issue 7 : folklore & fairytales
A tale about tenacity. Inspired by a true story.
Once Upon A Time,
in the north western corner of a distant, exotic land, lay the kingdom of Versova.
By 2015, the beach was so over run rotting garbage, most of it plastic, that it sat 5.5 feet above the sand.
A kingdom of colour and spices and beaches, hugged by the Arabian Sea. For centuries the Sea fed, nourished and supported the people of Versova, and the kingdoms that lay beyond it. The Sea and the people lived in harmony. But humans being humans, they grew greedy and felt superior.
They stopped honouring the Sea.
For every fish that Sea offered in sacrifice to the land, the land dwellers only returned trash.
Eventually, the Sea got tired, and it in turn began returning the trash to the land. The trash slowly began building up on the beaches.
Piece by piece.
The land dwellers did not notice at first, because they were arrogant beings. But slow and steady and as constant as the tide, the Sea returned the trash. Eventually, the beaches were knee deep in rubbish. The Sea made it clear that it not want man to enter is sacred waters. It would curse man by never letting man unsee plastic. It would build a wall and would make its water unbearable for humans.
But still, man persisted. As they continued to destroy their own kingdom, the waste and destruction continued to seep into the kingdom of the fishes.
For Mother Nature designed the Sea and the Land to be lovers.
Versova is an affluent neighbourhood in north western Mumbai, India.
While this fable portrays a young woman as its protagonist, it was in fact a young male lawyer, and environmentalist, named Afroz Shah who started the Versova Residents Volunteers.
Not every human was blind to what was happening though. A beautiful young woman, with a wise soul would stand at the space where there was once sand and she would long, with every ounce of her being.
She longed for the memories of her childhood. She longed for the turtles to return and the Sea to offer her its friendship again. As she stood their staring out at the Sea in yearning, feeling overwhelmed with fear that her children might never know the Sea like she once did. They would never be able to dance and feel the soft sand between their toes and and feel the water lap their ankles while the setting sun only emblazoned every hue the Sky and Sea had to offer.
She began to cry. She couldn’t stop.
Day turned into night…
But the tears kept coming.
An old man had seen her crying He didn’t have to ask why she was crying. He knew. For he too remembered how it used to be.
He walked over and stood beside her and said,
The young woman looked to him, startled.
Together with his elderly neighbour, Harbansh Mathur, they inspired their community to take action and clean up in the beaches of versova.
It took a few moments for the young woman to catch her breath and compose her thoughts. Her tears dried, but they too now contained plastic. They too remained on her face, encrusted, shimmering reminders of the curse of Man.
He went on…
She gasped in despair, for she knew he was right. She knew that she was an accomplice to the curse.
“What am I do to?” she asked. “I have no power to make the people change their ways!”
The old man responded with his wisely crafted words…
The young woman, knew then, in that moment what she needed to do.
She took a deep breath, gathered her thoughts and started to climb. She climbed over the rocks that man had placed to try defend himself from the Sea and then over the wall of trash the Sea had built on the beaches.
It was a periles journey and she was met with resistance.
But the old man’s words were ringing in her ears and in them, she found the strength to continue. She began to collect the rubbish that littered her beloved Kingdom.
Piece by piece.
And still, the Sea was angry. For every piece she collected, the Sea would send more and her Kingdom remained grotesque.
And every day, she would return to the Sea and she would continue with her task; to rid the beaches of mans’ sins and rebuild the trust of the Sea.
She toiled day in and day out. Defiant. Driven by the words of the old man, the memories of her childhood and hope for her unborn children.
As she worked her way across the beach, she left some sand exposed and that glimmer got the attention of others from the Kingdom. Many watched her. They laughed and ridiculed her efforts.
But, unbeknownst to her, there were indeed some that had been following behind her with as much curiosity, as trepidation. First on horse back, for they were not brave like her, they were still fearful of the Sea’s curse.
Every Sunday, volunteers would gather to collect as much trash as they could.
Over the course of 21 months, volunteers removed close to 11,684,500 pounds of trash, most of it plastic.
And then, eventually, one man plucked up the courage and dismounted his stead. He watched her for a few moments more before he bent down and picked something up. Following her lead.
He bent down again, picking up another piece of plastic, and then another… and another.
As he did this, the path behind them started to expand, and the sand could breath for a little while longer before it was covered over again.
in late 2017, Afroz shah tweeted that his “efforts had failed” and he and his volunteers had to halt the work due to administrative lethargy and his volunteers being abused by outsiders for the work they were doing.
By the time the young woman had noticed the man behind her, hundreds of people had joined them.
The Sea saw this, and while it had not forgiven the Kingdom’s people for what they had done, it was pleased with their efforts.
Each day, man and the Sea began to rebuild their relationship.
Each day, the Sea would send back a little less trash so man was able to see that his efforts weren’t going unnoticed. But the Sea was wise, and it knew that if it completely retracted its curse, then man would forget again and he would become selfish and complacent and he would return to his old ways.
The Sea decided to summon the young woman to its shores and told her that if it had seen what she had been doing and was pleased by her actions and that of her followers. The Sea wanted to reward the young woman and the people of the Kingdom for their hard work by drawing a truce.
And there, under the pinkest sky mirrored by the wet sand, the Sea and the Kingdom came to an agreement:
“If you continue to clean your beaches, I will send less trash back to them and allow the turtles to return to your shores and the fish to nourish you once more. I will give you time to rest between tides, but if you stop for too long, the trash will return and your children and children’s children will never know your memories of dancing until sunrise to the sound of crashing waves and the smell of ocean air.”
And so it came to be…
That the young woman became the emancipator of her kingdom, through nothing more than the courage to stop crying and actually do something.
She also never forgot the wise words of the old man…