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'Talk to the mountains'

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Shipra Verma’s source of creative inspiration is the environment

For Shipra Verma, commitment to the environment is not merely a matter of lip service. As a Research Fellow in CSIR, with a Master’s in Botany with specialisation in cytogenics and plant breeding behind her, she spent two years in a remote district of Dhanbad in 1996 – ’97.

“It was about 20 km from Shantiniketan and was so far from civilisation that even to get a cup of tea involved a journey of 16 kilometres,” she says. Shipra was at the Bakreshwar Thermal Power Project, where she and her colleagues carried out field experimentation of the utilisation of Fly Ash in Agriculture.

Shipra was born in Sitamani and educated in Dhanbad, the second most populated city in Jharkhand, which has some of the largest coal mines in India; in fact, it is called the ‘coal capital’ of India. “The government was planning to set up a power plant there, and I was with the environmental sciences division of CSIR at the time,” she explains. “We had to find a solution to the problem of pollution there. When you heat coal at very high temperatures it gives off fly ash, and every house was covered with the dust,” Shipra recalls. “People had hundreds of acres of land but couldn’t grow anything. The villagers were dying of starvation. We used the pollutant as a soil moderator and got a bumper crop.”

Today, Shipra observes, “villagers are ‘smarter’ than city people. I tell them to never forget their roots; people have to eat the crops that they grow. Villagers often forget their indigenous plants and switch to exotic ones or to cash crops out of greed. A little scientific innovation is okay, but too much and the soil becomes infertile.”

Shipra, who now teaches environment sciences in a Mumbai college, has worked in rural areas on issues related to eco-friendly methods, cleanliness, biodiversity preservation and crop cycles. She is a member of the Indian Environment Network, an organisation based in the United States.

“I wanted to become a botanist—I used to collect rare plants—but creativity was also always strong,” she says. Shipra is a singer and a Sangeet Visharad (First Class) in Vocal Classical Hindustani Music. She has published a book of Hindi poems, Akinchan Kavitaayen. For Shipra, however, it is the environment that always takes priority. As she reminds us in her book of poems in English, Ravine and Peak,

Watch the mighty rivers,
Talk to the lofty peaks
They all can communicate
If we know how to speak.

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