CHENNAI: Calm amid the chaos. If there was a place that is a perfect testimony to this statement, it has to be Karanai Puducherry, located just three kilometres away from the bustling Urapakkam. A cool breeze welcomes you to the main road, which is covered by a canopy of trees. Children play on a large ground without the fear of vehicles zipping past, and a group of volunteers sits by the side of the lake, clearing plastic bottles.
Three years ago, the place looked nothing like this, say locals. The change was possible because of one man - K Karthick - who realised the power of self-responsibility. “During the Jallikattu protests, we could not travel till Marina. So, we were holding the strike in the village; most residents took part in it. Once the protest was over, at around 7 pm, there was garbage everywhere — banners, pamphlets, water bottles and cups. So, I gathered five men and cleaned the garbage every night and protested in the morning. That was where it all started,” said 29-year-old Karthick.
After finishing his under graduation in English Literature in Dharmapuri, Karthick was working as a part-time manager in a marriage hall nearby. Following the protest, he felt the need to spread awareness of litter prevention. “I can clear litter every night, but that is not how it is supposed to be. One problem must be solved so that I can begin with another. So, I held the first meeting on litter education in my village with about 30 youngsters, and within six months, Karanai Puducherry was spick and span,” he said.
In 2017, Karthick went on to pursue LLB in a college at Selaiyur. His packed schedule did not stop him from his philanthropic duties. His efforts attracted more office-goers and students in the area. “The summer of 2017 was brutal. Vardah had uprooted many trees, so the heat waves were harsher. Again, I gathered a group of volunteers and this time, I also asked for some money to buy trees. Having worked in the village for a year already, everyone was in high spirits and we bought about 500 saplings and planted them in parks, open grounds, on either side of the roads and in temples. About 250 of them survived and 100 are fully grown. They are all native varieties,” he said.
Volunteers water the trees over the weekends. By the end of 2018, there was no space left for Karthick to plant more trees. “There was a long-time demand for a playground and I too wanted more space to plant trees. So, we adopted about 0.7 acres of land near a cemetery in the village, crowdfunded `15,000 to clear the weeds and garbage, and by February 2019, we had a volleyball court and an open ground with proper compound walls for kids to play. The former Panchayat president, Anita Elavarasan, helped us procure JCB for cleaning the lake,” he said.
Karthick has now shifted his focus towards cleaning the lake in his area which supplies water to the whole village. Weeds, hospital waste and household garbage dumped at the lake have been cleared in three weeks. “The water problem is getting worse by the day. It has been seven days since we got any water. If the lake was clean during the last monsoon, we could have had water at least for a couple of months. The work will be completed within two months,’ he said.
Karthick believes all it takes for the well-being of a village or a city is self-responsibility. “Whether it is a place of 300 houses or 3,000, somebody must begin the change and all will follow,” he said.