The monsoon rain pours down, washing away the dust on the trees flanking the Chaliyar river in north Kerala. Kaushiq Kodithodi is unmindful of the downpour as he paddles the two-seater kayak towards the middle of the river. At a distance there is an empty beer bottle, bobbing up and down in the water. “Pick it up,” says Kodithodi. I do, and place it in the kayak.
A little ahead is a woman’s slipper followed by an empty plastic brandy bottle. A bottle cap and a large blue packet also float by. I reach out for them and recoil at the stench of rotting food, but 44-year-old Kaushiq has no hesitation in picking them up.
“In 10 minutes you can collect one kilo of waste,” he says. “But the Chaliyar is a less dirty river. In rivers near major cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, the pollution is alarming. Most of the 44 rivers in the state have become garbage dumps.”
This environmental degradation prompted Kaushiq to start the Jellyfish Project three years ago with his wife Ruby. “We want to create awareness to avoid throwing waste into the waters,” says 39-year-old Ruby. “We are also focusing on schoolchildren so that the next generation will be sensitised about the issue.”
The couple held a Catch of The Day programme recently at Cheruvannur near Kozhikode. The ‘catch’ was garbage collected by some boys.
The waste that is collected will be recycled. “We are working with waste management expert Dr Reena Anilkumar,” says Kaushiq.
The couple also wants to promote kayaking among children. “It is the easiest and safest way to explore rivers and is a far better hobby than watching TV or playing video games,” says Ruby.
Kaushiq got interested in kayaking when he visited Miami in the US in 2006 and saw people rowing down rivers in the tiny boats. “I bought my first kayak in 2004,” he says. “The minimum length of a kayak is four feet, but it can go up to 20 feet. A good-quality recreational kayak costs `70,000. The most-expensive kayak we have is an 18-feet Swedish one, which costs around `5 lakh.”
Every month, the Dubai-based financial consultant visits Cheruvannur to keep the Jellyfish project moving forward with a team of hired staff.
They organised a two-day Chaliyar River Challenge 2016 in collaboration with the District Tourism Promotion Council and the Clean Rivers Initiative Trust on September 23. More than a hundred people participated in the event that started from Nilambur town and concluded 62 km away at Beypore. Participants collected waste from the river.
“Apart from this, street plays and musical programmes were also organised to create awareness among the people,” Kaushiq says. “Through this project I want to do my bit for the state and the country.”