The Weekend Leader - Old man and a river

Of greening Bhawanipur and dreaming of cleaning up the Adi Ganga

Saborna   |   Roychowdhury, Kolkata


Vol 0 | Issue 0

Robin Paul realized his dream once. Second time around, he is not too sure. But he desperately wants to clean up Adi Ganga, one of Kolkata’s filthiest creeks that flows from the River Hooghly towards the south-east into the Vidyadhari River in the Sundarbans and looks up to the younger generation to carry on the struggle.

Adi Ganga passes by the Kalighat Temple and visitors once used to take a dip in the water before offering prayers to Goddess Kali. Today pilgrims cover their nose, unable to bear the noxious stench of the dark, opaque, sewage-filled river. Paul says wistfully: “When I was a child, I often used to swim in this creek with my friends. The transparent water was filled with silvery fish.”

Years ago, Paul felt the same about Bakul Bagan Road in Bhawanipur. He grew up there, playing in the environs of many magnificent trees such as chatim, bakul, and cinnamon. “I used to stand under their huge branches and feel so much at peace. Then they started to cut the trees down; one by one, the trees were all gone.”

Dirt, grime and a dream!

Melancholy engulfs the 72-year-old man as he recounts the shock he felt at finding a part of his childhood and youth hacked to bits. “I wanted Bakul Bagan to come alive again.”

His concern over the loss of beautiful and rare trees inspired him to change the look of the road single-handedly. Being a typist for a paint company, he earned a modest salary of Rs 2,000 per month. However, he dipped into his savings to fund a massive tree-planting drive. He personally financed the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides, protective fencing, and rare seedlings.

Over the years, Paul emptied his savings, provident fund, and gratuity, caring for this project – so much so, that his family members feared that the plants would kill him. But he survived and today Bakul Bagan is a lush green street, lined with over 125 species of plants and trees.

And now the “the Green-man of Bhawanipur” is raising awareness on the Adi Ganga clean-up project. When the central government sanctioned Rs 23 crore in 2002 for the clean-up, a little bit of dredging was done, but the project has apparently been dumped.

With the river turning into the city’s favourite dumping spot, the steps leading to the water’s edge are now covered with garbage.  Stray cats and dogs scatter the rubbish while hunting for food. And sewage from the city relentlessly flows in from old and rusted metallic pipes. People clean their utensils, wash their clothes, and defecate in the water.

But Paul is undaunted. The tenacious 'Green-man' can be seen at all odd hours, covering the walls of shops and homes along the streets of Bhawanipur with graffiti and posters saying, “Save Adi Ganga”. The message is conveyed through banners also. He prints out hand-bills, addresses meetings, and stages sit-ins.

His struggle is to wake up the government and administration from its deep slumber. And he is pinning his hopes on the youth of today in realizing this second ‘green’ dream of his.

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