A pause in the busy bay

A pause in the busy bay

A three-week digital festival of art, music and comedy celebrated Mumbai's rich biodiversity.

Mumbai's bio-diversity map

Say the word Mumbai and one hears the hackneyed chorus — glamour town, Bollywood, concrete jungle, city of skyscrapers, financial capital... No one will say that it’s a city of Blue Button, Arabian Cowrie, Corals, Olive Ridley turtles, Grating Kites, Grey Langurs, leopards, humpback dolphins, Giri’s geckonella, Indian python, chequered keelback snakes… the list is unending. Added to this list are the large areas of red, grey mangroves and wetlands sheltering innumerable birds and water animals. Not to forget the annual migratory visitors like the Lesser flamingoes, herons, sand plover, etc.

Yes, all these birds, land-water animals, reptiles and insects are legal residents of this city, beside the Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas, the Bachchans, the Khans, aam junta and the original settlers — Kolis, Aagaris, Warlis and others. This is the true biodiversity of Mumbai.

But, how many Mumbaikars know about the rich flora and fauna of their city? Everyone is so busy chasing their dreams that they never pause to smell the roses! Many aren’t even aware that sometimes a soaring kite or an eagle is just above their head, or while beach walking, there are thousands of Hermit crabs or soldier crabs scuttling to hide in the sand or the rocks. To make people aware, especially the progressive Mumbai youth who are now getting out of their comfort zone and addressing the issues ailing the megapolis and the nation, the Purpose Climate Lab (PCL), along with the new collective, the Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic, NGO Waatavaran and the entertainment company DeadAnt, launched a three-week campaign ‘Biodiversity by the Bay’. The digital festival held in October, was hosted by musicians, artists, stand-up comedians and posted on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

A new map

The central focus of this campaign was to draw a biodiversity map of Greater Mumbai, which in one glance, would inform people about the abundantly rich flora and fauna thriving in this city, despite increasing haphazard construction activities taking place in every nook and corner of Mumbai.

Cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty, an award-winning wildlife cartoonist, best known for his column Green Humour, was approached to draw a biodiversity map of MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region), which includes Mumbai, Palghar, Thane and Raigad. “I enjoyed drawing it,’’ recalls Rohan. Continuing, the Nagpur-based cartoonist adds, “As a nature lover, while drawing the map, I knew that Mumbai has many beautiful things, besides the usual tourist attractions. But, when I started researching, talking to people and planning the map, I was bowled over by the rich biodiversity the city has! Over the years, many things have been lost. Many mangroves have been lost. It’s now or never. Everyone has to work to save this.” Rohan, who has drawn more than 30 similar maps of different cities, including the one of Hong Kong, admits that though he couldn’t revisit all the places to actually look at every plant, animal and meet people due to the pandemic, his earlier nature trails and meeting the Kolis and Warlis helped him visualise the map.

“The biodiversity map has got a very good response from people. So many netizens, including several Bollywood personalities, have uploaded it, which has immensely helped spread the awareness of the beauty of Mumbai. The campaign, which we launched with our other partners, has made an impact’’, explains Sonali Bhasin, a senior strategist at PCL.

Mobilising the young

The main aim of the campaign is to mobilise young Mumbaikars to get involved in the climate movement and use their collective power and social influence to start a conversation with Aditya Thackeray, the cabinet minister of Tourism and Environment, Maharashtra.

The campaign wants the government to declare the Lesser flamingo as a protected species of the state; declare certain wetlands and mangroves as no-development protected areas; acknowledge the Aarey forests and declare it as a no-development protected area, plus form a policy that supports the livelihoods of the Koli community in the MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region) and protect Mumbai’s coast.

To make the campaign a success, a large number of young artists across the country participated and created special artworks based on the biodiversity of the region for this virtual festival.

Some of the artists were graphic artist Shweta Malhotra, illustrator Pia Alize Hazarika, contemporary artist Shilo Shiv Suleman, visual artist Aaron Pinto, young feminist artist Priyanka Paul, illustrator and artist Osheen Siva. The musical department was represented by musicians like Anushka Manchanda, Blot, Parekh+Singh and Dee MC. Stand-up comedians like Kunal Rao, Jose Cavoco, Anu Menon and others gave the campaign added pep.

Mumbai-based Shweta summed up her minimalist work of two pink flamingoes standing silently as, “I have been to see flamingoes fly in Mumbai. Hundreds of them flocking, turning the wetlands into a pink hue...they look so enticing. We need to maintain the biodiversity so that these birds continue to visit us and other species don’t disappear.”

A very good initiative indeed to make people aware of their surroundings and hopefully, it will be replicated in all cities to help keep our planet thriving.