Mark your calendars. For your sake, and for the sake of the planet.

blog 14Facebook reminds us of birthdays while the office bulletin board or radio ads tells us about important holidays and festivals. But there is very little that happens, on an individual level, on the days and dates dedicated to the betterment of the planet.  The media and concerned NGOs raise awareness across various touch-points but there is no way things will change if they do their bit, but we don’t.

So pull out your iphones, androids, laptop widgets or pocket calendars (if some of you still have one) and mark the following dates. Closer to time, share it on your family whatsapp groups and social media walls.  If the entire country comes together to make a small change even on a single day, 100crore actions can surely change the destiny of the planet.

Ready to make a note?

 World Car-free Day | 22ndSeptember

Q. What is it?

A. World Car-free day is an annual, worldwide event, which urges people to support the planet by leaving their cars in their garages and using public transport for a day. People are encouraged to walk to shorter distances, take the public transport, cycle to work or even taxi-pool to their desired destination. In some countries, work-from-home is permitted on this day. The primary goal of celebrating this day is to reduce the number of cars and the traffic on the streets and give the earth a day off from breathing toxic gases. This noble day is celebrated in 46 countries and over 2000 cities.

 

Q. How did it originate?

A. The people of Netherlands and Belgium were the first ones to leave their cars behind to celebrate car-free Sundays way back in 1956. For two months, no one drove their cars on Sundays.  Later, however, instead of it being a weekly event, the Car-free Day evolved into a yearly programme. It is now celebrated on September 22, across the world.

 

Q. How can you contribute?

A.This one is a no-brainer. You can simply leave your car behind and take the public transport. Alternately, you can spread the word among your friends and family and encourage them to do the same. While a dedicated day in a year is a great idea, you can also use this day as a starting point and pledge giving up your car on the 22d of every month. Everyone deserves a day off in a month. Be it your car, or the planet.

 

Earth Day | 22ndApril

Q. What is it?

A. One of the more popular days, Earth day is celebrated to support and protect the environment. Unlike No-car today, this one is not marked by a single act but comprises of various events across the world in more than 193 countries, all revolving around the cause of the Earth. Besides events, demonstrations, conferences and awareness campaigns that are done on a large scale – individuals too celebrate the day in their own way, through little acts of awareness towards the planet. The day, now being celebrated for a long time, pumped by media campaigns has slowly penetrated into public consciousness.

 

Q. How did it originate?

A. Earth Day was US Senator Gaylord Nelson’s brainchild and it came into action on April 22, 1970. On this day, 20 million American citizens turned into planet activists, took to the streets and spread the message of a sustainable environment. Colleges and universities did their bit by raising their voice against the consistent damage to the earth. These were joined by emerging environmental activists who were already fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife. A revolution of sorts, Earth day slowly spread across the world and today, is celebrated by more than a billion people every year.

 

 Q. How can you contribute?

A. You can simply spend the whole day in awareness of the earth; with an intention to ensure that every action you take is in favour of the planet you inhabit. Small things like closing the tap while you are brushing your teeth, not taking the car to work, choosing an organic salad over a burger that carries not just extra mayo but also huge carbon footprint, saving electricity by unhooking the plug when your phones and laptops are charged, purchasing a small plant on your way back from work, giving up TV for a day, and doing a twenty minute cleanup to ensure your home is plastic free.

 

International World Bicycle Day | June

Q. What is it?

A. World Bicycle Day recognises and celebrates the bicycle as a clean and environmentally fit mode of transport – one that is not just conducive to health but is also friendly on the pocket. Its sustainable nature has earned it a day of honour and on this day, people across the world can be seen riding this great example of urban mobility and putting a day’s brake on pollution.

 

Q. How did it originate?

A. Professor of Sociology and advocate of issue related to the environment and climate change, Leszek Sibilski led a campaign to promote a UN Resolution for World Bicycle Day. He gained support from countries across the world, which eventually led to the United Nations General Assembly declaring 3 June as International World Bicycle Day.

