The city of Mumbai is losing whatever little green cover it has left. The third phase of its Metro project, from Colaba in the south to the special economic zone of Seepz in the west, will lead to the felling of a reported 5,012 trees. Around 2,000 of these will be lopped in just Aarey Colony, which is one of Mumbai’s remaining green lungs, to make room for a car shed and a workshop.
This is not all. About 1.5 km of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area in the north, could be deforested to widen a stretch of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway 8. To the east of the massive national park, Thane Creek could lose its mangroves to real estate, if the municipal corporation goes ahead with the plan to include the patch as “landed mass” in the new development plan.
All these proposals have been met with strident criticism, but the project in Aarey Colony in particular has kindled anger among citizen groups and even political parties. Officials from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation have attempted to pacify these groups by promising that a similar number of trees will be planted in other areas of the city (although replenishing the lost green cover could take years). For now, the Mumbai High Court has stayed the felling of Aarey trees.
In this hullabaloo, a comic series is trying to inject the only voice that matters: of Aarey Colony’s trees.
The Trees of Aarey follows a four-panel format. In each comic, trees named Shanti, Bodhi or Clump, talk directly to the reader, pointing out the hypocritical way in which Mumbaikars treat the city.
“So I have heard, that I’m to make way for a faster mode of transport,” a tree named Woodie says in a comic. “Humans sure are in a hurry...to destroy their last defence against air pollution.”
“We are so casual in our handling of nature and natural resources,” said Cyrus Daruwala, the cartoonist behind the project. “I tried to imagine what a tree would say if it could speak to us.”
The 33-year-old creative director at an advertising firm has been following the developments in the Metro III project since its announcement in 2013. Realising that it would lead to loss of trees, Daruwala, who grew up in Andheri, turned to his memories of spending quiet moments in Aarey Colony.
“The project began out of disbelief and sadness, that these memories of mine will literally be eroded forever, for a metro car shed,” Daruwala said. “I felt helpless, and so I turned to what I do best, the power of communication.”
About the device of having the trees directly address the reader, the cartoonist said, “We are used to this passive image of a tree, and Trees of Aarey humanises them in a way.”
The ideas come to Daruwala while he is travelling in Mumbai’s local trains. His earlier comics – I Take This Train Too and Painful People – also take inspiration from the city. Even though Daruwala and many citizens like him are protesting the government’s move, the plans to build the Metro III seem to remains on track for a 2021 inauguration. Even so, Daruwala has not lost hope.
“Obviously the objective is to prevent the trees from being uprooted,” he said. “But it would be naive of me to presume that my comic series can achieve that. Rather I hope to spark conversations, among the common citizens and also hopefully, the people in positions of power. Why should we feel powerless in guiding public policy, in a democracy? I’m sure that if enough people voice their concerns, our government will take note.”
All images courtesy Cyrus Daruwala.