indian express

V Shoba, December 21 2008, The Indian Express.

Most of us beeline through the streets of Delhi, barely skimming its surface. In our unseeing everydayness, tales from the distant past are lost among the shadows of high-rises, the grey of the tarmac bleeds into the patches of green, and winter is just a cumbersome period of the year that forces us into our lumpy woolens.

But for the members of Delhi Greens and the organisers of 48°C—a contemporary art ecology festival that closes today—the city is more than a cluster of impersonal buildings. To help Delhiites discover its socio-historical and ecological spaces, Delhi Greens conducted “urban ecology” tours, spanning—in three trips, on December 13, 19 and 20—the north, east and south-central parts of the city.

Forty-odd people have assembled at the fuchsia-drenched Max Mueller Bhawan, one of the organisers of the eco-art festival. They are students, architects, tourists from Vienna and London, and retired gentlemen with ever-ready professional cameras. The first destination on the south-central route, Agrasen ki bavdi, is a short walk away, tucked into a quaint lane on Hailey Road.

The 14th-century stepwell at the heart of the city once harnessed groundwater, but today, even a heavy monsoon fails to fill it up. At the bottom is a symbolic installation by Asim Waqif—a large, white air balloon shaped like a mineral water can and fastened to an aquarium. As Govind Singh—who founded Delhi Greens in March 2007—and his colleagues Rishabh Parmar and Vasudha Mehta, explain the relevance of a bavdi, someone comes up with a kooky idea: why not use the monument as an open-air theatre? It doesn’t take long for the group to warm up to Delhi’s backstory—and to each other.

We hop on to a DTC bus hired for the purpose, and set off for the curious unknown of the Bhuli Bhatiyari Park on Link Road, Jhandewalan. Its rocky gradient sprawled across 80.79 acres, the park is flanked by a wastewater treatment plant on one side and a wetland that wears a septic look, on the other. Parts of the park have been dug up—incredibly, DDA has lost track of a leaky pipe. The dirt path leads to the ruins of Bhuli Bhatiyari Mahal. “It was built in the 14th century by Ferozeshah Tughlaq and served as a hunting lodge. There were lions in the Aravallis then,” Govind says.

The next—and final—destination is the 692-acre Aravalli Biodiversity Park, where Professor Vikram Soni of the National Physical Laboratory tells us of a curious natural experiment in forestry. “This used to be a quarry of Badarpur stone till 1989-90. After quarrying stopped, the wind deposited seeds and soil in the crevices in the quartzite—which is two-and-a-half billion years old. The forest you see here—neem, shisham, ranjh trees, in addition to the Prosopis juliflora (kabuli keekar) planted by the British—has come up naturally due to quarrying, which is frowned upon by environmentalists,” he says.

Authorities of the park—the foundation was laid in 2004, but it has not yet been thrown open to the public—have undertaken a phased uprooting of the Prosopis, which depletes the water table, planting endemic varieties. Park manager Dr Shah Hussain says the forest is home to 160 species of birds and animals like the nilgai and the jackal. The Delhi of these parks and spaces is a living, breathing being—it stretches its limbs far and wide, stirring in the winter breeze that evokes our individual imaginations of its past and its future.

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