September 7, 2009, was a whirlwind week for Imran Khan. First, he got "engaged to get engaged" to long-time girlfriend Avantika Malik. In his weekly column for HT Café, Bollywood’s poster boy wrote: "We haven’t done the ceremony, and I haven’t got a ring yet, but you know, I’ve managed to confirm that she likes me and is amenable to the idea of getting married to me. Took seven years to verify that, but time well spent!"
That week he also pledged his support to the Gaia Conservation Foundation (GCF) whose stated mission is: ‘To get every man, woman and child to plant a tree.’ GCF is a non-profit NGO formed by Romil Parikh, Agastya Chopra, Vikram Gupta and Manish Dayal, passionate conservationists committed to solving the climate crisis.
Imran was approached by his friend, Romil Parikh, as a celebrity face to help get press and publicity for a concert featuring bands like Something Relevant and Jalebee Cartel. It was to be hosted by GCF at the Blue Frog on September 11, and the proceeds were to go towards the reforestation of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
“The project immediately sparked off my interest since I feel really strongly about environmental issues,” says the actor, long-distance from Mauritius, where he’s shooting for Kunal Kohli’s Break Ke Baad.
Where have the trees gone?
Having grown up in South India where he went to a boarding school located in a jungle, before migrating abroad, Imran was used to climbing up trees, falling off them, and spotting wild life that flourished in the dense outgrowth around. He rues the fact that Mumbai has so few green pockets left.
“The few trees remaining are either falling down in the monsoon, or being cut down for no good reason,” he grouses, which is perhaps why GCF’s efforts towards the total eco-restoration of parks struck a chord.
The NGO has tied up with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and its first project is Sanjay Gandhi National Park, home to more than 1,000 species of trees and plants, and over 500 species of birds, reptiles, insects and mammals. The park is fast falling victim to encroachment, illegal development and haphazard waste disposal. GCF plans to plant over 1,00,000 trees here.
It has also joined hands with Indiamco for the eco-restoration of 3.5 acres of land at Chanvi, Khopoli, using only plants and trees that are native to the area to provide critical green cover for merging the land with the surrounding forest.
That week, last year, Imran also signed up on Twitter and since then, has been following the group and promoting its cause on Facebook and Twitter. He points out that larger cities like Mumbai have developed what is known as ‘urban heat island’.
The heat is on
“This is the result of bulldozing acres of land and replacing the natural grass, trees and shrubbery with tar and cement, thereby building pockets of heat that ups the temperature within the city while making surrounding areas cooler. This weird dichotomy messes with the ecological balance, leading to shorter winters, hotter summers and erratic monsoons,” Imran informs knowledgeably.
You wonder if this new-found knowledge came from his association with GCF and Imran says, “No, I’ve always been concerned about such issues and have always tried to do my bit, on a smaller scale, within the confines of my home.”
‘Solar heaters for my eco-friendly home’
I’m currently in the process of renovating my house, trying to make it as eco-friendly as possible. I’ve switched to solar power for hot water geysers to start with. Geysers are the biggest energy guzzlers in modern times, along with air-conditioners and refrigerators. Once you switch over to solars, your electricity bills get slashed too and you end up saving power and money.
I’ve also installed a rainwater harvesting system. It’s however not something that you can promote on a mass level because it’s a complex process that requires considerable investment. But if you can install one in your society, you’re assured of water 24x7, 12 months a year.
‘I plan to build a home for rescued animals’
I have three rescued animals at home — a dog and two cats. But I’m fast running out of space. That is why I’m planning to build an animal shelter that will be on call 24x7.
I’ve already purchased land in Alibaug and am now drawing up plans with my architects for the shelter. Its doors will be open to any homeless animal, whether it’s a bird with a damaged wing or an endangered deer.
‘New Zealanders take pride in their pastures’
I’ve been shooting in Queensland, New Zealand, for my soon-to-release movie, I Hate Luv Storys, and it was heartwarming to see the kind of pride New Zealanders take in maintaining their land, in particular their pastures. Indians don’t have the same commitment. I guess, it’s just not been inculcated in us yet. We don’t think twice about rolling down the windows of our cars and throwing garbage out.
This kind of indiscriminate littering just shows that the majority of us are not educated in conservation. A few are, but it’s not a priority for them. We just don’t care enough. That’s perhaps one reason that our lush, virgin countryside is fast depleting while New Zealand’s picture postcard beauty remains intact.
We not only do nothing to conserve our environment, we actually, actively participate in destroying it. If we just stop doing that, it would be a major step forward.
Imran-Abhay’s Gold Bins
On April 1, Imran Khan tweeted: “Hi all, Earth-the place where we’re living. & this place is now very polluted. So we’ve to save our earth. In this Earth Day our aim should be SAVE CLIMATE SAVE EARTH.”
Later in the month, another Bollywood star, Abhay Deol, became the official brand ambassador of The Climate Project — India. He started with his kitchen, segregating dry and wet wastes into two separate garbage bins, to help with the recycling process. Imran joined hands with him and was presented with a Gold Bin.
The Climate Project is an international non-profit organisation founded by Nobel Laureate Al Gore in June, 2006, and is dedicated to drawing attention to global problems associated with climate change. The Climate Project — India (TCP-India) was established in March, 2008, with the help of Gore and Dr RK Pachauri.
It is supported by over 800 volunteers across the country and as part of its ‘Teachers Training Program’ proposes to train teachers in every single government and private schools in Delhi on climate change and its impacts before the Commonwealth Games 2010.
Beware of the Asian Brown Cloud
Responsible for 10 million deaths in the subcontinent Not many are aware that a brown haze hangs over South, East and South-East Asian countries. The Asian Brown Cloud, as it is called, is concentrated three kilometers above the surface and can travel halfway around the globe in less than a week.
Seventy-five per cent of this cloud is manmade and caused by indiscriminate forest fires, inefficient cooking fuels, fume-emitting factories, motor vehicles and unchecked pollution.
“It hangs almost permanently over India, Pakistan and Afghanistan because these countries are the worst offenders, and is responsible for 10 million deaths in the subcontinent every year,” informs Imran Khan.
The first comprehensive report on the environmental impact of the haze was released by UNEP and the Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate (C4) in August 2002. Largely based on the studies of the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) and its team of 200 scientists, it summarised the effects of the Asian Brown Cloud on regional temperatures, rainfall, agriculture and health.
“Even though definitive conclusions cannot be drawn yet, I would think that it’s one of the reasons for delayed and inadequate monsoons in the state over the last few years, due to reduced solar radiation and sea evaporation,” says Imran.
He adds, “In certain parts, during certain periods, there are flash floods and acid rain. All this can lead to crop damage and drop in agricultural productivity, as also respiratory diseases.”