Saturday, March 3, 2018

Turtle Walk in Chennai

When news that the olive ridley turtles had started to nest in the beaches of Chennai reached us, at the beginning of last week, we quickly put together a plan for our visit. Tickets were booked and calls were made to our friends at The School for a place to rest, Tholkappia Poonga for a visit and to our friends at SSTCN (Chennai Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network) for the overnight walk to watch the nesting. We set off on a Friday morning reaching Chennai by noon. After a quick lunch, we visited the Tholkappia Poonga.

Tholkappia Poonga is an ecological park in the Adyar estuary area. It is an amazing example of restoration of freshwater eco-systems in the heart of a city! We were introduced to the history, the restoration process and the flora and fauna found in the park by Mrs.Gomati. Her energy, passion for ecological restoration, and determination to carry forward the good work shone through in her interactions with us. We recommend it as a must see place for people visiting Chennai.



Our next stop was The School. The intention was to play a little, rest, eat dinner and be ready for the turtle walk at 10.00 PM. The sight of the empty grounds at the school was a shot in the arm and the children played football and Frisbee with an energy that belied the tiredness brought about by the long day. We were then treated to an excellent dinner. The affection and care of our lovely hosts gave us a fresh lease of life. We would need it for the night walk.

We received news that an olive ridley turtle was spotted nesting in the Besant Nagar beach. We rushed towards the beach and reached just in time to watch the turtle finish her nesting. She did a little dance to cover up the nest with sand before heading off into the sea. That would be our only sighting of a live nesting for the night. 

The turtle walk starts at the Neelankarai beach and we reached there by 11.30PM. There was a live Q&A session on everything around turtles with Akila and Harish, volunteers at SSTCN. Once again, their dedication and passion towards the conservation of these lovely creatures shone through in their conversations with us. Finally, we set off on the walk, along the beach, mostly on the water’s edge at about 1.00AM. For the next few hours, we were witness to:  the bright lights that dot the city landscape causing untold misery to the turtles, dead olive ridley turtles and large fishes (they get caught in fishing trawlers) washed ashore and the untiring efforts of the SSTCN volunteers in finding nests and recovering the eggs to be relocated to safe havens, i.e., hatcheries. Around 10,000 eggs were recovered that night. Happy at having been a part of a movement that is fighting a battle for these fragile beings’ survival, we completed our walk and headed out to the Chennai railway station.

You can read about SSTCN and their work here: https://sstcn.org/

Friday, March 2, 2018

Celebrating Holi at an Art Museum


Some of us spent Holi at National Gallery of Modern Art yesterday. We had gone to see the exhibition by Balan Nambiar. The exhibition had drawings in Indian ink, charcoal, pastels and paintings in watercolour and oils. On display were also his indoor and outdoor sculptures in bronze, mild steel and stainless steel.

Being welcomed by the magnificent trees at NGMA, one was immediately touched by to a sense of quiet and beauty. Everything seemed like 'art' in this atmosphere.

Enthusiastically we wandered into the large mansion that housed the works of Balan Nambiar. The works created a pause and questions. A game started between the children to see how quickly they could find his name on the work. Then there was also reading the little label to his work and placing it in the timeline that makes most sense to them. 

'He did this before I was born!'
'I was 1 year old when he made this'
'Hey! I was born when he made this!'
'My mother was born, when he made this!'

After initially wandering through the museum and getting a feel of the work, the children scattered in the space to draw some of the work by the artist in their journals.















Looking at his art work closely, we noticed new things we hadn't noticed in our first looking.



We had had our fill and decided to go upstairs to see the regular collection. Just then, the artist walked into the space.... and there was a buzz of excitement and wonder that filled us. The artist was a real person! 


Balan Nambiar, met each of the children, autographed their journals and even looked into their journals and was delighted by their interpretations of his work.

After this unplanned and beautiful interaction we had some delicious lunch at the Cafe. Rohit, a friend arranged a most delicious meal for us. 

After lunch we made our way itno the Museum shop and a new learning moment opened up for us!
We helped the 'uncle' at the counter segregate 'visitor-buttons' and had our data on the kind of visitors that came in the month of February for the exhibition by Balan Nambiar.