Its a 25 year formal milestone event for me in the journey I took in living my life towards furthering environmental preservation and sustainability. It seems to have gone too fast but I am glad I pursued what I believed in, much difficulty and some regrets. Not the same fire in belly at 41.
It was in 1991, as a then 16 year old that I pulled my father along to take me to the office of WWF – Maharashtra to become a student member. The fascinating entry to the then D N Road Office of WWF had a roundabout entrance and could be reached through going through the intestines of the old heritage building from a back door entrance opposite New Empire theatre. Usha Srivastava must have been the first person I met there and in quick succession I guess Mrinal Ghosh who is still with WWF. Ranjan Biswas used to head the Chapter.
It was a high ceiling old building layout with large windows, which overlooked Wallace Street and D N Road. S P Godrej was a legend then. There was much which was fascinating for me as a teenager in that office. All the teenage fascination with paraphernalia associated with your icons – the t-shirts and stickers and mugs etc., the old 16mm projector, opportunity to engage in passionate discussions, ogle on great photographs.
In 1989-90 I had come to know about WWF-Maharashtra when still in school ( I did three years in Mumbai from 1988-91 at Holy Family School, Andheri (E)) I came to know of an exhibition by various nature clubs at Jamnabai Narsee School and decided to visit the same. It was among the first things on my to-do list for post school and I decided to strike it off soon enough.
In the five years preceding the 1991 visit I had gorged on every single bit of reading and watching that I could about the subject. I had witnessed and followed through the papers the Brundtland Commission Report, the Montreal Protocol, the documentaries on Project Tiger, David Attenborough, Sanctuary magazine and much more. On moving to Mumbai in 1988 we had subscribed to the Indian Express as our daily paper and they carried a fabulous Science and Environment supplement, to whose credit would go the copious amount of information which I consumed.
I had a fetish for collecting newspaper articles and for many years still I had entire issues and articles preserved with me, all of which got lost somewhere in the chaotic decade which ensued for my family.
It has been one tumultuous journey on the path wading through two decades of difficulties and grief on the personal path and not sure whether some of the choices I made along were right. Environment and sustainability were not the only driving impulses for me. I had a deep hatred and disregard for the formal education process, had strong ideas on nation building and the participation process and was quite opposed to following the route of going to the USA, which was almost a given then. Even as most of my inspiration to live the life I do and also the interests are derived from America.
We still had a beautiful and quite successful business in the late 80s and early 90s and the strong self confidence and aggression was built on the financial safety and my own ideas for the business. All of it would come crashing down in the 90s as the business crumpled and folded up leaving me without a floor to stand on. I had many social entrepreneurship ideas by the late 90s which would combine well with funding my interests but with financial bankruptcy and complete chaos there was no ground to build anything. Only a fire in the belly and a devotional commitment to an ideology.
Madhu Sawant – octogenarian then, ex armed forces and founder of I Clean Mumbai – who I would meet in 2001 after my first successful round of activism in saving large swathes of mangroves in Lokhandwala Complex would remind me of Vithoba and Potoba – that the stomach comes even before the good Lord. I was going forward only on the energy which propels the first gusts of hot air from a raging fire.
In the early 90s it was different. I had an obsession, and the obsession fueled on teenage energy and dexterity. I was to soon enough start following the 1992 Rio Conference closely and was all prepared to be part of the process to usher India into Agenda 21.
The Ram Mandir agitation and the Babri Masjid demolition left me bitter and angry because for me there was no issue which was more important for India than coming on to a sustainable development pathway and here the country and more importantly Mumbai, where I was based was engulfed in discussing and living something, which I found regressive and meaningless. Over 25 years it’s been a successful life for Advani and Thackeray and I cannot say the same for myself at 41.
In 1993 I became student member of BNHS, which opened the doors to their wonderful library, which in those days preceding the internet was a great source of reading and updating on current affairs and latest developments. The events at Hornbill House and also those organised by the then far more vibrant WWF were a great source of learning and helping develop the ideas already in my mind and see new ones.
I took a strong ideological decision to stay at R D National College, Bandra from where I had done my junior college and in 1994 opened (or what must be restarted) the Nature Club. I was not much for going through the motions of college but they had to be done. I could have chosen to be at St. Xaviers College and revel in the opportunities and networks but continued with my ego which refused to get a leg up from any additional brands other than my initial schools in Mussoorie. Its been a wildly successful social experiment with much learnings for society and the education system but not that anybody other than me and ego care about it.
I remember many a memorable encounter, activity and conversations. That student with whom I had all of 30 seconds insightful encounter in 1996 in the first floor corridor in front of the Psychology department. We had organised a film and discussion on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and while rushing back into the Department I was selling it to everybody I met in the corridor. This particular student very matter of fact informed me that his student visa process was successful and he would soon be in the US, letting me know that there was no problem in the world once that goes through. My disgust with the Great Indian Middle Class and its belief systems only strengthened through that decade.
In 1994 is when I came to follow closely all the work happening on solid waste management and the crisis we were facing. 1994 was also the year of the Surat plague and there was much work on that. I came to know of Shantanu Shenai and Green Cross Society and met him in that year itself. The first materials shared by him became my pillars and he was my first guru on the path of a sustainable paradigm towards managing human waste. It is more than two decades now, neither has he been successful nor myself in impacting the issue, with so much effort put in. Success in India is for those with the establishment.
I met many a person during the 90s, attended innumerable programs, read many an article, though not books because I was too impatient with implementing the complete clarity which I experienced in my mind about various wildlife, nature and urban sustainability paradigms.