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Barren Land to Butterfly Garden: 3 Generations of This Mumbai Family Has Planted Over 5,000 Saplings

‘It isn’t important to just plant trees, we need to learn to nurture them as well.’

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Having a conversation with some people inspires you to do something and motivates you to act. My conversation with Sandeep Athalye has left me with that feeling. The Athalye family has been quietly planting trees in the Aarey colony of Mumbai since 2000. The Aarey Milk Colony is a neighbourhood in the Mumbai suburb of Goregaon East.

“My father would often tell me that nature has a startling beauty and presents us with many gifts. It is our duty to return the favour,” says Sandeep. Vinay Athalye, Sandeep’s father, first planted 100 trees in the area, and over the course of the next 15 years planted more than 3,500 saplings in the area.

Sandeep grew up seeing his father meticulously plant, nurture, and care for these trees.

The man who started it all – Vinay Athalye

“Today everyone is only interested in planting trees; big corporates and schools often have drives to plant trees and saplings. How many of them come back to ask what the survival rate of these trees are? It is very important to keep a count of that,” he says. “Some plants die because of weather conditions, some due to a car ramming into it, and some are just not meant to thrive in these conditions. But if due to your negligence a plant dies then you’d rather not plant them in the first place.

Everything with nature is a cycle. With the growth of more trees, biodiversity will increase and the natural fauna of that region will flourish. Giving us a simplistic parallel he says, “If your deer population increases, then automatically the lion population will also rise.”

With over 75 varieties of trees and also a butterfly garden with over 1000 nectar and host plants, this once barren land attracts about 300 to 400 butterflies.

When asked about how much research went into developing this land into a butterfly paradise, he says, “Honesty and common sense are the two things that we have used to build this place. Perhaps if I had studied this too much this wouldn’t have materialised. It has been a constant learning, which has led to this. Speaking to people and understanding the nuances from them has helped.”

The motivation behind working tirelessly to building this comes from the senior Athalye who always said, “It is important that we give back as much as we can to the nature.” Sandeep believes that many of our environmentally caused problems would start decreasing if we started to nurture the nature.

“There was a time when despite the scorching heat in Mumbai, Aarey colony would remain pleasant. Those days seem to have long gone now. With giving back to nature we hope to reverse some of the damage caused.”

Three generations of the Athalye clan working on planting trees

While Sandeep is not anti-development and growth, he urges people to plant a tree if one is cut down. “Let us also start focusing on the survival rate of the newly planted trees. We need to stop making these plantation drives an ‘event’ we indulge in once a year. This is an agricultural science, and must be given its due. A sustained approach is what we need to ensure a thriving flora around us.

“While what worked for us was the sheer power of ignorance. We had the time to devote to understanding what works and what doesn’t.”

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