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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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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.