Regaining paradise: nature lovers unite to save city’s dying piece of Kashmir

The entrance to Chhota Kashmir.

The entrance to Chhota Kashmir.  

Begin cleanliness campaign through Mission Green Mumbai’s ‘Picnic for a Cause’ initiative; set target of reviving park in Aarey Colony within a year

Away from the bustling traffic and nestled in the middle of Aarey Colony is a picturesque garden that used to offer visitors some semblance of being in the ‘paradise on earth’. Even songs of some Bollywood classics like Kashmir Ki Kali and Dil Deke Dekho were reportedly shot in this quaint place, known by the sobriquet, Chhota Kashmir.

But over the years, this scenic park, one of the few green patches left in Maximum City, has been reduced to a picture of neglect. Now, Mission Green Mumbai (MGM), an NGO, along with a group of nature lovers, has taken responsibility for restoring the park’s lost glory through its ‘Picnic for a Cause’ initiative.

Subhajit Mukherjee, MGM founder, said, “We started the cleanliness campaign on March 31 with just 10 people. Now, we have over 100 supporters, with morning walkers and children joining in. The objective is to attract more tourists, especially families.”

The volunteers mainly gather on Sundays over activities like yoga, music sessions, watering plants, planting saplings, and playing games, with the park’s clean-up as the focus.

Mr. Mukherjee said, “We cannot always blame authorities for poor maintenance. Since the launch of the initiative, we have collected over 700 liquor bottles and thousands of plastic bottles. So all those who come for an outing need to develop a sense of belongingness wherein they would consider this garden as their property so that cleanliness is maintained.”

Rescue mission: Volunteers collect plastic strewn across the park.

Rescue mission: Volunteers collect plastic strewn across the park.  

A tough task

Though the volunteers have set the target of reviving this park within a year, Mr. Mukherjee said, the task seems tough. “We need funding for improving basic amenities like providing clean wash rooms and drinking water, placing more dustbins, cleaning the lake and ponds, and most importantly, repairing the wire fencing around the garden, which has been broken.” He said despite several letters to corporates to sanction funds under their CSR programmes for revamping Chhota Kashmir, the response has been underwhelming.

Poonam Garg, MGM member, reminisces her visit to Chhota Kashmir several years ago, when the flowers were in full bloom. “But when I came to the park a few weeks ago, it was painful to see plastic strewn all over, many varieties of flowers missing, non-functional drinking water taps, and filthy toilets. Even the entrance to the park was in a shabby condition.”

The idea, she said, is to get more people connected to the garden. “I have noticed that garbage collected is burnt inside the park, which is harmful for the environment. Also, we should have strict rules for young couples, use of plastic bottles, and other illegal activity,” Ms. Garg said.

Apart from organising drawing and photography competitions, MGM plans to install an open-air theatre where there will be a screening in the evenings. “Sitting on the grass, people can enjoy the movie using headsets, which will be provided to them free of cost,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Meanwhile, a Jammu and Kashmir-based trust has decided to gift a small shikara to Chhota Kashmir in appreciation of the efforts of the volunteers. “This is our contribution to the bigger cause of reviving this iconic garden in Mumbai. Donating the shikara is just an attempt to connect Kashmir to Chhota Kashmir. What these volunteers have been doing is truly inspiring,” said Nadeem Qadri, executive director, Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Mr. Qadri, an environment lawyer, said he will be making arrangements for artists from Srinagar to come down to Mumbai and assemble the shikara. “I have also plans to organise exhibitions of Kashmiri products in Chhota Kashmir,” he said.

‘A visual treat’

Mr. Mukherjee said it was a visual treat to see flowers bloom on cacti as high as 30 feet one weekend, which is rare in a city like Mumbai. “We appeal to people to come to Chhota Kashmir frequently. The more we increase the footfall, the faster we can bring this garden back to its former self,” he said.

N.V. Rathod, CEO, Aarey Colony, said the MGM’s cleanliness campaign has his support and cooperation. He said, “We have made it compulsory for couples to produce photo IDs at the entry to Chhota Kashmir. Couples below 18 years are not allowed until they are accompanied by a family. Besides, we are trying to deploy more security guards and gardeners.”

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 6:20:03 PM |

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