 

Q. How can you contribute?

A. In 2018, Delhi and Bangalore celebrated this day which huge enthusiasm. While the national capital saw a sea of cyclists (about 10,000) take to the streets on the Sunday morning to mark this important day, Bangalore wasn’t far behind. The Bicycle Mayor of Bangalore, Sathya Sankaran led the way with 100 cyclists covering 10km on their cycles. This year, you can either look up major city events or bring out your bicycle and explore your neighbourhood – the choice is yours.  

Earth provides for them and they return the favour. The good old sustainable fruit and vegetable cart.

blog 15Shyam would stop his cart or thela under an old lady’s home in Delhi every single day, singing names of fresh vegetables. Rhymingaaloowith kachalu,gobi with mooli, creating his own unique jingles. The old lady would come into the balcony and drop a basket attached to a little rope from above. She would tell Shyam what she wanted, he would measure the vegetables while engaging in loud banter, after which she would pull up the rope.  It always looked like she was pulling vegetables out of a well. After checking the vegetables, the old lady would drop the basket again; Shyam would collect his money, and push the basket back. He would leave, singing names of fresh vegetables. Pushing his cart through the narrow lanes.

The interaction between the old lady and the cart puller not just makes for an evocative anecdote but is also a window into time, place and culture. Revealing how the not-so-hyped up fruit and vegetable cart has been such an important part of our lives, living on through generations and decades.

Indian villages may wake up to the sound of the rooster but big and small cities have, for as long as we can remember, woken up to the sound of the vegetable or the fruit seller advertising his fresh produce in his hi-pitched voice. With the class divide in India, this sort of scene is more common in intimate neighbourhoods and not exclusive localities. Come to think of it, the mobile cart is actually the original version of home-delivery, way before the app rhyming with a dance step was even conceived. Most importantly, this mode of transport is pollution free – in that sense, it is not just a source of nutrients for people but also supports sustainably of the planet.

So then, why is nobody talking about such an important mode of transport?

We decided to initiate a conversation on the subject and conducted a bunch of interviews with fruit and vegetable cart-owners on a spring afternoon, during their down time. In return, we got free apples and a few priceless answers.

Read excerpts from one of the interviews conducted with Moin from Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. He is a fruit-cart owner and lives in Mumbai.  The Hindi interview has been translated for the benefit of a larger audience.

Q. Moin,do you know what is sustainable transport?

A. No, I am not aware.

 

Q. Your fruit-cart is actually sustainable, which means it is planet-friendly and doesn’t pollute the environment. How do you feel about that?

A. I didn’t think about it but now I feel good. I also must tell you that since the plastic ban, I have actually been spending a little extra and buying these bags instead. [shows bio-degradable bag].

 

Q. How many kilometers do you travel everyday?

A. I walk about 7kms everyday.

 

Q. Do you have a formal parking policy for you thela? Where do you park at night?

A. I park my thela inside my house and a lot of my friends do the same. No, there is no formal parking space for our vehicle.

 

Q. Do you get any kind of right of way in traffic?

A. No. Only the ambulance gets it. (Laughs)

 

Q. Do you feel you should get some preference since you are carrying nutrients?

A. Yes, I should. And some people are helpful too. For example, if our fruits topple over, some people help us pick them.

[Another cart owner interjects]

But some taporis (ruffians) also forcibly take our fruits and while manhandling, if the fruits fall, they don’t even pick them up.

 

Q. What do you do with fruits that don’t get sold?

A. After two-three days, we sell them in cheaper rates to chawl dwellers and hawkers who sell fruit juice.

 

Q. How do you manage life around your thelasaround monsoon and hot summer months? What about weather protection?

A. In summer months, we mostly sell mango so it’s not a problem. For our own protection, we use umbrellas. On the other hand, during monsoon we take shelter under shop roofs and cover our fruits with plastic sheets. But now with plastic ban, we’ll have to see.

 

Q. Do you know it’s possible to convert your hand thela into an electric one? If yes, are you willing to invest in something like that?

A. I didn’t know about it but if another cart owner tries and it works for him, I am happy to invest. But not on my own.

 

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the politics of cart-owners – do you have to come and take control of the space first, is there any hierarchy?

