Varun Venkit has percussionitis, and he wants to infect others.
Varun is a drummer, plays with Agnee (among others, I think), and also teaches drums to a devoted bunch. He is also a clinical psychologist.
The Community Drum Circles that Varun organizes provide – in varying degrees – stress therapy, community building and fun. The Drum Circle is just what it sounds like — people land up, sit in a circle and play the drums (or a shaker – a coke can filled with pebbles or seeds). You don’t have to know how to play … Varun says percussionitis is in our blood, we all (or most anyway) just naturally respond to the rhythm.
We sit in a circle, Varun explains how to position the djembe slightly tilted away from your body, and how to strike the drum with your palms. Someone starts off a simple beat, and others join in. The tempo and the beat change – one of us might bring in a variation. Or Varun might direct us to slow down or speed up, to pause a few seconds and start up again, to divide up into two groups and play a jugalbandi of sorts, or sing along with him ki lay lay, ki lay lay, aabo aabo ki lay lay …
I’ve attended three thus far (and complain complain, only rarely got a djembe, mostly only a shaker). The energy and the synergy the group generates for two hours is something amazing.
Drum Circles happen at the Urban Ashram near Swargate and at One Life Club, Panchvati, Pashan. If I can find a Facebook link, I’ll post it here.
Several thousand people hoping to get daily wage casual work congregate at various locations in Pune, such as Dandekar Pul, Hadapsar flyover, Aundhgaon, Warje etc. Results from a study commissioned by the DP Co and conducted by Dr Tambe at Univ of Pune reveal that a wide range of skilled, semi-skilled and un-skilled work is on offer at these mazoor addas, such as centring, masonry, carpentry, stone work, moulding, etc.
Some of the older addas which have been in existence for over a decade or more, specialise in certain types of work (such as mandap kaam at Dandekar Pul). The newer addas typically have new migrants into the city and who mostly get picked up for construction work.
The issues are many: social ones like women get paid lesser than men and of course there is no registration or security of any sort, no place for little children; physical ones like there is no shelter from sun or rain for the people who land up hoping to get work, no toilets; no place to park bicycles, keep tools etc. Women may get picked up being promised construction work, but forced into prostitution.
The objective of the study is to document the space needs of the addas (as well as the nature of hardships and issues), and make a case for inclusion of a provision for the addas in the master plan for Pune. The 1987 Development Plan is currently being revised. The provisions for the addas may relate to creation of sheds, bicycle parking space, creches, toilets etc.
The solutions may be quite simple, and may bring a measure of support and reduction of hardship to this sector of unorganized workers in Pune. However, the people most affected (the workers) are not organized and don’t have a voice. The DP process is not proactive enough to recognize these needs. The DP Co started out hoping to make a difference to Pune/ in Pune – make it more livable. Now, we need ideas on strategies for where and how to raise the issue enough to ensure solutions happen.
Seems to me that a critical part of the very large daily activity of processing 1200 tons of wet and dry (waste) materials is space. Even if people segregate at home, the downstream system needs to be such that can maintain separate streams of materials (dry recyclable stream and wet stream).
Ideally the wet should get composted at the household or housing society level, and the compost used locally in home or neighbourhood gardens. As for the dry … the waste-collectors need time and space to aggregate, sort and repackage the dry recyclables for sale to scrap dealers. The Maharashtra govt has made a rule that municipal authorities should provide sorting sheds for waste collectors.
Problem is that most people don’t want a sorting shed in their neighbourhood. This same problem will be posed to a couple of landscape architects who will intern with CEE later this year, and hopefully they will develop some good and functional designs.
Before they start their work, I am thinking that it would be good to make an offer to housing societies/ neighbourhood groups (maybe, just may be, there are people who will experiment) that two landscape design consultants will be at their service, and that groups should register for jointly developing a solution that works for them. And maybe, there will be a corporate group that will step in and fund the execution too.
The foot hills of the Western Ghats are a defining feature of Pune. Much loved by Punekars, these hills attract dedicated morning-evening walkers (some of them with their dogs), nature walk groups, couples seeking a few quiet moments. Recently, a loosely-knit community of music students, artists and their friends and parents celebrated the tekdis with an evening of art and music unplugged.
In 2003, when these tekdis (hills) came under threat of being built over, more than 75000 citizens protested. A signature campaign, human chains at Vetal Tekdi and Alka Talkies, newspaper articles and hundreds of letters to the municipality all spoke of how much Punekars value these hills. Hearing the voice of the people, the planners who revised the Draft Development Plan for the 23 fringe villages newly merged into the municipal boundaries, provided for these tekdis to be conserved under a Biodiversity Park reservation. Besides the tekdis, the reservation also includes rivers and streams as these ecosystems too are part of the biodiversity of Pune. The biodiversity land reservation is a generic formula that applies to hill tops and hill slopes of a certain slope grade, and to land along waterbodies. It works out to about 1646 hectares in the 23 villages merged into the PMC area.
