November 28, 2014

A forest in your backyard

Early morning, they wake me up. The tree-hugging warblers. Friends of the forest, melody to my ears. Perched on the branches of the guava tree, their beaks dig into the over ripe mango precariously held under their claws. Do they ever tire of their stories and songs?

                                          (Beautiful street art by Natalii Rak)

The door to the backyard is open. I follow a narrow clearing through grass and vegetation, a winding pathway to the mini-forest. Bending my head, I step under a canopy of jasmine vines. In bloom. White and pure. Their intoxicating fragrance, a welcoming embrace. Tiny drops, dreamy eyed in rainbow colours smile from grass heads. 

Under my feet, there is moisture. Trapped inside layers of leaves. Sodden from rain, from drops of water that settle on the fallen. Where shafts of light fall, earth is carpeted green. On wet barks of trees, moss flourish. 

                                                (Moss from Wikimedia Commons)

Did I hear a pecking sound? Ah! My wood-pecker friend is visiting. Now, who is that? A tiny flutter, a quick dart from the star fruit tree to the jack fruit tree. Sparrows so tiny and quick like little children in a park, having fun in a world of their own. Undisturbed. Unperturbed.  

                                          (Image from 

A flock of parrots fly from the rose apple tree to the gooseberry tree. In a glade, fallen lucky red seeds gleam under the bright morning sun. Butterflies and bees flit. From the blue bells of shankupushpam to the bright red ashoka chethi bushes. In the corner, stands a kanikkonna tree in full bloom. Small yellow-breasted birds with a ring of black around their heads camouflaged amongst the breathtaking yellowness. Flowers bloom. Fruits fall. In leisure. Unhurriedly. To the hands of sand and soil, to the hands of children, eager animals and wriggling worms. Fruit trees. All kinds that I enjoyed when I was a child. It’s like stepping into the past. A past that nourished and provided. Without taking away, without depleting.  

                                                      (Image from Afforestt)
The dream of a self-sustaining mini-forest in your backyard, office premises or school/ college compound can now come true. With Afforestt. 

Shubhendu Sharma: Young industrial engineer turned reforestation expert. Visionary. Ex-Toyota and Mind-tree Consulting. TED and Ashoka Fellow.

Current pursuit and passion: Building Native Forests. Through a for-profit business model.

                           (Image from Afforestt- native saplings in their nursery)

His Venture: Afforestt. Native. Wild. Forever.

Making forests which grow 10 times faster, 30 times denser and are 100 times more bio-diverse. An end-to-end service provider for creating natural, wild, maintenance free, native forests. Technology and expertise to give you the equivalent of a 100-year old natural forest in just ten years.

                                                 (Image from the TED blog)
Inspiration: Miyawaki Technology. Mr. Sharma’s interest in forest-building began when he met Japanese forester Akira Miyawaki in 2008 when the forester came to the site to plant a forest at the Toyota factory. Miyawaki regenerates habitats by planting dozens of native species to create an ecosystem that can develop in 10 years. 

Afforestt Insight: How do we bring back the natural native forests using industrial methods integrated with cloud based software platforms and electronic hardware? “The methodology is the secret, Miyawaki Method amplifies the natural process of growth. This happens due to enriched soil, dense plantation and using only native species,” said Mr. Sharma.

                                              (Image from Afforestt)
Test Project: His own backyard. Within a year, Mr. Sharma created a lush green forest in a 1,000 sq. ft. plot in Uttarakhand, India. Two years later, a formerly ordinary piece of land proudly held 300 trees, 42 species, of which 18 bore fruit, and 17 species of bird in an area that earlier had just two. “Our guava trees produce so much fruit that we harvest at least 5kg a day. All my neighbours are getting guava nectar because we have such an abundance," he said.

                                             (Image from Afforestt)
Do you dream of a mini-forest in your backyard? What would you need? A minimum of 100 sq. m. plot. You get a forest at the lowest possible cost- for you and for nature. Give it eight months after planting the saplings, the forest will become so dense that it blocks sunlight from touching the ground. Soon, the forest gets in to a self-sustaining mode - with every drop of rain conserved and every leaf that falls converted into compost. Doesn’t it make perfect sense to give back the leaves to the earth? Water and weed for the first two to three years, but after that disturb it as little as possible to allow its natural ecosystem to become established.

I don’t remember exactly how I first came across Shubhendu Sharma and Afforestt. But I won’t forget my great sense of joy in reading about the reforestation business. I harnessed the power of Google to fetch me all it knew about the man and his mission. It was easy to track him down as Afforestt has been written about quite widely, right from The Hindu to the BBC. Listen to Mr. Sharma’s TED talk here.