A. Where will we go if we fight with each other? No point harbouring envy. We all have an understanding towards each other and we all have our designated spots.

 

Q. Since everyone’s cart looks the same and the fruits are more or less similar – how do you advertise / market/ attract the customer? Is it about personal relationships?

A. People begin to recognize our faces and our designated spots and that’s how they become regulars at our cart. Rest all is luck.

 

Q/ How does having a cart as opposed to having a shop impact your day’s business?

A. A proper shop is definitely an advantage. People prefer buying from a shop, there is a trust factor involved. Moreover, people believe that if they don’t like the product, they can always go back and return. With a hawker, there is no such guarantee of finding him again.

 

Q. As a mode of transport, tell us a little bit about the maintenance of your cart.

A. We don’t own these carts, we rent them. So the carts are maintained by the cart-owners.

 

Q. One a lighter note, what is your favourite fruit and why do you like it.

A. Custard apple. I like the taste.

 

Q. As we conclude – tell us about our dreams, aspirations?

A. My only dream is to make sure that my parents, wife and children are happy.

 

When you are out to buy fruits and vegetables next time, support the cart over a shop or mall – it’s one of the ways of supporting the planet.

Public transport is in the favour of the planet. Public transport strike is not.

 

blog 13Question.What’s worse than a terrible nightmare? Answer.Waking up to the news of a bus, train or an auto rickshaw strike. News of this nature is always followed by panic and while we are unable to look beyond our own inconvenience on that given day, fact is – a public transport strike effects everyone in its own distinct way. From a house-help to a peon, from a young corporate worker to a retired old gentleman, from the roads to the planet – nobody escapes the repercussions of this shutdown. While it’s not new to read about such strikes in the newspaper and make eleventh hour arrangements, what’s bothersome is the current frequency of such halts. We can blame the constant occurrence on the advent of ride-sharing transport companies or the mismanagement of the government – either way the common men, women and children suffer.

In this piece, we take stock of how a bus or a train strike affects the day-to-day functionality of a city and provide suggestions that could alter the situation in the future.  Hope lives on.

 

 A Traffic Jam of Problems

  1. A strike has the potential to burden the planet: Frequent strikes create the desire in people to own their own private vehicles. This tendency poses the danger of overburdening, an already crumbling planet.

 

  1. A strike creates lack of empathy: Apublic transport strike especially affects people who live in the outskirts of the city or areas that may be affordable but not very well-connected – for example, a junior executive from Nalasopara, Mumbai who wants to reach Juhu on a day with no buses or trains on the road. Chances are, he might receive little empathy from his car-driving bosses for arriving late and if he can’t make it at all, he could also risk losing a day’s salary.

 

  1. A strike causes major inconvenience and expense:The support staff community, like the house help or the security guards of a building have the hardest time during strikes. While each neighbourhood has a network of such people and most of them live at short distances, a bus strike means that they either walk to work or spend their hard earned money on a rickshaw. A weekly strike, therefore, can either dig a hole in the support staff’s shoe or their pockets.

 

  1. A strike adversely affects health:Some people lose a day’s wage, some get screamed at by the boss for arriving late, some have to bear overcrowded trains while some are unable to make it for business meetings and sometimes, lose business. Sudden disruption in important plans are a huge cause of anxiety for people, a strike by that logic, is a recipe for ill-health

 

  1. A strike is fodder for harassment: When buses or taxis are on strike, the auto-wallahsacquire the position of privilege and hike the rates immediately. This is also the time when ride-sharing cabs bring out the surcharge.

 

A dialogue towards solution:

Before we move forward, we’d like to familiarise you with the Essential Services Maintenance Act. Interestingly, this act by the Parliament of India was established to ensure the delivery of certain essential services, which, if obstructed, affect the normal life of people. This simply means that each times a bus, train or auto rickshaw announces a strike, and a parliamentary act is being violated. Having said that, it would be futile to point fingers and perhaps constructive to offer a bunch of suggestions for future:

 

  1. The matter should be handled between the policy makers and the transport unions intelligently, without it becoming a nuisance for the common man.
  2. Since most strikes are borne out of discontent towards unfair remuneration, a transparent trajectory of compensation should be chalked out.
  3. A three to five year blueprint must be established at the very outset and followed through the period.
  4. It’s important to look at a solution-oriented and pro-active approach so that the policy makers and equipped to handle the roadblocks.

