CHENNAI: Students of Rajalakshmi Institutions, clad in white, faced unusually heavy traffic on a Sunday morning on New Avadi Road, as they marched with banners to promote a cleaner environment and a healthier India.
Issues regarding environment have increasingly come to the fore after the introduction of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and to encourage the students, M B Nirmal, president of ExNoRa, opened the rally and shared his experiences.
Calling himself a ‘chronic optimist’, Nirmal spoke of the circumstances that made him take the step to change his surroundings.
From owning acres of land he was reduced to being able to afford only a plot in a slum area, and his family was surrounded by filth and open defecation. “That is when I decided to change the surroundings, not by banishing the slums but by making them a part of the movement,” he said.
A change in mindset can be made in small ways without too much expenditure. When he built toilets, people wanted more of them, which he could not build. “Instead, I provided them with seats, newspapers and a radio outside the toilet to help ease their waiting time. Children were scared of the toilets, so I built a separate semi-open ‘toylet’ for them with rocking horses,” he said.
Gradually the movement picked up and Nirmal won awards, even from the United Nations. His house is a mini tourist spot with ecological examples.
Calling the India of the past a waste-less society, he encouraged students to learn from the older generation. “Your grandmothers cleaned the outside of their homes and made kolams with rice flour that would keep the ants out, gave leftover vegetables to the cows, and used the manure from the same cows for cleaning and as fuel. They were more organic than us,” he said.