The sheer amount of plastic on the beach has made me rethink my use of it in daily life.
I’ve been thinking of doing my bit for the environment by joining the gang who’ve been cleaning Versova beach every single weekend for the past 87 weeks. Roughly 20 months. But weekends for me usually flash by in a daze of hangovers and domestic chores. This time though, I was determined to be a part of the change that we all so sincerely profess through our social media posts.
Before clean up
Meet Afroz Shah, the cool crusader for clean oceans and beaches, who’s also a lawyer by profession. I have known Afroz since my days as a reporter covering the Bombay high court. And although I was aware of such an initiative through social media, it wasn’t until later that I realised he was behind it.
Human beings are filthy. Really. The only place we try to keep clean and organised is our homes, and may be our office spaces. Maybe. Nature be damned! I’m equally guilty of being a preacher more than a practitioner. I have enough sense to not mess with Mother Nature, though I’ve done precious little to conserve it.
Picking up your mess
PICKING UP THE MESS
I reached Versova at 1:30 pm on Sunday, the day before World Environment Day. The sun was in roast mode. There was a flurry of activity happening. Volunteers, school kids, corporates and bank employees doing their CSR deeds, politicians and CEOs, foreigners and a handful of celebrities like Pooja Bhatt, who have put their weight and support behind the initiative. It was a real leveller. There were kids from local slums as well as from posh high-rises doing their bit.
Basket in which waste is collected
It was time to move into the beach and get down and dirty. I didn’t know what to expect, imagining the beach to be relatively clean since the campaign has been going on for almost two years. Well, I was wrong. The stretch designated for the day was filthy AF. But a conversation with a fellow volunteer made me realise that the cleaning campaign had started from one end of this long stretch of beach and was making it’s way down over the weeks and months.
A collaborative effort of machines and humans
There were BMC workers, garbage trucks and JCBs to really claw out the plastic and other filth buried under the sand. The waste you see is just, well, the tip of the iceberg. Heaps of plastic and other material are waiting to be discovered. I donned my gloves and joined the volunteers to pick up the trash, a major part of it consisting of plastic, followed by discarded clothes, bags, broken bottles, religious offerings and such.
But mainly plastic. Shit loads of plastic. There were first-timers like Malad resident Ketan. There was Benjamin, a German from Munich on an internship in India who was there for the fourth time.
“I wanted to experience India and what better way to do it than this,” he says.
There was another volunteer, a sailor, who had been part of the initiative right from the start.
“Before BMC and the corporates joined in, it was just Afroz and a handful of people,” he says.
He also recalled an incident where an old woman standing at the beach was flinging some offerings to God into the water, even though she saw that there was a bunch of people right there trying to clean it up.
Benjamin and Ketan
The two-hour clean-up was pretty effective. From the time the drive started, they had managed to remove 5.5 million kg of waste. Yesterday’s drive carried out by 2000 volunteers got rid of 160 tons of waste that would be segregated by the BMC. The campaign has also planted 500 coconut tree saplings on the beach.
The cool lawyer
As for Afroz, this is going to be a life long mission that he hopes to expand to other beaches until they are all plastic free.
“There was so much plastic on the beach that I couldn’t take it. People suggested complaining to the BMC or filing a public interest litigation but I decided to utilise my two hands and make a change myself,” he says.
The sheer amount of plastic I picked up from the beach as well as from under the sand has definitely impacted my mind on how much we use in our daily lives. We may not be able to eliminate plastic altogether, but we can definitely reduce its usage. It’s just a matter of conscious conviction keeping in mind the importance of conserving the environment.
Towards the end of the two hour clean-up
Armchair activism is good and even necessary to mobilise and converse with like-minded people, but at some point I realised I have to get the fuck out and physically do something about it for any kind of change to happen. If I cannot lead, I can at least try and follow.
Happy Earth Day folks!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Mohan KK
Photographs by: Mohan KK