On February 10, 2013, I chose to wake up early on a Sunday morning and ended up feeling very contented for the decision eventually. Chennai Trekking Club had partnered with Environmentalist Foundation of India to organize a clean-up morning at the Tiruvanmiyur beach, Chennai. This initiative was to keep the beach in a welcome position for the olive ridley turtles that are soon to migrate in masses to these shores to lay eggs. The cause intrigued me and I signed up for the project and managed to convince 2 other friends too to wake up early that day.
At around 7 AM, I went to the beach and there was already a lot of activity going on. Around 50 volunteers were actively picking up all sorts of garbage from the sands in a particularly ear-marked space in the vast beach and dumping them all in a common place to be collected later. All volunteers were provided with gloves and garbage was collected in many plastic buckets. There was another pile of black garbage bags filled with waste cleaned up on the earlier day. It was pleasing to see the spirit of people participating in the mission.
We got into the act straightaway and started to pick waste. Plastic cups, chocolate/ ice-cream/ gutkha covers, polythene covers, single leg slippers, torn underwear, bottles (plastic and glass), thermacoal sheets, dog skull bones, what not... I was able to find them all half-buried in the sand. There were a few interesting people whom I spotted during the session. There was a father and a 10-year old son participating very eagerly in the act. The father was educating his son all the while about cleanliness in public places and the impact of pollution. The son's enthusiasm was evident as he was pestering his father with questions on what is degradable and what is not and it all seemed good sport to him. I paid a moral salute to the father for trying to mould a responsible citizen.
There were many youngsters as expected from both sexes and it was very reassuring to see their involvement. There were even a significant lot of middle-aged people - again from both sexes - which was even more heartening. Many onlookers and beach-walkers enquired about it to us and a few of them joined in impromptu in our mission too. But most onlookers just continued on with their regular chores.
A few foreigners who were walking/ jogging there stopped by and checked about the event very enthusiastically. They also expressed praise for this country and its people for taking this initiative.
I also met a curious character that day. He seemed a very pessimistic, dejected old man and he approached me with a cynical look. He asked me, "What good can you do by cleaning up this small area today? There is so much of garbage out there in the society. What are you going to do about it?"... "Well.. this is just a step in the big movement.. If more hands join together, we can try to make a difference" - I replied. He took the conversation on to new levels of cynicism and started to talk figuratively about garbage and went on to politics, Justice Party, Periyar, casteism, corruption and all sorts of topics and eventually ended up with this astonishing statement - "Nothing will work here. Only guns can change this nation. You youngsters should drop all these garbage bags and start taking up guns in your hand." !!!! It was not even a conversation. It was more of a soliloquy. I felt that I was just an audience to his sermon.
Though I agree not just a bit to his views, I was just curious to test his limits and let him talk on for some time while collecting garbage nearby. At the end of his sermon, I asked him a simple question. "All is good.. Sir, why don't you put on a pair of gloves and join us first in this cleanup. We ll work to clean this beach for a few hours before deciding whether to take up guns".. His reply - "I am sick pa.. I have dust allergy.. blah blah.. In my age, I was more active than you and all. Now I can only rant. But if you youngsters take guns, I will stand behind you" .. I was half-expecting this answer from him :-)What do they say about barking dogs?
When a reasonable stretch was cleaned up and the sun reached the peak, we came to the close of the session. There was a group photo session and a thank-you note from the EFI team along with a briefing on olive ridley turtles and their activities along the Chennai coast. I was expecting such a brief at the start of the day so as to align all people with more knowledge on what they were working on. Anyway, the information was well-delivered! I also made a mental note to check on these turtles in Wikipedia that evening.
It was real hot and I could see a significant tan on my skin almost immediately after I reached home driving from the beach, though it was partly due to my own negligence. Sufficient warnings were given to carry sun protection from the organizers. Indha moonjiku idellam thevaiya nu I was careless about it :-)
Takeaways from the activity :-
1. Boosted moral responsibility not to litter in public places
2. Boosted knowledge about turtles and their mass breeding phenomenon
3. Boosted confidence in the greater good that will somehow survive in the society
4. Boosted tan on the skin
And I posted this as a status update on fb that day : "Brothers and sisters.. there are good souls out there ready to get their hands dirty cleaning up your mess.. But please don't overburden them"
Thanks to CTC and EFI.