The first formal Biodiversity Reserve in Pune is being created by the municipality on a part of the hill range between Baner and Pashan. The creation of the Baner-Pashan Reserve means that a specific area to which the reservation is applicable is being fenced off and a plan is being prepared for its conservation, use and management. The Garden Dept of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is preparing this plan. How to protect the area, where plantation should be done and where it should not be done, how citizens may use the area … the Garden Dept is discussing these questions to citizens, NGOs, academic experts and local representatives as a way of evolving the management plan.
Baner-Pashan: Variety of Life
The Baner-Pashan hills lie in the western region of Pune. The hills have a variety of micro-habitats. The slopes are mostly gentle, with occasional steeper rocky gullies marking the path of rainwater run-off. At such spots, during the monsoon you might spot a crab scurrying away as you approach.
On the Pashan side, the slopes have been planted with Gliricidia (Rat-killer trees). This fast-growing tree species nourishes the soil as it has nitrogen fixing bacteria in its roots like other leguminous plant species. Often, afforestation of degraded lands is done by first planting such leguminous species to stabilize the soil and make it more nutritive for plants. Later, the Gliricidia may be slowly removed to make space for planting local species.
A large quarry, now closed, is present at the slope overlooking the Bangalore highway. Every monsoon water pools at the base converting it into a small wetland habitat. Stilts hide among the rushes looking for insects. The rocky edges of the pool harbour ferns. The quarry wall which is several metres high is like a cliff. It provides a nesting site for birds that nest in cliffs such as owls, swallows, swifts, crag martins, etc. It is also good habitat for ground birds like grey francolin and quails and a good breeding area for snakes, geckos, lizards, frogs and as it comparatively less disturbances. The grasses and related smaller creatures like grasshoppers, mantis, beetles, bugs etc provide a prey base for higher animals.
The slopes taper off towards the top which is a plateau covered with grass. If you sit for a while, you’ll hear the busy chirping of sparrows and perhaps spot a lark or a shrike. Exciting sightings such as of grass snakes and russels vipers have been noted by regular visitors of the area as well.
Were these hills covered with forests when Shivaji was fighting his battles? Or have the dhangars who still graze cattle on these hills as they have been for hundreds of years always seen these as grasslands? More on dhangars a little later, but as far as biodiversity is concerned, we don’t really know.
According to Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh, we city-bred people are lucky that we can see different types of habitats in the reserve. Habitats such as rocky slopes, grass land plateaus and pools of water or wetlands are as important as tree patches to sustain biodiversity.
Dr Erach Bharucha of Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research (BVIEER) differs. ‘Several very small patches of habitats don’t really benefit the species living in them as the patch size is too small to provide for the food and other needs of a healthy population’ he says.
For now, the management plan for the Baner-Pashan reserve aims to conserve different types of habitats across the hill range. Native tree species will be added to the Gliricidia plantation enriching the variety of tree species.
One question that Mr Yashwant Khaire, PMC Garden Superintendent puts to some of us discussing the management plan is – What is the purpose of the Biodiversity Reserve?
Surely, it is biodiversity conservation. The Biodiversity Reserve provides several unseen ‘ecosystem benefits’. It serves as a ‘sink’ for absorption of pollutants and as a source of fresh air for the city. The vast tracts of hilly vegetated lands help to absorb rain water and recharge surface streams and groundwater aquifers in the city. So, another objective is that our city should continue to receive these benefits of natural areas.
Schools and nature educators already know the wonderful educational opportunity the hills of Pune provide. On the Pashan side is the Ramnadi and the little dam across it which forms the Pashan lake. On the Baner side, you can see the Mula and if you look carefully you can spot the confluence of the Ramnadi with the Mula. The hills are a place for us urban creatures to learn about the ways of the natural world. Thus, ‘education on biodiversity’ is one stated objective of the evolving management plan.
However, apart from the straight science, geology and geography type of content, there are other lessons the hills can teach. These hills have seen cultures evolving and branching out, from the beginning of human settlement in these parts up to the present day.
These hills are used not just for walks and exercise, but also for collection of firewood and grass. Dhangars have perhaps been grazing their cattle here for several generations. The national policy for pastoral nomads guarantees right of way for them.
Standing atop the hills, one can see different patterns of settlements … glass fronted buildings, bungalows, village-like areas, tall buildings, small shacks. For the informal settlements at the base the hills are an open toilet. One wonders at the contrast of settlements, the different types of people who live around here, and the different meanings the city’s natural areas have for them: places for relaxation, for livelihood and income, for meeting basic needs.
So there is rich material here for educators. They may dwell on different ways of life, on respecting and celebrating diversity not just in the natural world, but also in human cultures. They may introduce questions on development and human progress, on city planning and equity amongst citizens.
Local Conservation Initiatives
A group of citizens on the Baner side have formed themselves into Vasundhara or the ‘Clean Earth Movement’. Many of them have been living here for the past several years. They’ve seen Baner change from a quiet peri-urban area to a popular residential and commercial area with IT companies setting up offices, malls and high-priced gated housing societies.
