A group of women from Juhu are resurrecting dead trees through tree art and saving dying trees in Mumbai, through their fledgling organisation called Rastaa Chaap
The tree stumps around Jamnabai Narsee High School in Juhu have a new lease of life. There is a giraffe face tree outside Gate 2 of the school. A little distance away is a tree stump painted black with white spider web like design all over.
Three of the four trees painted by Rastaa Chaap outside Juhu Gym. Pics/Nimesh Dave
A short walk ahead towards the school’s main gate, is another tree with a stucco Mediterranean style art work with mirrors all around. The new look and life for these trees has been given by the ladies of Rastaa Chaap a citizens’ group from the Juhu area, trying to save the dying rain trees in their area and making an effort to bring an aesthetic element to dead trees.
Subah Khanna, an art student with the Rastaa Chaap team outside Juhu Gym painting a dead tree
Their art work also extends to the trees outside Juhu Gym where four dead trees have been painted with birds and a scene out of a Van Gogh replica, as well as a Sri Lankan art work.
Birth of a movement
The idea to save the rain trees came to Bandra resident Sabishi Shankar. She says, “I was talking to a someone and I realised that there are trees dying all around us, but we are blissfully unaware. I contacted my friends and we decided to do something to save the trees in the city.”
The first tree outside Jamnabai Narsee School, Juhu which was painted and decorated by the Rastaa Chaap team
Vile Parle resident Priya Bhimani says, “Most of us live in the Juhu-Vile Parle area so we decided to kick start the movement here. When we were brain storming names, I thought that we need to leave our mark and make those around us see that trees in Mumbai need to be saved.
The group wants to increase awareness of mealybug infestations that rain trees like this are facing because of concretisation
We wanted a name that was local, and so I thought of Rastaa Chaap. The name had a zing to it and the others loved it, so that’s how it all started.” Merliyn Joseph, Juhu resident is part of the area’s Advance Locality Management (ALM). She is also one of Rastaa Chaap’s core members.
This black and white tree took the group a week to paint with their imagination serving as inspiration
She says, “Mumbai has lost hundreds of trees to pest infestations, concretisation and even deliberate poisoning leading to a huge loss of green cover. Our idea was simple utilise the dead tree barks as natural canvases and create artworks that would inspire, enthrall, motivate and ensure that no more trees die due to negligence and apathy.”
The Rastaa Chaap ladies below the giraffe tree they painted outside Jamnabai School
“Rastaa Chaap has a three pronged vision. One is to create awareness for the loss of trees and to de-choke the trees that have been given no breathing room, hence, prevent future trees dying. The second aim is to provide a platform to young, upcoming artists and promote local talent.
Third and last, is to promote the beautification of areas through citizen participation and art,” says another Rastaa Chaap member, Saijal Goenka. Versova resident Neelu Virk who is also part of Rastaa Chaap says, “It is a beautiful band aid for this bleeding city of ours.
One that can change outlooks and bring hope of cleaner neighbourhoods. One that makes us all into involved citizens. As a group, we want to lead this beautiful treevolution in our area. We want many more people to join us, especially those who love tree art in our area.”
Sonal Chhabria, another member says, “We have a Whatsapp group that is used to coordinate working, especially when it comes to de-choking and embankment. We are partnering with the K-West ward Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials.”
Talking about their first tree painting experience Jugnu Shah says, “I remember we used acrylic paints so we had our hands and clothes all smeared. The good thing was that we had a lot of fun and contributed as and when we had time.
Many school children, rickshaw and taxi drivers would stop and ask us what we were doing. It was really nice to see so much interest.” “Many of them had never heard of the mealy bug and the havoc that was being wrecked all over the city by concertisation.
As we continued our painting project, there were many students and young people who came back saying that they had read up and were more aware of the diminishing rain trees in Mumbai,” adds Rastaa Chaap’s Shaheen Jaffer.
With the sporadic rains in the city, the Rastaa Chaap group have stopped their painting projects and are now working on de-choking of trees. Merliyn Joseph says, “The BMC’s Garden department has been very cooperative, as has the road department.
We also plant grass or plants that are transferred from one of our gardens by my driver, who is also very enthusiastic about this project.” Priya Bhimani says, “My daughter Trisha who is an art student and Subah Khanna who is also studying art, used the trees outside Juhu Gym as their canvas.
They worked on painting there, with our help. They did the lion's share of work. Like us even they are passionate about saving the dying trees in Mumbai.”
Though the women have busy schedules with work, their concern for the environment and the city, drives them. Sabishi Shankar says, “I am hoping to work to save trees in Bandra too, and take Rastaa Chaap there too.
There are many dying trees there also. A few South Mumbai college students have approached us to partner with them in their college festivals and save trees. We are still working out on a feasible plan with them. It is nice to hand over the idea to the young and spread the message.
We may engage in a planting exercise or a painting one, let’s see how it goes.” “In the Santacruz area, Neem paste is being used to save a lot of trees. The paste is applied on the bark in a ring and a tree that is infested by mealy bugs can be saved. There are a number of people who are concerned about the trees in the city.
But it is sad that some road contractors are so lax about the situation,” adds Sonal Chhabria. “We need funds since the cost of painting one dead tree is around Rs 5,000 to 7,000 including the cleaning of the tree, putting primer, buying the acrylic paints, after the painting using varnish so the paint remains for long, etc.
Also, we need people to volunteer their time to paint as well as supervise the embankment and de-choking work. We also need volunteers to water the plants, since they need water and many of them are dying due to lack of water,” ends Priya Bhimani.
Rastaa Chaap contact
To join the movement, contact the Rastaa Chaap team via their Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/rastaachaap
How to paint a dead tree?
>> BMC permission is needed from the ward which the tree comes under. A letter has to be drafted to the concerned ward and the location of the tree mentioned.
>> Permission takes 2-3 working days.
>> SS Shinde, Joint Commissioner of the tree department of the BMC says, “There is no formal adoption procedure as such. If a person or an organisation wishes to adopt a tree, they need to meet the local ward officer. He or she will explain the procedure and accordingly they can go about adopting the tree and then care for it. Same is the procedure to paint a dead tree.”
>> Dr Ashok Kothari, Chairman, Friends of Trees, an environmental NGO says, “People in the city need to adopt trees and take care of them, especially the indigenous trees. At the same time, people need to plant new trees. Plants from nurseries that are 3-4 years old need to be planted rather than very young saplings. Those survive and grow well on the streets of Mumbai.”