“Can I become a bug?” a question the Mama Bug encountered every evening in the playground. Mama Bug rejoiced to see her colony of bugs grow in size on the forest floor. With every new enthusiastic bug joining the colony, Mama Bug reminisced about the adventurous journey of triumphs and trials it had been. This colony was called The Bug Club where the bugs could read, observe, collect, explore, and share their love for the natural world. The forest floor transformed into a dynamic space where Mama Bug not only recycled waste but also nurtured and inspired a love for the forests in the young ones.
The Bug Club exploring the neighborhood backyards
This is the story of my journey from being a Textile Artist working in the area of Zero Waste to a Mama Bug (a title bestowed upon me by a kindred spirit), who motivated her “bugs”, the young urban children of the neighborhood, and instilled in them a love for nature and books. The road to becoming a Mama Bug was an arduous one. It required patient and dedicated efforts to create a happy colony of children called The Bug Club at the Forest Floor Library that began in 2013 as an extension of the Forest Floor Studio in Trivandrum (now known as First Forest).
After graduating from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad in 2000, I began work with the Zero Waste Kovalam Programme, Thanal, in Trivandrum. This program was envisaged in 2001 and focussed on building capacity and relationships among the local community for generating clean and sustainable employment through what was termed “discards recovery” and “material substitution” – basically, reducing and reusing waste and substituting non-biodegradable materials with sustainable ecofriendly products.
In 2009, I initiated The Forest Floor studio in Trivandrum (now known as First Forest, based in Baroda) with the primary focus of creating awareness about the effects of pollution on biodiversity, through the upcycling of household and tailor discards into art and craft products. The initiative began by going door- to-door collecting household waste like old clothes, paper, cardboard and knick-knacks. At the studio, the waste was cleaned, stored and upcycled into uniquely designed handcrafted products. This direct collection method provided an opportunity to have discussions and dialogues at a personal level with individual households on reducing and reusing their waste. It strengthened relationships with not only the neighbors of the locality but also the waste collectors of Self Help Groups.
However, by 2013, my studio had turned into a dump yard! I increasingly realized that I had failed in creating awareness regarding a sustainable lifestyle as the frequency of waste collection increased and my studio began drowning in waste. The Forest Floor was gradually becoming an unsustainable socio-economic model. I felt that limitations of time, hectic schedules and misplaced priorities of daily life, were making it difficult to make environmentally conscious choices in our consumption patterns. Introspection was necessary. I had insightful discussions with like-minded individuals that threw light on the human attitudes and ingenuity towards discards. It became clear to me that value-based one-on-one interactions were needed to make any distinct efforts in safe-guarding our environment.
In this regard, I was greatly inspired by Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Program. Jane founded this program “in order to empower and encourage the youth of all ages to pursue their passion, mobilize their peers, and become the leaders our world needs in order to ensure a better future for people, animals, and the environment.” Her beliefs became the driving force of starting The Bug Club and the small Forest Floor Library at my studio, in my neighborhood. I strongly felt that the children would be receptive to the concepts of environmental conservation due to their inherent curiosity, sensitivity and the vibrancy of their young minds. Books would bring companionship and transport us to imaginative worlds of harmony with nature.
Inspiration to Fear
In July 2013, the setting-up of the library began in high gear. However, the first roadblocks to my convictions crept in, when people pointed out that today’s urban children are not enthused by printed text and are addicted to the moving visual language of television and gaming. Lack of funds also posed challenges in the form of a limited personal collection of books and a small laptop screen to watch documentaries. The anxieties and apprehensions increased as I began observing and studying behavioral patterns of children of all ages around me. The contrast between watching other children in the neighborhood and my son reaffirmed that children did and could respond to nature and printed text. I was watching my six year old son grow up on David Attenborough films, enjoying reading Priya Kuriyan’s beautifully illustrated books and spending endless hours by the pool playing with the water skaters. It compelled me to believe in the inner potential of every child to rejoice in books and be lost in nature’s beings. This was the start of spirited conversations with friends, family, clients, parents, teachers, environmentalists and children.
