Come 8 and 9 February, Bangalore will play host to Neralu, a citizen-led Urban Tree Festival. The first of its kind in the city, and probably in the country, Neralu will bring together ecologists, artists, researchers, technologists, homemakers, professionals, adults and children in dialogue, to celebrate the spirit of Bangalore, its rich natural heritage and its trees. The event promises to have something in store for everybody and will feature a multitude of visual and experiential activities; walks, workshops, story-telling sessions, art exhibitions, movie screenings, children's activities - there’s plenty to choose from. You can have a look at the event schedule here.
Citizen Matters corresponded with Arpana Basappa, one of the organisers, to find out what Neralu was all about.
Arpana has done her Masters in Ecology and works at IMO Control Pvt. Ltd, which certifies organic and other sustainably harvested products. On the days of the festival at Neralu, you will find her coordinating the tree walks, and running about tying loose ends, and helping people!
How did Neralu come to be?
A few of us (Mallikarjun Javali, Jahnavi Pai, Uma Bharat and I) met at a workshop organised by Dr S Subramanya, professor of entomology at GKVK, where we discovered our shared passion for Bangalore and her trees. In our bid to do something to increase awareness about trees, we set out to develop an app for smartphones, which could be downloaded and used as tree guides in Lalbagh and Cubbon Park. However, this was not a very successful attempt, owing to technical glitches. Undeterred by the failure, we had email discussions where we roped in other friends like Sangeeta Kadur, Anush Shetty and Deepak Srinivasan. One fine day in August, under the shade of a lovely peepal tree, over a cup of warm coffee, we decided to have a celebration of trees! And that is how the idea of a tree festival was born.
In October 2013, we organised our first workshop in Koshy’s Chillout with conservationists, ecologists, ornithologists, activists, architects, urban-planners, heritage specialists, artists and film maker friends, to brainstorm on ways and means to make the festival a multidisciplinary, all inclusive, citizen-led event.
What can citizens of Bengaluru expect from Neralu?
Neralu is a celebration of the rich glorious natural heritage of Bangalore - her trees! It is a multi- disciplinary event, where science, art, culture and technology has been woven together under the common theme of trees. People from all backgrounds, across all ages will find some event or the other, catering specifically to their interest. There will be tree walks, talks, art workshops, painting exhibits, games, fun activities, songs and performances, storytelling, movie screenings, photography exhibition and much more! Please see www.neralu.in/schedule for more details. All the events in Neralu are Free!
Are there any events leading up to the main festival?
There were many side events - engagement with 2800 students who had gathered as part of the Traffic Safety Awareness Week in Cubbon park on 25 January, Hug a Tree campaign in the Mount Carmel Annual fest - Cul-ah!, a yoga under trees event on 2 February in Cubbon Park; there is also a school collage project, and many others.
Neralu for the most part is crowd-funded. You managed to raise 1.8 lakhs for organising the event in a matter of few days. What led you to go the crowd-funding way?
We were very clear from the start that the festival had to be a citizen-led initiative. We did not want corporate or government funding; neither did we want to register ourselves as a group/trust/NGO. We wanted it to be participatory in the truest sense. We did not even want to collect more than 10 percent of the budget from a single individual. We wanted small contributions from many people. And we were overwhelmed by the positive response!
What specific event at Neralu do you recommend for those folks new to the city?
For folks new to the city, I would suggest Neralu Trails, which is guided tree walk inside Cubbon Park. You will hear interesting facts about how most of the trees are not native to Bangalore, but have been sourced from all over the world. The two hour walks start at 7.30 am on both 8 and 9 February from Queen’s Statue, Cubbon Park. It is a pre-registered event, so kindly register here: http://neralu.in/register.
For the old Bangaloreans, I would suggest a visit to the Rumale Exhibition. Rumale Channabasavaiah was a city based artist who has painted a lot of Bangalore’s trees. The exhibition will throw light on not only the artist’s impressions of Bangalore and her trees,but also provide a stark contrast to the situation as it exists today.
What were the challenges in putting such an event together?
We are fortunate to have help from people from ALL walks of life, which has made it a smooth sailing throughout. There was no hitch that could not be easily resolved. We thought that sourcing funds would be difficult, but we had an enormous response when we called for funds.
We thought publicity might be a hassle, but we had two helpful coordinators - Poornima Kannan and Ramya BS who handled media relations for us.
Neralu will definitely set a precedent for similar festivals that may be organised in the future. Are you exploring the possibility of making Neralu an annual affair?
Yes. The tree festival will be an annual event. We started off with the idea of having the festival over a whole month, in many venues across the city. However, due to constraints in preparatory time, we are restricting it to one weekend, in a single venue for this year. From next year onwards, we are going to scale up the operation!
Can we expect to see any follow-up events once the Tree Festival is done?
The main aim is to bring in a culture of appreciation of trees. The month of February was chosen since it is a spectacular time with many trees in Bangalore in full bloom. We want to have events spread out through the year, and culminate in an annual tree festival each year. In the feedback session post festival, we will be charting our way forward.
What do you think will be the impact of Neralu?
We already see the impact of Neralu! A small group of six has now grown into a big group of over a hundred! Neralu has already established a community of tree lovers from all walks of life, and after the festival, we only see that the community is going to get bigger.
We will feel that the mission is successful if the layman starts to take notice of the trees around their houses, in their locality and just reconnect with them. Trees are silent bystanders in our everyday paths that we largely tend to ignore! We do not want the layman to learn botanical names, nor history of the trees. We just want them to acknowledge and respect their silent presence amidst us! Neralu will strive to do that!
Is there any specific event at Neralu that you are really excited about? What would you recommend?
I am excited about the Hug a Tree campaign - Appiko Marava, of Neralu. Over two days of the annual cultural festival of Mount Carmel College in late January, our volunteers Manasi, Kavita, Janani and Janet have managed to have 330 groups of people to hug trees, take photos of themselves and upload them on social media. They even have managed to make their principal show support by hugging trees. They have been featured live on MTV, thanks to Nikhil Chinnappa, who also hugged a tree!
As the grand finale, a song titled Appiko Marava is being written by Janardhan of Bhoomitai Balaga, a Bangalore based folk music band. This will be performed during the closing ceremony, and there will be a mega Hug a tree event!
There is also a bilingual audio walk being developed by Janani Eswar, which will simulate conversations that a tree may have with you!
Poornima Kannan: 9880791171 (media and press related)
Sangeetha Kadur: 9886812598 (program related)