Re-Greening Bombay

The first step to regenerating our gardens is to rip up paving wherever possible. Gravel can be used instead, but the mining of gravel also causes environmental damage, though not as much as that caused by the mining of limestone for cement. Better still would be to get rid of our notion that earth is dirty; the Americans even call it “dirt”. However, exposed soil would need to be planted at once with a ground cover to prevent erosion. Small medicinal  herbs could be used or even ornamental bedding plants if nothing else is available. Falling leaves of shrubs and trees, if allowed to remain where they fall, will reduce erosion, and provide mulch and raw material for recycling by earthworms, and other ground organisms.

Rather than exotic ornamentals, fruit and other indigenous trees can be planted. Fruit, like jambul and mango, rather than purely shade trees, should be planted along roadsides since they can provide shade as well as food and fun for children who knock them down. Yams, tondli, and medicinal climbers like tanheli (used for anaemia) can grow on every tree and shrub.

Indigenous ornamentals, including lal ambadi, shindi, dhaiti and kevan, which have numerous other uses and are beautiful, too, can be planted. The latter two attract sunbirds, green bulbuls and other birds with their abundant nectar. Kevan twigs are used for brushing teeth, and they provide a good fibre. The dried flowers of dhaiti show antipyretic action as good as that of aspirin. But once a few of these are planted to get quick growth the garden must be allowed to run wild.

All the traffic islands, now planted by multinationals to advertise their polluting and resource-consuming products, should be allowed to run wild, too.

We should not plant trees merely for the sake of obtaining food, but also for medicines, fuel, fodder and all the other requirements that we humans as well as other creatures need.This means that natural growth with diversity must be encouraged. Such gardens provide opportunities for learning and appreciating Nature’s intricate interrelations.

When we were young, in spite of – or because – we did not have radios, cinemas and TV, we were never bored. There was plenty to observe, explore and investigate, giving us an education no classroom in school or college could ever provide. Our sports and recreation were live, not passive TV-watching. There were trees to climb and shrubbery to hide in, now there are only sterile playgrounds with swings and slides.

However what we do in our gardens now will make only a small improvement in the enormity of the environmental damage being done by Bombay’s citizens. All our efforts at planting trees in cities can only help us buy a little time to put our house – the planet Earth – in order.

This is because cities, which are described as engines of economic growth, are also engines of the environmental destruction inherent in the type of development we follow andmistakenly call “civilization”. They consume agricultural products but do not allow for the recycling of their organic wastes, causing a loss of soil fertility in the source area.

Fossil fuels, used lavishly in agriculture and transport of produce to the cities, have polluted the air, water and soil. When the supply is restricted, city populations will have to decrease drastically.

Beneficial change will involve dismantling and reconstructing the interplay between the internal environment (human appetite) and the external one (the planet) and the building of a less damaging and ruinous relationship. In such an enterprise altruism and true self-interest converge and coincide. Damage to the environment is damage to others and damage to oneself. When we pollute the elements we indirectly contaminate ourselves; thousands of toxic manufactured chemicals dumped into our surroundings are being found in our bodies today.

Every feature of our daily life should be questioned: “Is this harmless or beneficial to the environment?” It can’t be right for urban environmentalists to demand that farmers stop spraying chemical pesticides, when they use them so freely themselves.

We need to shift our emphasis from personal ‘success’ to personal responsibility. Reducing and redirecting consumption need not wait for politicians’ pronouncements or economists’ encouragement. These problems have global dimensions but they work through individuals and each of us has the power to exert a decisive influence on the world.

The beauty of butterflies on the wing – seldom seen by city children – has been exchanged for a handful of hi-tech trinkets; timely action could eventually enable all our children to see live butterflies once more.

* * *

Winin Pereira

Centre for Holistic Studies

NOTES

Due to labelling malfunction, the pictures are listed here, for readers from afar:

1. Winin Pereira

2. Jambul fruits

3. Power station, cooling towers

4. Flit, insecticide

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