On the 13th of January, 2020 as I boarded my train to Bandra for my first day as a volunteer with Jhatkaa.org, I was both excited as well as slightly skeptical. Jhatkaa.org along with Waatavaran Foundation were setting up an installation in the shape of human lungs outside National College. Having spent a major portion of my third year researching climate change, I looked forward to personally engaging with an organization that actively works towards addressing these concerns. However, a small part of me questioned the actual impact that such an installation would have on addressing the larger issue of air pollution. I wondered what impact a giant pair of lungs could have, more importantly, I wondered what change it could bring.
Not willing to let this skepticism get the better of me, I decided to make time post lectures, head to the installation and engage with anyone who took a second glance at the installation. Thus, I found myself standing outside National College on any day that I could make it, trying to have a discussion on air pollution in Mumbai with the few people whose attention I managed to hold for ten minutes. While most of my interactions ended with “Yeh sab government ko dikhana chahiye, yahan lagane se kuch nahin hoga” or with a blanket optimism about the ability of the land and sea breeze to magically clean the air in Mumbai, as I spent more time at that signal staring at the billboard, watching it steadily change colors from a bright white to a dull gray, I came to see the logic behind what this installation hoped achieved.
It dawned on me that my approach towards environmentalism was based on reaching an immediate solution. While reaching a solution is imperative, I realized that it is equally important to understand all of the intricate layers contributing to the issue. There is a pressing need to view the entire spectrum of contributors, only then can long term solutions be adopted to address the issue at multiple levels. Thus, there are certain precursors to the implementation of solutions in order to ensure that they are long term as well as implemented efficiently.
From my time with Jhatkaa.org I realized that generating awareness is a primary precursor to the efficient implementation of solutions. In current times where there is an overwhelming amount of information about climate change and its impact, it is crucial to convey this information in a manner that does not generate panic. The lung installation achieved just this, it was a physical representation of the impact that air pollution has on human life, stirring in people the need to engage in discussions on the current environmental conditions. These discussions enable us to identify areas where we as individuals could take steps to cut down on our contribution to the air pollution in Mumbai and to actively work towards solutions.
So to answer the question that I initially experienced, yes, the lung installation did indeed have an impact. It achieved what it set out to achieve, it was a starting point to address the larger issue of air pollution in Mumbai, the first step among many to draw attention and spread awareness devoid of panic. It marks the beginning of a journey to a better future and I hope to be a part of it seeing it through till the end.
Chris Teresa Varghese