A section of the library with triptych of nature specimens and a write-up on Sir Attenborough
There was no fear of failure but there was a mounting fear to begin. A devoted friend, a journalist with the New Indian Express, Trivandrum, decided to ease my fears and threw open the dialogue for a wider public review with an article in the newspaper. The response was overwhelming! There were individuals who came forward to build and share this platform with me; earnest conservationists donated books on natural history and children’s literature and friends who sent copies of natural history films. With this unstinting support, I constructively worked upon my fears. I began training my assistant in cataloguing books, my son and I created a triptych of nature specimens with pressed flowers, leaves, seeds, fungi, rocks, bugs, butterflies, moths and even barks. I put up posters about the Bug Club in the neighborhood grocery shops, bakeries and notice boards of resident associations. Door-to-door mobilization of parents, children and grandparents began, by talking to them about the significance and relevance of nature education and a natural history library, and inviting them to the first session of The Bug Club.
On Saturday, December 8, 2013, the first session of The Bug Club began at the Forest Floor Library with 15 children. My son, Ishaan introduced Sir David Attenborough while I narrated stories of Attenborough’s childhood and his dreams and aspirations as a young boy. We had an exciting discussion on volcanoes after watching the BBC documentary, The Furnaces of the Earth. The children were excited to see the gorgeous National Geographic magazines and Time-Life books on deserts and rainforests. The children received a scrapbook, the most important ingredient of the club, which they could use for drawing, writing, painting or sticking pictures or articles in.
I began planning each Saturday session by sending messages to the parents every Thursday, shortlisting books, selecting documentary clips and preparing informative charts with the help of my son. Each month revolved around themes like the Mountains, Insects, Forests and more. I began introducing childhood stories of Charles Darwin and Gerald Durrell. Eventually, children were introduced to the Durrell series and the amazing world of colorful beetles through books. Some children began visiting the library to work on their school projects.
Introducing the legendary naturalist and writer Gerald Durrell
But as the weeks passed, the number of children dwindled to one. It was disheartening to see my son eagerly wait for the children to arrive at the Library each Saturday morning. The convictions and beliefs on which this initiative was built began to crumble again. But I realized that I had to persist, to make any visible changes in this small neighborhood community, in order to believe and instill hope in the microcosm of things. I persevered, while contemplating and questioning the significance of loving books, loving nature and transforming our lives in a profound way in our younger years.
I envisaged these children of The Bug Club as the torch-bearers of tomorrow, carrying the baton of making this world a better place. I wanted them to protect every tree, to see love in the eyes of the stray dog and above all, dream the impossible and believe in making them possible with the inspiring discussions at the Library.
I remained determined for the next few months and went on an expedition to the Silent Valley National Park for the Annual Bird Survey. The week spent in one of the most pristine forests transformed me in a profound way and connected me deeply with my convictions. As usual, on one regular Thursday evening, I sent a message to the mothers to send discards from their children’s room like broken pencils, dried sketch pens, bottle caps, tooth brushes etc. The theme of the month was on “Insects in our Backyard”. The following Saturday, ten children arrived with bags full of discards. We had the most amazing time, making dragonflies out of toothbrushes, beetles out of bottle caps, and caterpillars out of sketch pens!
Finally, the true bugs of the Mama Bug were born!
That day, we carried our field guides and magnifying glasses to spot and identify caddish flies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and mealy bugs. The children began borrowing books and exploring their mini-gardens in their balconies and playgrounds. Gradually we began venturing into the neighborhood gardens and backyards carrying books with us to identify trees and playing the thread game to understand the fragile network of the web of life. They created a color palette of the garden by collecting seeds, leaves, fruits and barks in various colors and textures.
The thread game illustrating the Web of Life.
The mothers in the neighborhood began complaining to the Mama Bug of their young bugs missing their breakfast and running to the forest floor to witness the metamorphosis of the Mime butterfly! Every evening the bugs in the playground began flocking around the Mama Bug sharing their discoveries of the day at school. And The Bug Club became one happy ever-expanding colony!
Before leaving for the summer, the Bug Club celebrated Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday where eight year old Jedan, our gentle bug, shared stories about the twelve-year old Jane’s Alligator Club while ten year old Tarun, our enthusiastic bug, played the music of Que Sera Sera as an ode to Jane. We initiated a blog “be-the-bug.blogspot.com” where the bugs learnt to upload pictures and write about nature explorations to share exciting discoveries in the virtual space.
Jane Goodall’s 80th Birthday Celebrations
On my return after the summer, parents exclaimed, “You have done a miracle! All summer we have seen our children peering through their magnifying glasses in the grass or gazing through their binoculars at the distant tree canopies!”
Mama Bug danced in pure joy!