Society

Civic sense beyond the backyard

A snapshot of a section of North Buckingham Canal from the Manali Expressway after water hyacinth was cleared from it. Photo: CS Balaji

A snapshot of a section of North Buckingham Canal from the Manali Expressway after water hyacinth was cleared from it. Photo: CS Balaji

Where most others do not see a jot to write home about, they see scope for a string of missives. Without thinking twice, this rare breed of residents generously lend their time to civic issues not their own, often picking them up while on the move. And when they start pursuing it, they do so with the urgency and persistence of someone putting out a fire in their own living space.

Here are two from that tribe.

CR Balaji rides the office bus to the Tamil Nadu Petroproducts Limited. In 2020, during these commutes, one unseemly image left a mark on his mind. It would not let him be till he made a missive out of it for those with the power to make that image look better.

Now, just before the north-east monsoon, Balaji develops invisible antennas with acute sensitivity to choked waterways and water channels. He would also visit lakes around monsoon time with the ardour of a monk on a series of pilgrimages.

In 2020, ahead of the north-east monsoon, during his daily commute down the Manali Express Highway, near Sathyamurthy Nagar he noticed a stretch of North Buckingham canal caked with water hyacinth.

An image highlighting the height of the platfrom on Sivaswamy Salai. Photo: Baskar Seshadri

An image highlighting the height of the platfrom on Sivaswamy Salai. Photo: Baskar Seshadri

Images of the 2015 deluge are haunting for those who had experienced it at close quarters. Sathyamurthy Nagar was among areas that bore the brunt of the Deluge, with the invasive waters damaging essential goods in many houses. Balaji is familiar with developments in that neighbourhood.

“In 2020, I complained many a time about it, but without the expected outcome,” recalls Balaji. With the monsoon beating a retreat and the season changing colour, the monsoon-preparedness antennae retracted.

The antennae were up again when the 2021 north-east monsoon was just a whiff away. Besides sending his plea to the engineer in chief of the water resources department and the chief engineer (general) public works department, he directed it to the CM’s cell as well. Ridding the canal of hyacinth was entirely the WRD and PWD’s responsibility. Balaji discloses that to achieve critical mass, he sent a copy to the local Corporation AE as well.

Simply-worded, the letter reminded the recipients that during the 2015 deluge, there was neck-level water in Sathyamurthy Nagar.

The request read: “North Buckingham Canal flowing in Manali Express Highway near Sathyamurthy Nagar needs complete removal of Hyacinth. It joins Puzhal Surplus course and moves towards Ennore creek after merging with River Kosasthalaiyar running parallel filled with Fly Ash.”

Balaji notes: “Just before the second spell of heavy rains, the water hyacinth was removed. The action could come a bit earlier, but I guess it was still not too late. I do not know if my letter had any impact, as I did not get a reply — but I am glad that the hyacinth has gone.”

Baskar Seshadri has gained a well-earned reputation as a chronicler of hyperlocal realities, with human-interest snippets thrown in for good measure. Unlike CR Balaji, he works in a limited area — it is usually about Mylapore and Mandaveli and Royapettah, and he would occasionally let himself wade into RA Puram.

A stretch of Sivaswamy Salai during the November rains.   Photo : Raghunathan SR

A stretch of Sivaswamy Salai during the November rains. Photo : Raghunathan SR

“I generally like to range about where I live and the surrounding areas, as if I were governing the whole place,” says Baskar in a tone that is as matter-of-fact as it is self-deprecating. “I often step out around 5 a.m., sometimes earlier, and I would invariably have my coffee at some eatery.”

The fact that Baskar is on his own, and his business requires him to travel from point to point within these localities helps him in his passion for chronicling the everyday lives of the footsoldiers he encounters on the way as well as the challenges they take in their stride. He treats the Facebook wall with the same reverence publishers have for the printed page.

Recently, he did a compilation about PS Sivaswamy Salai which witnessed heavy waterlogging during the November rains, and then again, following the December 30 cloudburst. The provocation for the piece was the accidents involving pedestrians — how they fell off the tall platforms, which had gained dreadful height following the fresh construction of stormwater drains a few years ago.

“When it was heavily water-logged, the road had come on par with the platform. Giving in to the illusion of levelness, many stepped down, only to land with a thud,” notes Baskar.

The highlight of the effort was how Baskar got a passerby to stand on the pavement — after the storm waters had receded — to give a sense of how distant its surface is from that of the road.

Baskar observes: “When the waters recede, these issues also recede from our mind. But they will come back to haunt us — I wanted the issue to stay alive so that it gets addressed before it causes problems again.”


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 10:54:49 am | https://www.thehindu.com/society/civic-sense-beyond-the-backyard/article38183647.ece