 

The implementation of these suggestions may take time but if there’s one thing we’re ready with, it’s the hash-tag against strike, towards a better country and a healthier plant.

#strikeoffstrikes.  

 

Humans are responsible for the state of the earth. Barring the exception of human-powered transport.

charl-folscher-540836-unsplashSome only survived in paintings, museums, history books and movies. While some are still conspicuous by their presence in big and small cities – part of the milieu, culture and even traffic jam. In no uncertain terms, we are referring to human-powered transport.  Of course there are valid debates that shed light on the cruelty meted out to humans that lug this nature of transport, but there are also two significant aspects that cant be denied. (a) The dignified employment it provides (b) The sustainable, pollution-free nature of this transport and its contribution in maintaining earth’s ecological balance.

Without taking any sides, today we bring you a brief history and the current status of a list of vehicles that leave only human footprint, not carbon.

 The Palanquin

A year or two ago, a groom in Bihar hired a palanquin for his wedding. His choice of using the legendary vehicle of ancient India was triggered by poor infrastructure.  The young man’s would-be-bride’s village was way too remote; the roads were narrow and not fit for modern transport.  The Bihari groom, however, is an exception. Barring stray incidents such as these, the palanquin or palki or doli remains non-existent in this day and age. Once a symbol of pride, the borderline poetic vehicle faced a rude extinction by the mid-nineteenth century. Let’s just say, the advent of rail communication, the development of roads, the influx of motorized vehicles and the rise of modern technology killed the palanquin and with that, the poetry romanticizing the ‘kahaar’or the palanquin carrier.  Let’s skim through some interesting palki facts.

  • If medieval India had wedding planners, they’d be decorating palanquins instead of expensive vintage cars. Simply put, back in the day, palanquins were used to ferry brides to the bridegroom.
  • Palanquin is also called ‘palki’ in Hindi and it derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘palanki’ i.e bed.
  • The palanquin was also a symbol of class division. Even till the mid 19thcentury, its burden was felt by the lower class and aristocrats used it as a mode of transport to go from one place to the other.
  • European traders in Bengal used it to carry their cargo from local markets. In that sense, it was also a business tool.

 

The Hand-pulled Rickshaw

One of the greatest reminders of our colonial past are the hand pulled rickshaws of Kolkata, the only city in the country that still uses this mode of transport. Physically pulled by one human (often barefoot and scantily clothed) to ferry another human to his or her desired destination – this two-wheeled cart does reek of human exploitation. While some say that this symbol of the Raj is on the brink of exit, the rickshaw pullers of the city seem quite comfortable with the status quo and are not looking forward to going off the roads. During our research, some interesting facts have come up:

  • Hand-pulled rickshaws have been around in Kolkata for over 100 years.
  • While this mode of human transport was introduced by the British to subjugate Indians before India became independent, the hand-pulled rickshaw even survived after the English exit. From being a symbol of suppression, it evolved into a mode of employment for immigrants who flocked from Bihar, Orissa and Bangladesh.
  • Kolkata has nearly 18,000 rickshaw pullers and not all of them have licences.

 

The Cycle Rickshaw

Carrying children to school in the wee hours of the morning or bringing old couples back from their vegetable shopping – the ‘cycle rickshaw waale bhaiya’ is still an important part of the north Indian life and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. They flock together, drop people to shorter distances, chat up the passengers on politics, weather, inflation and so forth. On cold winter mornings, they are often seen sipping hot ginger tea by the roadside and in hot summer afternoons, they nap under amaltas trees. Here are some interesting facts about this important mode of human transport.

