I was attending a cocktail party at a triplex apartment in one of the tall buildings on the Carmichael Road, in south Mumbai.
Someone said that a famous Environmentalist was attending the party. I looked around for someone in organic cotton Tee shirt or a Khadi sling bag first, but couldn’t locate one. Since many famous environmental NGOs are now “rich and corporatized”, I looked for someone wearing an expensive “designer” saree, with large size Prada spectacles with a gold plated chain. Couldn’t find such a woman either. Most people in the party looked normal. The environmentalist must be in disguise I said to myself.
Are you the Environmentalist? a lady asked me with glass of wine in her hand with diamond studded rings. You must be Mr. Bittu Sehgal, Perhaps this was the only name she had heard in the parties. No Ma’am, I said, Bittu treks in the Sanctuaries and does not attend cocktail parties, I am an Environmental Consultant”. Oh, then you must be making lots of money she said. Now a days I hear that consultants in the environmental field are in heavy demand because everybody wants speedy environmental clearances”. You are partly right and partly wrong Ma’am, I explained while sampling a chicken tikka. It is true that Environmental Consultants are in heavy demand and are sought to get speedy environmental clearance but then they do not make much money. There is just too much competition and most of the money goes to those who grant the environmental clearance. The lady was convinced.
A stern looking guy, dressed in an Oxford suit walked across to me. “So you are that Guy, someone told me that there is an environmental activist amongst us. You must be the one since you are the only one not having any drinks. Are you Rishi Agarwal? I said no. Rishi Agarwal does not attend such cocktail dinners. He is in Aarey Milk Colony just now organizing a protest to oppose the Regional Development Plan of Mumbai. Its all crappy the newspapers say”. That’s the problem, the Man said. You activists simply stall development of this city just for the sake of opposition. You never take a holistic and long term view on the development. Good that the present Government understands this perspective ” The Man was bitter and angry. He went to the bar to refill his shot of Glenfiddich.
In order that I am not labelled again as an environmental activist, I asked the waiter to get me a large Mojito “Sir, this person who spoke to you just now is one of the powerful builders of Mumbai who wants to develop a mega housing complex in the Aarey Milk Colony” the waiter whispered. “Oh I see” I said while sipping the Mojito and sampling a mini pizza. I was relived that I did not live around Aarey colony.
I moved towards the balcony as there were fewer people there. I thought of drinking in peace. A woman with a large chain of beads followed me. She was smoking a perfumed cigarette. You must be Rufus David. I said No, Rufus is with Green Peace who raises funds for their activities. I work as a consultant to the World Bank on environment”. Oh dear, how exciting she said. You must be globe trotting and visiting places. My daughter wants to take on such a career. Can you give her some guidance and some leads? Please connect me with some international Environmental NGO where she could do some four weeks internship. She is keen to show on her CV some NGO type activities – like sanitation survey in Mumbai slums or be a part of tree hugging campaign to save trees. Wouldn’t that help?” She was right I thought. I gave her my visiting card. Ask her to contact me I said finishing my mini pizza.
There was a discussion going on one of the roundtables. It was about cutting two trees that were bang at the center of the Veer Savarkar Marg in front of the Catering College in Shivaji Park. There was a divided opinion – some were of the view that the trees should be cut as there were accidents, especially at night when people (mostly from film industry) would drive drunk from the pubs in Bandra. Some were dead against the proposition of cutting as the trees were 80 years old. When they saw me, Man with rum and coke said “You must be Professor Sharad Chaphekar who counts trees in Mumbai”. No I said you got me wrong. “Professor Chaphekar does not attend cocktail parties. He is busy right now updating his book on Mumbai’s tree inventory, I am Professor at IIT Bombay and I teach subject on Ecology and Environment” Oh then you must give us your opinion”.
I said “Both of you are equally right and equally wrong”
The Man did not like that answer. He wanted a solution. “You professors never say anything clear and concrete. You just blurb” He said. “Why don’t we dig a tunnel as an underpass to save the trees? The tunnel will also avoid the accidents. We are going to build several tunnels in Mumbai anyways – so another one!”. Man with gin and tonic said. I asked “by the way what kind of trees are they? And don’t you think that the tunnel will cost hell of money. Besides we will have to keep the tunnel illuminated whole night.”. There was a silence – “Does this matter?” The Woman with margarita with a straw asked in an angry tone. “You are too academic to ask such a (stupid) question.
I decided to help myself and grab some cocktail samosas and paneer mirch from the bar counter. “Sir, are you from Delhi? Then you must be ABC of IICA” Man sitting on the bar stool having a large brandy on the rocks said.
“I am sorry I am not A B Chakraborty of IICA I said. ABC is busy conducting training programs for environmental NGOs on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). He travels all over the country looking for trainees (that is hard to get) and he has no time to attend such cocktail parties” I work as a Chief Sustainability Officer for a Corporate in Mumbai I said.
Oh then you are the right person I should be talking to. The Man said. I run an Environmental NGO in Mumbai who specializes in CSR. We help corporates implement the CSR projects, ensure that moneys get spent in time – irrespective whether the projects make any difference or not. We do nice photography however and record video clips of interviews of the community representatives (who say how happy they are) and write a good story. We have worked with several Corporates by now and have ready templates of reports you can chose from. We hold a great picture library of photos taken across the country (people with large eyes, people with chinky eye etc). This option is there if you are in a hurry and want to be cost-effective. I can come to your office with a presentation and show you some of our “CSR resources”.
I looked at the Man carefully. He hardly looked like an environmental NGO and appeared to me more like a businessman. “So he is the Environmental NGO in disguise – I said to myself. A new breed indeed! Someone, who I would have totally missed.
“Sir, I attend such Cocktail parties on a regular basis. It’s more like a client meet for me”
The Man was certainly frank and a bit high in the spirits. He asked the bar man for a third round of large brandy on the rocks. That explained.
I left the party half way with a vow not to attend the next one.