big names.

In the next couple of articles, I wish to highlight such instances where ordinary citizens triggered the change which can redefine our society. This series is a tribute to them… and an inspiration for all of us.

– Aradhana Basu Das