  • The cycle rickshaw was introduced way back in the 1930s.
  • There are close to 1 million cycle rickshaws on India roads, carrying about 3-4 billion passengers each year.
  • Modern cycle rickshaws serve 4-5 million zero carbon trips daily.
  • They provide ease of travel to people in cities like Agra, Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bharatpur and Mathura.

Want to pull the earth out if its misery? Come forth and push the pedal.

victor-xok-799766-unsplashWhen you think of an island, you think of long stretches of the white shore; you picture sea shells strewn about, you imagine waves crashing against rocks, you dream of exotic fruits growing on trees, and yes, the big one – isolation. But not all islands offer such vistas or such space. Take the island city of Mumbai, for example. With a population touching 24 million, with 700 new vehicles hitting the roads daily, the absence of bus lines and bike lanes, unending metro construction and the newly commissioned coastal road work – Mumbai is anything but an island you’d like to be stranded on.  Or cycling through. Right?

Maybe not.

Truth be told, there are comrades out there who take to the roads on their cycles every single day. Not just adding years to their lives, but also increasing the earth’s life-span through this environmentally conscious choice.

So, who are these people pushing the pedal day after day? What motivates them? What are the risks involved, really? What does their daily trip and their long-term journey look like? Are they from another planet? Or are they just doing their quiet bit to save this planet?

In the day and age of status updates, let’s just review the status of cycling and cyclists in Mumbai city.

The cyclists of Mumbai:

Based on our research, we have divided Mumbai’s cyclists into few broad categories. And created a fictional prototype in each category to offer a better understanding.

The Expat Cyclist: Let’s just call him Mark. He is from Berlin. He works as an art curator in India. He lives in Fort and works in Nariman Point. Back home in Berlin, he would cycle to work everyday. He has carried this habit forward to India and is the only one in his workplace who cycles to work. He owns a good quality cycle; he purchased it from Bandra, complete with gears and a helmet. He follows all traffic rules and often muses about his experiences on social media. A nature lover, Mark thinks Mumbaikars are very helpful towards cyclists. Another colleague of his has been feeling inspired enough to join Mark.

The Student Cyclist: Sumedha cycles to her professional institute in Bandra every single day. She lives in Andheri. She has chosen this mode of transport for purely monetary reasons. Her daily expenses of vada-pav, stationary, books, and a little bit shopping leaves her with very little scope of conveyance money. She doesn’t wear a helmet and the cycle she rides is an old one – it’s a hand me down from her brother. She makes it to college in 30 minutes, while her other public transport friends lag behind by a good half an hour. She saves money; she saves time and a little bit of the Earth.

The Healthy Cyclist.Rahul is in his early forties. He is a Voice Over Artiste. Having done the round-the-clock drill for many years and a health scare later, he has decided to elevate his fitness levels. He rediscovered his love for cycling (something he loved during college) and invested in a nice, expensive ‘bike’ that he can now afford. Rahul’s work doesn’t require him to go to office wearing a corporate suit and so he hops from one studio to other in Khar on his cycle. It keeps him fit. He has been seeing a major change in his health.

The Activist Cyclist:Rhea graduated from Boston, moved back to India, took up a corporate job, quit in six months, trained in Ashtanga Yoga, become a yoga teacher and began a small NGO that works towards making Mumbai greener. All of 23, Rhea celebrated her last birthday by using crowd-sourced funds to plant 1000 trees on the outskirts of Mumbai. Rhea cycles everywhere purely because she wants to do her bit for the planet.

Although demographically apart, each of these categories at some point converge, – either at a flash-mob, or in a night biking tour; or for that matter, over the weekend – cycling through the city.

Their main struggles:

  • Poor roads: Meant nothing like a compliment, Mumbai sometimes feels like the moon. Bumpy, full of craters. The roads through the city have been operated upon and not all of them are stitched back yet. Add to that, potholes punctuate the city. As a cyclist on the way to work or even on a leisure ride, this road condition is a highly risky proposition.
  • Unsupportive weather: Coastal Mumbai gets unbearably humid in the summer months and receives copious amounts of rain during monsoon. Landing up at a meeting with sweat patches in the summer and mud-stained pants when it rains is a huge drawback.
  • Unsafe parking: The lack of secure bike storage is also a consideration. Existing bikers are scared of theft and new bikers feel discouraged due to this reason.

