It was 2004. I had started teaching in a school close to the verdant Jaldapara National Park. I have always nurtured a deep love and respect for nature and environment (maybe a legacy of my mother), and the natural beauty of Jaldapara was a motivating factor as well – I resolved to make issues and concerns of environment a part of my classes, activities and discussions with my students...
We gave this initiative a name: Sankalpo (meaning, resolution in Bengali). Using this platform, we organised and performed plays and skits on environment and conservation – the first of these was called ‘Tree is life’. We conducted anti-plastic campaigns. The best part is all the students participated in all these activities with great gusto and enthusiasm.
In 2006, I moved to Balurghat’s Ayodhya Kalidasi Vidyaniketan, which became the nurturing home for another bunch of very enthusiastic girls and boys. Our forum here was named Dishari Sankalpo – meaning a ‘resolution that shows the way’. Theatre can be a very powerful tool for dissemination and awareness-building – we used theatre, plays and skits to talk about environment and its protection.
What’s more, we started stepping out of the classroom and into the neighbouring Raghunathpur forest to understand nature and what it means for us – as we explored the forest, we would try to identify birds, trees and butterflies. Once, I urged my students to hug the trees of their choice and then tell the group what they felt. Their reactions were quite interesting: some felt that they were hugging a friend, while others imagined that they were resting in their mother’s lap. One student who had an argument with her mother, found consolation in her tears as she hugged a tree.
I ask my students to establish a lasting friendship with their trees. By talking to them. By protecting them. And by celebrating the trees’ birthday as well on the days they celebrate their own.
Our excursions have also extended to the banks of the Atreyi River. Every month, the students gather together near the river under our 'Come to the riverbank' campaign to express their love and appreciation for this ancient waterway in our town. We write and recite poems about the river, compose and sing songs about it, and try our best to keep the river and its banks clean.
One interesting addition to this campaign has been a play composed and conceived by the students. Named ‘The tale of Atreyi’ (Atreyi'r Upakhyaan), this play demonstrates how the river is not exclusive to any one nation – it belongs to both India and Bangladesh, and children from both the countries must strive to conserve it. The play has received rave reviews from its audiences.
Our students are the future guardians of this Earth. They must be involved and encouraged to participate in every effort to save the environment. I believe that through our collective effort, my students and I – the Shobuj Mitras (Bengali for 'green friends', literally) – are now reimagining our lives and existence alongside the river and this environment.
The article has been translated from Bengali to English by Souparno Banerjee.