If you are a forest enthusiast and would like to dig deeper, visit this link to the TED blog.

If you share a passion for the native and the natural, please visit and most importantly, please click the share button. Let the good word spread. Let there be more trees, more forests, more leaves for the earth, more birds and more life.

July 5, 2014

'A mighty will stands paralyzed.'

Last evening, as I joined hundreds of visitors at the Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut, more than joy in seeing so many animals from the wild in one place, there was a strange ache that I felt. My children were elated to see the beautiful Beluga whales trying to touch, tease and even smile; against thick glass walls that held them captive. A 2 year old American Alligator expressed her sheer displeasure in being touched by hundreds of children and adults, by wriggling her tail and grabbing thin air with her twitched paws in what seemed to be like a losing battle.

I felt sad watching sea horses, at least a few tens of them clinging and clutching onto plastic sea plants and weeds. Schools of colorful fish swam along under bright lights in glass boxes that have been painted in all colors and patterns artificial. Nothing but glorified fish tanks.

                                             ( image :
The California Sea Lions amazed me with their agility. They danced to a desired tune. They tossed their big, fat bodies in air, swam like whales, watched videos on big screens while turning to look at their keepers' expressions in between and offered several hand/flipper shakes and even flipper applause. I thought they looked cute, and joined my children in enjoying the show, but at the very bottom of my heart, the ache stayed.

The penguins weren't especially pleased with their tiny little habitat made of artificial rock and caves. They looked moody to me. Or they didn't like the crowd clicking flash photographs non-stop. Or some of them haven't yet been on medications for depression or moodiness.

Imagine being in a room, without a hideout, where you are being watched constantly by strangers; all possible tribes? My memory traced an image from the Mysore zoo- when a lone, agitated gorilla ran from one end of its closed enclosure to the other end, unable to handle visitors teasing and mocking his acts.

I tried to console myself. With many natural habitats shrinking, may be a zoo would be a better place for these animals in captivity. Also, I must say that I was indeed happy in the marshes where wild frogs camouflaged so beautifully amidst wild water plants, jumping from one lily pad to another, caring for none watching them.Their sense of belonging; high.

In the wild, the life spans of some of these animals are much less, owing to the prey-predator equation, and is heavily dependent on which side of the equation they stand. But in zoos, the life spans of animals are much more than in the wild, thanks to regular antibiotics, bleaches, anti-depressants, and other medical/ clinical interventions. But given an option, they would like to return to where they belonged. Once upon a time.
Rilke as a phenomenon happened recently in my life. Once I discovered him, there was a strong connection between us. When I read Panther, I thought he echoed my thoughts, my feelings, my angst.


His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone. 


'A mighty will stands paralyzed.' 

May 20, 2014

It hurts

That sound hurts.
Each time it’s heard,
My heart feels wounded
For my beloved, benevolent earth
That gets bruised
By that machine that runs on gas.

It runs almost every other day in spring
After cool nights, and showers of mist
After thunderous nights magically filled with rain,
They come out and shout loud
‘We want to nip the buds’, they clamor
‘We want to mow the lawns’, they roar
All along they spew smoke;
And that disturbs me terribly.


Wherever I travel in America,
There are lawns,
And, there are lawn mowers,
We burn 800 million gallons of gas each year
For keeping our grassy yards trimmed
Our oil spills in our beautiful gardens
Put together are more than what Exxon Valdez
Spilled in the Gulf of Alaska

Come summer, when showers are far and few,
A million sprinklers come on, to wet and water
Many millions of gallons of precious water
Are employed in this act of watering vast lawns
When half the world bleeds for a drop of water

Connect the dots to another macabre picture
And there we find the noxious weed killers
Every year over many million poisonous pounds
We sprinkle on lawns, playgrounds and golf courses.

Take 30 commonly used lawn pesticides;
19 are linked with cancer,
13 are linked with birth defects,
21 with reproductive effects,
26 with liver or kidney damage,
15 with neuro-toxicity, and
11 with disruption of the hormonal system
17 are detected in groundwater,
23 have the ability to seep into drinking water sources,
24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms,
11 are toxic to bees, and
16 are toxic to birds.

Why, even the brightest dandelions,
Those pretty flowers that cheer me up,
Are not spared either
Children play on these lawns
On these smoke-spewing, toxic yards
My heart misses a beat
For them, and for the earth
That we may not really leave behind for them and theirs.