Dia Mirza and Bittu Sahgal bond over butterflies at a restaurant in Mumbai

Sep 12, 2017, 11:44 IST | Snigdha hasan

Bittu Sahgal and Dia Mirza enjoy a meal at Kitchen Garden by Suzette in Bandra. Pics/Shadab Khan
Bittu Sahgal and Dia Mirza enjoy a meal at Kitchen Garden by Suzette in Bandra. Pics/Shadab Khan

There is a peacock whose cacophony Bittu Sahgal wakes up to at his Napean Sea Road residence every morning , before he starts hammering away at articles for Sanctuary Asia, a magazine he launched and has been editing since 1981. And as Dia Mirza tells us how she came to be associated with Sahgal's various projects, a butterfly fluttering in the al fresco section of Kitchen Garden by Suzette lights up her eyes. The actor, who has been deeply involved with the cause of the environment, attended The International Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Forum in Kyrgyzstan last month, and was appointed the ambassador of the Wildlife Trust of India earlier this year. As the mentor and the mentee meet over lunch, words flow as odes to nature, unravelling the green legacy of India and the ecological miracle called Mumbai.

Hasan: How did your association come about?
Sahgal: She walked into our lives like a breath of fresh air.
Mirza: There had been always a sense of awe for the man he is and his work, but I hadn't had facetime with him. So, when I met him socially at a dinner, I chased him. I told him, 'The problem with people like you is that you don't communicate with people like me. If I had more access to your mind, I would take your ideas to more people.' Bittu is someone I look up to as my guardian, my guru. He really changed my life.
Sahgal: It takes a lot out of somebody to keep fighting for 40 years. Then I look at you and I say to myself, 'We won!' Life is a marathon and the baton has been passed on.
Mirza: The world is constantly drawing you away from your purpose. Bittu came into my life as a reminder of all the things I was nurtured with when I was being brought up. I went to a J Krishnamurti school, where we did classes under trees, we grew vegetables and discussed materialism. My work in films had taken me far away from all this but he reminded me that the two can co-exist. And I made a choice.

Avocado Toast and The Greek salad arrive.
Hasan: Speaking of choices, are both of you vegetarian?
Sahgal: I don't perceive meat as food. I was born in a non-veg loving Punjabi family, but I stopped eating meat when I was old enough to say no to my mother.
Mirza: I am not a vegetarian, but I have become more conscientious about my consumption. There are certain meats I don't eat, like wild animals.

Hasan: Where does Mumbai stand in the fight to ensure urban centres retain their green cover?
Mirza: As citizens of Mumbai, we need to remember that we are the only city in the world with a large forest cover in the heart of the city.
Sahgal: We have a garland of mangroves protecting us. Sanjay Gandhi National Park has more butterflies than the entire UK. We are like spoilt rich brats who don't understand the value of our wealth. Like the biodiversity of forests, we need biodiversity of attitudes and strategies.

Mirza: And laws. Isn't it appalling that we are waking up to waste management systems only now?
Sahgal: We have planners planning infrastructure at sea level, when the rest of the world is planning for six metres above sea level. It defies logic that my generation is straddling your generation with white elephant investments that can never work. Nature doesn't give you judgement, it gives you consequences. Mithi river was a consequence, as is Florida.

Mirza: As Bittu always quotes Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: In the end we will conserve only what we love and love only what we learn about.

Quick takes

A change being associated with the environment has brought to your life
Sahgal: It has made me a happy person, especially because of my work with children. At one time I was called Bitter Sahgal; not any more. 
Mirza: It has given me a profound sense of purpose that has brought harmony, happiness and humility.

Memorable victory at work
Sahgal: The world now agrees with what I [have been fighting for]; earlier, I felt like an outsider. 
Mirza: Every time I see that light in children's eyes when a thought you convey to them resonates.

The one change that you'd like to see in Mumbai
Sahgal: Adults should care more about children's future. Once this happens, everything else will fall into place.
Mirza: Mumbai can easily ban all single-use plastic right away.

Your take on organic restaurants
Mirza: It's a by-product of individuals becoming conscientious, who want to give access to others to lead better lives. I would be the happiest if their kitchen waste is segregated.
Sahgal: When a restaurant propagates the idea of organic, it becomes an institution. It makes the right choice aspirational.

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