Anand Pendharkar: From garbage to green

Updated: Nov 20, 2016, 05:59 IST | Anand Pendharkar

My family  infused volunteerism very early into my life. I grew up to enjoy interacting and teaching children — not just the able-bodied kids but, even those with severe developmental limitations

A lotus pond at  Maharashtra Nature Park, which has 580 plant species currently.Pic/Sameer Markande
A lotus pond at  Maharashtra Nature Park, which has 580 plant species currently.Pic/Sameer ˆMarkande

My family  infused volunteerism very early into my life. I grew up to enjoy interacting and teaching children — not just the able-bodied kids but, even those with severe developmental limitations.

Giving them an opportunity to connect with nature and helping them develop a liking for wild creatures was a tough yet, deeply rewarding task. Obviously, taking them outdoors, on a nature walk or a trek had its own set of risks. The safe way out in such a scenario was a walk in some manicured garden with smooth wheelchair-friendly paths.

In 1986, while looking for a new location to conduct a similar outing, a friend took me to an open garbage landfill in Dharavi. The piles of filth, packs of stray dogs and the overall stench had me wondering whether my friend had misunderstood my requirement. Pointing to a large area in the landfill, he said, “This whole area is being developed into a nature park.”

My first reaction was that of disbelief. But, then he lead me to a green tin shed, which was the field station-cum-education office of the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP). Dozens of semi-alive saplings varying from two to six feet were struggling for survival in the mud-filled pits they were planted in.

I was sceptical of the whole operation, but was secretly infected by my friend’s enthusiasm and ended up planting a dozen-odd saplings of gulmohar, subabul, bamboo, banyan and peepal.

I didn’t realise then that this one stray plantation would change the entire course of my life.

I continued going back to the landfill regularly, once in a while, to check on the saplings that I had planted and would volunteer to facilitate more plantations.

Today, those huge mounds of garbage have been buried deep and instead made way for nearly 80,000 trees. Last week marked the birth anniversary of the great ornithologist, Dr Salim Ali, who first visualised today’s thriving MNP. His dream has converted 37 acres of landfill into a bird and butterfly haven. Today, the park is a living example of consistent and positive human intervention for ecological restoration.

Located opposite the Dharavi slums, MNP is a boon for students, amateur bird and butterfly-watchers, photographers and nature lovers. Interspersed with long-winding brick-lined paths and lawns, the park harbours around 580 species of plants, 130 species of resident and migratory birds, more than 80 types of butterflies, 32 species of reptiles and amphibians and 12 species of spiders. The park was first developed by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature — on the behest of the MMRDA — with guidance from leading green architect and naturalist Ulhas Rane and designer Bibhas Amonkar.

Despite being located on the edge of the Mithi River, the most polluted river of the island city, the park continues to provide astonishing biodiversity. Obviously, you also get mind-boggling opportunities for macro photography of butterflies, birds, plants and other life forms.

MNP also organises nature trails and acts as a venue for many festivals and community events, such as the Earth Mela, Cyclekatta and Farmer’s Market, regular lectures, photo-exhibitions, seminars and workshops in their sun-shaped building.

Thankfully for me, what began as accidental volunteerism has now become a life-long partner.

Write to Anand at sproutsenvttrust@gmail.com

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