They publish books on the environment, talk to youngsters about alternative energy and promote traditional food practices… Akila Kannadasan meets the members of Chennai-based Poovulagin Nanbargal and catches the green vibes

An environmental movement silently gathered strength in the city in the late 1980s. A few youngsters met in tea stalls and book shops to discuss issues. They pored through environment-related books, brainstormed on ways to do their bit for the cause. Soon, the spark caught on in other parts of the State. About 40 men, from different walks of life, became part of the movement that came to be called Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of the Earth). Nedunchezhiyan, an ordinary bank employee had started it all.

Soft-spoken yet firm, he inspired several youngsters to open their eyes to the cause of the Earth. They wrote to him from far off places; he suggested titles and authors for them to read. His team brought out simple books on environment and translated important works such as Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution into Tamil.

Going forward

Nedunchezhiyan is no more. But his movement has been given a fresh lease of life by nine men from various backgrounds — engineers G. Sundarrajan and G. Rajaram, advocates P. Sundararajan and M. Vettriselvan, doctor G. Sivaraman, documentary filmmaker R.R. Srinivasan, social activist A. Devaneyan, journalist Adhi Valliappan and teacher J. George.

Nedunchezhiyan had a knack of explaining even complex issues in simple terms — this is the USP of Poovulagin Nanbargal. They continue his legacy of bringing out books on environment — they have so far published 25 titles on issues such as the dangers of plastic, and the effects of Green Revolution on our soil, among others. They also bring out the magazine Poovulagu every two months carrying articles by experts and activists directly involved with the people. The team has been putting up stalls that sell some of the best books on environment, apart from their works, at The Chennai Book Fair for four years now.

Each member in Poovulagin Nanbargal has an area of expertise. G. Sundarrajan for instance, explains the nuts and bolts of the Koodankulam issue to the layman. He spearheads the movement’s campaign against the nuclear plant — the team provides technical and legal support for the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy. He talks to students about the dangers of nuclear energy and strives to create awareness about the viability of producing electricity using solar and wind energy.

Sundararajan and Vettriselvan are the legal experts. Srinivasan takes care of the magazine. Dr. Sivaraman writes and talks extensively on the goodness of our traditional food grains such as millets. Food is big with Poovulagin Nanbargal — they have organised food festivals that serve wholesome fare our forefathers ate. Varagu pongal, thinai payasam, ragi urundai, kollu sundal…the menu at their recent food festival consisted of dishes made entirely of organic ingredients.

During their first year at the Book Fair, they gave away sakkarai pongal made of country jaggery and ‘Mappillai’ samba rice. They held a food festival by the beach one evening and served crispy chola (corn) dosai... All of which, explains Sivaraman, is an effort to promote traditional food practices. By doing so, we support the farmers of our land, our soil and Mother Nature, he says. The team actively campaigned against Bt brinjal through articles in their magazine and street-plays involving college students.

Standing apart

If you walked into the Book Fair and encountered a weaver bird’s nest at the entrance of a stall, you can be certain it belongs to Poovulagin Nanbargal. Jute banners instead of flexes, cultural programmes by Irula artistes… every event they organise, be it a symposium or a street-play, will have their distinct touch.

And not without reason. George is always thinking of ways to cut down on plastic, electricity and petrol. “I’ve stopped eating fast food now,” he says. Rajaram says he is yearning to return to his native village in Tirunelveli. “My priorities have changed. I’ve decided to start farming. I want to give back to Nature.”

They have so far published 25 titles on environmental issues, and bring out ‘Poovulagu’, a magazine every two months held:

“Aindhinai Vizha” — A symposium on the past and present state of the five landscapes of Tamil Nadu such as kurinji, mullai, marudham, neidhal, palai

“Muneer Vizhavu” — A symposium on conservation of water, its politics and culture

“Naan Pesa Virumbugiren” — A symposium on the role of women in conservation

For details, visit poovulagu.org