Civic services and regulatory mechanisms often don’t keep pace with city growth and this is what led Dr Garudkar, Sachin Walunj and others to form the Green Earth Movement. They have tried to streamline garbage management at the base of Baner hill. They are also keeping an eye out to prevent illegal construction on the hillside. Recognizing the dhangars’ livelihood dependence on the grasslands, Dr Garudkar and his colleagues have also initiated a dialogue with them to mark out which areas could be used for grazing and which could be kept for regeneration.
Every Sunday, some sixty or so members of Green Earth volunteer their time and effort for soil and water conservation along the Baner hillside. They have dug continuous contour trenches and planted trees along these in a bid to prevent soil erosion and enhance water conservation. Their persistent hard-work is showing positive results and it has been acknowledged by the municipality as well. Especially remarkable is the number of children of the area who participate in all the activities at the hill.
The rock cut caves at Pataleshwar are well known. They are believed to be of a later vintage (8th century AD) as compared to the Karla (2nd century BC) and Bhaja (2nd century AD) caves up in the Sahyadris. Little known are the rock cut caves in the Baner hillside. They lie just above the Baner village. D D Kosambi in his book Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture [Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1962], mentions these while discussing the transformation of the stone age cultures in and around Pune, and following the microlith tracks along Vetal Tekdi, Fergusson College Hill, Chaturshringi and beyond:
The temple at Catursrngi dates from 1786, but some local goddess must have received earlier worship at the same place. Banere, five miles away, has the next artificial but definitely post-Buddhist cave, which houses funerary steles as well as a Yamai and a Mahadev. A Tukai resides just above, in a shrine of her own at the top of the hillock. Banere is close to Vakad, on the other side of the Mula. The terrain and season were both unsuitable for microlith hunting.
Besides the caves and the old Tukai temple, a newer temple now exists on the Baner hill.
The issues before the city relate to how best to compensate owners when their land is acquired for a ‘common good’ purpose. Since the reservation implies no construction is possible, the opportunity cost of ‘development right’ ceases to exist. On the other hand, the possibility of constructing up to 4% of the plot size exists in older parts of the city. Citizens’ vigilance is necessary to ensure that the plan for Biodiversity Conservation is approved across all areas. Punekars and their elected representatives have to deliberate on fair policies for compensation, and to strictly ensure that the Biodiversity Park reserves are used for the purpose they have been created.
Last month we started a new monthly page in Sakal Young Buzz. The online edition of the EarthCare page appears at the kidsRgreen website.
Each article is authored by a CEE staff member or intern. The first issue described the habitat of the Forest Owlet, and a camp conducted by Dharmaraj. The forthcoming issue will be related to the monsoons. Future issues would have content on mobility, the Climate Change COP, urban forests, turtle nesting, etc.
Hopefully we will hone our skills of writing for children.
CEE and Intach organized a visit on 18 July 2009 to Tambat Ali for meeting one of the master craftsmen and to try and understand this famous craft of Pune. Tambat Ali in Pune has existed since the time the Peths were first created by Chhatrapati Shivaji. The tambats came to Pune from the Konkan. Seven generations have lived in Kasba Path. There used to 12 to 15 families earlier, of which only 2 seem to be active in the present day. Reasons for the decline include increasing pressures of modern development, land prices, and the ‘slow market’ for copper work.
Mr Kadu informed about the linkages with Aksharnandan and Sahyadri schools. Students from Design schools, as well as crafts people from other countries visit and sometimes undergo short internships here. Intach has organized 3 workshops in recent times, with a view to discussing ways of enhancing the craft. Recent discussions have also thrown up the idea that an alternative location could be found at Mundhwa for the interested Tambat families to create a Copper Crafts Village. Or may be a copper village could be made right here, in situ. The historic and traditional location, where the Tambat families have always been, just a few minutes from Shaniwar Wada – I think no matter what the land prices, its only right that this is where the bumbs, oil lamps and little copper kitchen sets for little girls should continue to be made.
Today we started a new project: gathering and compiling information on biodiversity hotspecks in Pune. The info is currently being gathered in text, and we plan to map the locations on to wikimapia. At some stage, we will create a GIS layer. Here are the details of the description categories, starter list of sites and where to post info:
Categories of Hotspecks
Small quarries / small ponds
Large Trees hosting biodiversity
Paar (Sacred trees)
Bird community roosts /heronries
Individual rare trees
Private lands with vegetation cover or quarries
Sites with ‘lesser’ fauna – Arachnids, insects, plant types etc.
Gardens (terrace/home, public)
What is it – physical category
Time – date, season
Area – size with peripheral area that needs to be protected
Type of protection, if any
Threats, issues (garbage etc)
Image – of the area/ambience, specific spots, image size
Current ownership status
Anecdotal info collected by local person
Species and attributes of the site that makes it favourable for the species