Cityscapes

The endangered trees of Mumbai’s Aarey Colony are speaking up against deforestation

Cyrus Daruwala’s ‘Trees of Aarey’ comic protests the Metro III project that would cause the felling of thousands of trees.

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.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.