 Hope in the future:

The biggest and the most important step is to keep the narrative going. To shed light on the negatives and highlight the positive. To speak up. To write. To publicize. To use the power of social media for attracting attention. To keep riding the path until the government and the concerned authorities are forced to notice the ignored cyclist on the road.  Better roads, designated cycling lanes, safe parking, shower facilities at office and more than everything, an understanding that the road doesn’t just belong to the four-wheeler.

Join the wave:

You can take your first step by signing up for a night cycling tour . That apart, you can also search online for cycling to work groups, cycling on weekend groups, cycling workout groups and if you are the sort who enjoys a good look at the filmistars – you can head to bandstand and stalk your favourite celebrity on two wheels – many of them come there and peddle their way into Arabian sea sunsets.

Move over self- improvement. Let’s roll our sleeves and improve the planet.

shotinraww-267307-unsplashA day without posting on social media. A week’s dinner minus carbohydrates. A phone-less weekend. A TV-free month. Giving up the everyday elevator to take the stairs. Switching from 11am lattes to 11am coconut water. Trading three hours of the internet for three hours of a good paperback.

Let’s just say, the new breed is all about self-improvement.

What’s important to remember is that two steps ahead of self-improvement lies the improvement of your surrounding. Of the neighbourhood, of the streets you take to work everyday, of the city you live in, of the country, and above all, of the planet. While self-improvement can come from giving up TV or coffee, you can take a small step towards planet-improvement by giving up something that’s toxic for the planet.

No big steps, maybe your car, just for a day.

You might say, it’s easier said than done. And so, we decided to walk the talk and send one of our enthusiastic volunteers from Mumbai to Delhi for a meeting, and back – only through public transport. He jotted down his experience for our readers.

Here’s what he had to say:

“So the day had come. I left my car keys home, picked up my laptop bag and set off for my first bunch of meetings in Mumbai. I was excited at the prospect of travelling by public transport, through and through. Having said that, I realised how bizarre my excitement was – I mean, I had taken public transport for so many years during my college and initial days of working, how come it was suddenly a novelty for me? Outstation trips were no exceptions in the first few years of my career. My parents did the same as upper middle class professionals. It was odd to do this as an experiment. Nevertheless, I tried to cap my over thinking tendencies and put on my observational hat. I was set.

It was a nice breezy January-end morning. I walked to the Metro station close by and within the first few minutes of starting the experiment, I had a truly novel experience – I noticed the trees in bloom. I also spotted my favourite tree, Taman – called the pride of Maharashtra. Thing is, I was so used to sitting with my face dug in my phone during the car drive, I hadn’t noticed the changing seasons in years. I was already happy with my experience. I then took a metro to DN Nagar, hopped in to an auto for a lunch meeting at Prithvi, hailed in a cab with two colleagues for Bhavans college for a short workshop. After that, I walked to Azad Nagar; took metro to Ghatkopar, took central railway (first class coach) and got off at Mulund to take an auto home. So apparently, this trip cycle is common to 5 million passengers everyday. I was amazed to know that. The best part about using the train was that it exposed me to McDonalds, which was a change from my everyday Starbucks. A meal at McDonalds cost me 150 whereas I was so used to spending on Starbucks, a whopping 475 for a coffee and croissant. I, of course, didn’t to my usual business calls but listened to music and watched people around me. It was interesting to imagine people around work – stockbrokers, bankers, government staff, students.

After reaching home, I picked my stroller and left for the airport. I took an auto and enjoyed the wind-chill. And yes, also the bumpy roads. The entire city is dug up and so that took away from the charm of this experience. Having said that, I made the most of it, chatting with the autowallah who told me he was from Rajasthan and had just quit a job and bought an auto. He told me that he now makes more money (nearly 45k) and prefers this to working at the ‘Seth’s’ house. A ride to the airport also turned out a lesson in entrepreneurship, ha!

