Hey! you joining?” Russian tourist Nikita Batischev walks behind every foreign and native tourist who have come to enjoy the beauty of Varkala beach in Kerala on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
There are a lot of things to do here: para-gliding, enjoying the sea breeze or sight-seeing to while away the time. None of the visitors show any interest in Batischev, who holds a gunny bag. With her are Liza Po, Evgeniya and Inessa, who pick up litter and garbage as part of their Clean Varkala Project. This is their fifth effort after the drive was launched in January last year to get rid of garbage on Varkala beach, a major tourist destination.
“India inspires us in many aspects,” says Batischev. “We have learned that the world can only be changed by changing ourselves. We are at the beginning of ‘seva’. A lot of foreign tourists were with us on the first day of the drive, but we are now connecting with local people because once we leave, they can be exemplars of change.”
Po came to Kerala for the first time in 2010 and was enthralled by the place and the people’s hospitality. She kept coming back to God’s Own Country. Her part in this initiative is to give back to India. “The country is like a second home to me,” she says. “If a person consumes something and drops garbage on the road, they should think who will pick it up after them? Nobody will. Everything we do has a consequence. This is not only about cleaning up garbage, it is about purifying our mind as well.”
The garbage sacks and boxes are taken to a nearby cliff from where municipality workers take them away in their vehicles. There is a donation box on a bench, but it doesn’t bring them much funding. Most often, volunteers bring materials. Batischev and her team collect empty cardboard boxes from shops to store waste.
“Burning is used to eliminate garbage,” says Po. “But it is not solving the problem as residue is produced again. We suggest segregating and recycling as the best ways. We should make it a habit not to buy things in plastic carry bags and use paper packets.”
Batischev chips in with details of an incinerator gifted to him. “Here you can put everything that won’t decompose,” he says. “We can use this machinery to make the place clean and healthy.” However, he wonders whether the incinerator will cause environmental pollution.