Our Lake, Our Oyster

My friends and I are a privileged lot. Not only did we get to bring Puttenahalli Lake in South Bengaluru back to life, but also to make it into a rich ecosystem.

 

4 July 2010
Pic Credit: South City
14 Nov. 2021
Pic Credit: Geetha Srikrishnan

In 2010, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) gave us a desilted and dry 10 acre basin with the embankment of about 3 acres made from the muck that they had removed from the lake bed. In a span of only six to seven years the lake had rippling water and a rich canopy of trees arched over the walkway. Pied kingfishers hovered in the air before diving for fish. Turtles sunned themselves on the logs we had placed as bird perches in the water. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower and dragonflies gave way to walkers. 

Pic credit: Purnima Gokhale
Pic credit: Ajay Madan

Pic credit: Prakash Ananthapur
Pic credit: Prakash Ananthapur

All these are ample rewards in themselves but no less was the journey – exciting, frustrating, challenging and some obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome. Indeed, our diary is packed with memorable moments that are as much about the evolution of the lake as of us, trustees, learning and growing with it.

The first of these has to be our tree plantation drive in July 2010. Only the month before, Prasanna Vynatheya, Arathi Manay, O P Ramaswamy and I, all living in the vicinity of the lake had got together and registered the Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT). With the BBMP supplying 125 tree saplings, red soil, manure and a group of labourers, our work was reduced to getting a VIP to inaugurate the drive and residents from the neighbourhood to come and plant.

Well before our elected representative to the legislative assembly, the MLA, arrived, a platoon of his supporters landed. Wearing clean white shirts with outsized ribbon badges pinned, they waited at a distance talking among themselves till the cars swung in and the MLA got out. They cheered him with loud shouts and walked en masse to where we were waiting. Prasanna’s height enabled him to draw the attention of the MLA and he introduced me as the Chairperson of the lake trust. I handed our chief guest a shovel. His supporters cheered. He planted a Mahogany tree sapling, went to the next pit to plant another. The cheers rose again. He was about to plant another when he spotted me lost behind his men and insisted that I plant it with him. He left soon thereafter and the entire retinue vanished as well. The residents, adults and children who had been waiting patiently all this while took over. Some people planted together with their children, a few others in the memory of a loved one, many for the pure pleasure of planting a sapling.

By noon everybody had worked off their enthusiasm and dispersed. Children from the slum were returning from school. We got them to plant as well.

Pic Source: PNLIT Shutterbugs
Pic Source: PNLIT Shutterbugs

It had been a long day. The labourers who had helped everyone from morning, planted the remaining ones and left.  When I returned that evening, all the young trees were in place, each supported with a stake. The lone Indian date palm (Phoenix sylvestris, Eechala mara in Kannada) on the island now had lots of company – if only the new ones survive. We had assumed responsibility for this and had sought donations from those who had planted the saplings. The amount we raised wasn’t much but it would be enough to pay the salaries of a gardener and a security guard.

We had our work cut out. Sitting on the kerb stone in the viewing deck, I was overwhelmed more with the magnitude of what we as a team and community had done. I had planted only the Mahogany with the MLA, but I felt as elated as if I had planted all the 125 myself.

I never could keep my emotions to myself. At that moment I simply had to share my happiness with someone, anyone. Except for one or two people returning home to the slum, the place was deserted. The sun was beginning to set, turning the little pools of water into gold in the dusk. My husband would soon start worrying about my whereabouts.  I got up reluctantly. Ah! There was a well-dressed girl in her twenties walking up and down, waiting, she said, for her friend.

“You know,” I said, opening my heart to the stranger. “We planted trees here today. Many, many trees….”

“Oh, nice,” she replied with a vague smile. Looking over my shoulder, her face brightened and she walked quickly towards her friend.

***

June 2011
Oct. 2019
Photo Credit: Dr. S Subramanya

Published by Usha Rajagopalan ("Lakeika")

I am a writer, translator and lake conservationist based in Bengaluru, India.

10 thoughts on “Our Lake, Our Oyster

  1. The success of your efforts shows that a sensitive person with commitment can mobilize like-minded persons and do good for the community.

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  2. Dear Lakeika, I wish I was there that day, on that lovely pathway by the lake as the sun set, listening to all that you achieved in the past 10 years! Or better still, plant a sapling or two with those young ones!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am aware that considerable effort has gone into making this beautiful lake which is a habitat for many rare migratory birds and insects ! Thank you PNLIT Team for your untiring effort to make our environment sustainable!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A long journey starts with the first step. How beautifully have you described that first step! Little did you know at that time what was in store for you as obstacles and how you will overcome them all to get your Oyster.
    And get a pat on your back! Perseverance, thy name is Usha. How I wish your tribe increases! I salute your pathbreaking achievement. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great work from you and your team Usha. I was one among your many friends who was following you from the beginning of your journey . Great effort, model for many others who needs advise for such movements👍🏼

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  6. Had been to this lake a few times in the past years didnt realise that it was the same lake you all helped revive. really proud to know that this effort has paid off so well. Great initiative and model citizen group. Our best wishes to all involved.

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  7. Wow! Beautiful Usha, lovely to see the plants flourishing. To nurture a sapling & make it grow into a tree is by no means an easy task.

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  8. A cheerful story embellished with the spirit of cooperation, sacrifice and satisfaction. Yet tinged with some nostalgia. At the end of it all, a great amount of social capital created by a few for the enjoyment of many. Wonderful recollection, Usha.

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