The flight was good and on the other side of Bombay, lay the Delhi winter and the Delhi public transport. I took the taxi from airport to my hotel in Janpath. Next morning, my meeting was in Old Delhi, and so I took the famed Delhi metro. I decided to walk to the metro in the morning, and took in the joys of Delhi winter. Once I reached old Delhi, I hopped into the cycle rickshaw (pollution free and environment friendly transport option) to my meeting. Thanks to not having a car, and thanks to being in a rickshaw, I maneuvered through the tiny lanes of Old Delhi with ease. I also enjoyed the culture and energy of his historic area. Post my meeting; the same rickshaw dropped me to the metro. I walked to the hotel from the metro station and then, took a taxi to the airport.

I finally landed in Mumbai, and decided to take a bus home.  Guess what, I got the window seat. Small thrills, eh! By the time I reached home, I was tired. But there was a deep sense of achievement about successfully completing the experiment. I had reconnected with nature, I had saved some money, I had discovered new things about my country and its people, but most importantly, I had helped improve the planet – even if that meant, just a wee bit.

The tea that evening tasted sweeter.”

There are many factors that make for a healthier environment. Art is one of them.

december artChampions of the environment and lovers of global warming documentaries are thoroughly aware of Earth’s ailing health. Not just environmental activists but even the average person on the road has a bad feeling about the planet. In far off lands, ‘melting of glaciers’ and ‘erratic weather’ closer to home – let’s just say, the signs of doom are many.

The country has woken up. Rock-solid steps are being taken. By individuals, by societies, and by the government. From attempts to eradicate plastic by banning it in most major cities, tree-planting schemes, the whole narrative around carbon foot-print, environmental awareness in schools and colleges, the mushrooming of farmers’ markets, cleanliness drives, natural products on the shelf to more niche initiatives like upcycle beer made from dairy waste.

The question, however, is –how can we push the envelope? Are there any less obvious but equally impactful ideas to heal the environment? One such idea, in our opinion, is the beautification of public transport.

Truth be told, converting buses from petrol to CNG may have made them more environment friendly but that has not made car owners ditch their four-wheelers for a bus-ride. We believe that a real conversion can be brought about by elevating mundane public transport to pieces of art.

(a) By making buses and trains an attractive and engaging option for the weary commuter.

(b)By understanding the importance of embellishment and allocating appropriate budgets for the same.

(c) By instilling a sense of pride in the commuter and making his ride ‘sharable’ on social networks.

To make our point, we have handpicked examples of how art and design has elevated the status of public transport across the world.

  1. Japan’s quirky fruit shaped bus stops: If you have a penchant for all things fruity, from ice creams to cosmetics, Japanese town Konagai’s fruit shaped bus stops will fascinate you instantly. Strawberries, tomatoes, and green-apples – they are built-in all kinds of shapes, seasonal or non-seasonal. Created for multiple reasons, one of them being to encourage the transit system, these bus stops have also ended up becoming tourist attractions. Now tell us, if you had an apple bus-stop closer to home, wouldn’t you give your car a day off and bite into one of these?

 

  1. Vancouver’s relaxed campsite like bus-stops: Mini-breaks on a hammock in the middle of a hard day is everybody’s dream.  But in Vancouver, it’s also an integral part of how people get from one part of the city to the other. The city of snow-capped mountains and crystal clear seas is also known for bus stops with hammocks and a camp-like vibe. While this idea might be impractical for a chaotic country like India, it definitely serves as an example of how art and design can be used to attract commuters.

 

  1. Thailand’s ostentatious bus body designs: Aumphur Muang in Thailand is home to artists and mechanics that transform buses into canvases with their bold designs. Recently the creative folks painted an entire series of superheroes on the body of the buses. Their designs are eye-catching and make a statement as they whiz past the streets. With no dearth of artists or superhero fans in India, this would be a terrific idea to take forward. Imagine going to work with batman on one day, and superman on the other. If cheap thrills can save the earth, then why not!

Artistes, designers, and countrymen: any thought starters?