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Updated: February 12, 2014 14:14 IST

Unmasking clutter and shoring up cleanliness at Promenade Beach

Olympia Shilpa Gerald
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Volunteers wearing masks and cleaning the Beach, as part of an awareness project, in Puducherry. Photo: T. Singaravelu
The Hindu Volunteers wearing masks and cleaning the Beach, as part of an awareness project, in Puducherry. Photo: T. Singaravelu

Volunteers wear ‘drishti bommai’, a propitious symbol to ward off evil

Paddy precariously weaves her way through the cragged rocks that dot the beach at Puducherry’s favourite hangout- the Promenade Beach. Slipping her hand under a boulder, she pulls out some plastic spoons and a thermocole salad bowl. There are many like her climbing the rocks clutching striped blue garbage bags and sporting devil horns and diabolical masks.

A closer look reveals that the mask is actually a dristhi bommai, a propitious symbol said to ward off evil. The masks are a tell-tale sign that this is a no regular clean-up campaign led by environmentalists but by artists. “The demon in the mask is usually considered evil, but here it denotes a symbol to ward off evil or garbage. We thought we could use this metaphor to urge people to keep waste at bay,” says Mexican artist Leyla Brashka.

The initiative called Ocean Universal Ward is her brainchild and she is currently doing an art residency in TASMAI, a Puducherry-based art gallery. The project actually blends two ideas (drishti bommai and sight of garbage on beach) that struck her on her visit to India, this year.

Sculpture

Wanting to keep the tide-ravaged beach off clutter, she, along with the artists at TASMAI, have planned to put up a sculpture on the beach. The eight-foot structure, drishti mugam , that artist Saravanan is currently working on would be on the beach for more than a week, from this Thursday.

Ms. Leyla would fill in the sculpture with mangled fishing nets, plastic bottles, rubber flip-flops and other waste that constitutes the litter on Puducherry’s most popular beach.

The mouth of the sculpture would be kept open for people to throw garbage in. “We want to send the message that we should put garbage in its proper place, the bins,” explains Kirti Chandok, director of TASMAI.

With the permission and support of the Municipality and Department of Tourism, volunteers (public) have been cleaning the stretch of rocks opposite The Promenade Hotel to Le Café, the area spanning the Gandhi Thidal, where most of the garbage accumulates. This stretch is the most polluted as a number of vendors sell their wares here. “It is not as if there are no dustbins here,” says Nagoor, a volunteer with a social organization. Pointing to the dustbins placed by the Municipality , he says, “Most of them are empty.”

Vendors

The volunteers have also tried to address the problem by targeting the source (vendors). “We have told them to replace plastic with paper,” says Ms. Kirti. The vendors placing dustbins close to their stalls may also help. “

The Beach Vendors Association purchased around 30 dustbins, which were kept on the stretch of the beach,” recounts pineapple seller Usha. “We all pooled in our money. All of them disappeared in the course of two months,”she laments.

The waste at the rocks is usually overlooked by the municipality’s cleaning personnel. Rag-pickers, on the other hand, do not find value in the junk caught between the rocks. “What we need is a sustained follow-up ,” says Paddy. Many are just curious onlookers, but the team has silently managed to rope in a number of people to take some action.

Public involved

A case in point is that of two school boys from Uppalam, who come back every evening, leaping on the rocks and fill the garbage bags with enthusiasm. A testament of the team’s effort is already visible _ the stretch of the rocks and beach directly opposite the Promenade Hotel looks very different from that skirting the Gandhi Thidal.

Äs a volunteer asks, “How do people manage to sit between all this filth?” A favourite haunt could do with more responsibility and action if the people who are part of the problem become a part of the solution.

Public who want to join the gang of volunteers can pitch in to work between 4. 30 p.m. and 6. 30 p.m. till Sunday.

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