Picnic by the lake

Kavitha Mandana’s short story about a Bengaluru superhero
Last Updated : 22 June 2024, 01:07 IST

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It was Rashmi’s turn to answer Mrs Narsappa’s question: “Who is the one person in the world you idolise?”

Before her, Mithun predictably had said, “Kohli”.  Manju before him had said Neeraj Chopra… Gopi hadn’t listened too carefully to everybody’s answers, but he’d sat up when Vijay of all people had said Greta Thunberg.

He hadn’t expected Vijay to be interested in environmental awareness. That made him pay attention to everyone’s answers…he didn’t want anybody to mention HIS idol’s name before he got a chance to answer Mrs Narsappa’s question.

He needn’t have worried. Most students in Rows 1, 2 and 3, were film fans. So names like Hrithik Roshan cropped up a lot. Mary Kom, Deepika Padukone, Sania Mirza and P V Sindhu were favourites among
many girls.

When he stood up to answer, Gopi puffed up his chest and said, “Ma’am… my hero is Anand Sir… Anand Malligavad!”

In the silence that followed, Gopi realised nobody had even heard of his idol. Vijay’s bored, “Who’s thaaat?” pretty much summed up the class’ reaction.

But Mrs N was intrigued and said, “That’s interesting Gopi! Tell us more about your idol. The class hasn’t heard about him.”

Gopi hadn’t realised how much he knew about Anand Sir, because the words tumbled out of his mouth at top speed.

“Ma’am, he’s saved over 30 lakes in Bengaluru in the past 6 -7 years.”

Grumpy Shwetha mumbled, “How come I haven’t heard about him, then?”

Gopi snapped, “You’ll only hear about him if you listen, right? So let me tell you about him. He is a mechanical engineer who worked for an auto components company, but taught himself a whole lot about lake revival, water conservation and bio-diversity in his free time. Then he went on to revive a dead lake of over 30 acres — it had been dry for over 35 years, and in just 45 days, he and a team of volunteers, brought the lake back to life.”

“How come you know so much about this?” Manju asked Gopi, from the bench behind him.

“That’s because my grandparents live beside that very lake — the first one Anand Sir revived. Kyalasanahalli Lake. I can now swim there, it’s so clean. There’s 30 acres of water just walking distance from my Ajji’s garden.”

Mithun teased him, “So reviving that one lake made him your idol?”

Gopi, fiercely proud of all of Anand Malligavad’s many accomplishments, snapped back, “ No… I did mention he’s revived 35 lakes in Bengaluru alone. Between 2017 and 2020 itself he revived nine lakes. Each success led to more lakes restored. Now the UP and Odisha governments have invited him to train locals in lake revival.”

Turning to Mrs Narsappa for help, Gopi went on, “Ma’am, he studied the water conservation practices of the Chola kings who ruled parts of the Deccan region over 1,500 years ago. They’d set up a network of lakes, interlinked by canals to not only ensure wide areas of land had water to irrigate crops, but to also prevent flooding during heavy rains.”

The mention of ‘flooding’ caught the class’ attention. Many of them lived in areas of Bengluru that often flooded during the rains — ruining homes and cars, and leading to many of them shifting houses.

Mrs Narsappa had a nose for homework opportunities. And in Gopi’s impassioned speech on Bangalore’s lake man, she’d spotted a golden chance!

“Okay class, Gopi has given me an idea…” The class groaned, many of them shooting Gopi angry looks for ‘giving Mrs N ideas’ that would only mean extra work for all of them.

Mrs N continued, “I want each of you to pick a lake Anand Malligavad has restored and write about it. You will all get a week to submit your reports.”

Manju stood up, “Ma’am, I want to write about my hero —Neeraj Chopra… can I?”

Mrs N replied coolly, “Sure son, you can write about him ALSO!” The class groaned.

Ma’am continued, “Remember, you all anyway have to submit a Social Studies project by next month, so water conservation would be a great theme… Gopi, do you know about any other lakes your Anand Sir has revived?”

The normally shy Gopi shot up and began reeling off names, “Yes Ma’am — Maragondanahalli Lake, Chikkathoguru Lake… the worst was Konasandra Lake which was more toxic than even Bellandur lake with all its chemical foam that caught fire… totally the 3 lakes Anand Sir has revived covers 800 acres and holds 106 million gallons of waters, cooling the surrounding areas, and raising the underground water table by 8 feet!”

“There you go…” Mrs Narsappa snapped her fingers. “I’ll put up the list of lakes on the board tomorrow and all of you can decide who works on each.”

Then, turning to Gopi, she asked, “Do you think your grandparents can organise a class visit to the Kyalasanahalli Lake beside their house?”

That got the class excited. Gopi jumped up, “Yes Ma’am, maybe Thatha can even invite Anand Sir to explain all that he did to revive a dead lake and we can all swim there too!”

On the way home, Gopi heaved a sigh of relief — if his over-enthusiasm had only led to more homework for his classmates, they’d have grumbled at him for weeks! But since he would now be responsible for a class trip, with swimming included, everyone had forgotten about the homework and were eagerly planning for the ‘picnic by the lake!’ 

Published 22 June 2024, 01:07 IST

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