The amazing story of pointReturn
Those of you old enough to be online in the early part of this century would remember a site called “GoodNewsIndia“. I was reminded of the site in a completely different context (during the course of a call this afternoon) and decided to check it out…which led me to the amazing discovery of “pointReturn”
GoodNewsIndia was dedicated to publicising grass-roots initiatives that were directly improving the lives of millions in India. Many of these stories were of unsung heroes and little known tales of ingenuity and dedication…
A few years ago, Sh D V Sridharan (publisher and editor of GoodNewsIndia) got involved with a land restoration project…What happened next is best told in his own words…
*** The Story of pointReturn ***
…In 1980 I had the same urge as I did in 2003 and now again, in May,2006. Bereavements seem to nudge me to return to land in a fundamental way.
In 1980 I heeded the call. I was a total illiterate in the ways of nature. I was a mere refugee running away from a heart-break. Shaku, my wife had died in 1978. We were both 36 and in the event, something snapped inside me. I wanted time-out to ruminate.
I bought 6.5 acres of barren sands by the sea near Chennai [-then known as ‘Madras’] and groped my way towards greening it. I built a sail windmill to pump water, endured -and enjoyed- being without electricity, money or a social life. The silent spaces and the coconut and other trees inching their way up made enough amends.
Magically, money, friendships, learning and a new confidence began to arrive. I realised that far from me growing the trees, they were growing me. I growed.
Along the way, a conviction also grew that the world was moving too far away from the land. While technologies that lead to sustainable, permanent, people- and nature- friendly solutions are beneficial, those that are mere fixes can lead us in a wrong path. To give a quick example, plastic shopping bags are a menace while technologies that make a cloth bag possible -weaving and sewing- are essential and welcome.
I tried and failed in an endeavour to develop a Stirling engine of my own design but that only reinforced my anxiety about our ways with energy use. What could I personally do?
In the late 1990s, the Internet arrived. I saw the point of it almost instantly, and felt an exhilaration a sailor adrift at sea might on sighting land. Learning, connecting, expressing and growing were at once possible for anyone. 56 kbps rickety, dial-up lines and first version of Netscape Navigator did nothing to abate my excitement on discovering the Internet in 1996, at a net cafe paying Rs.70 an hour.
The GoodNewsIndia website was born in 2000. Publishing it has been my tribute to what may be ‘the good work’. I discovered many people all over India, pegging away at their missions and solutions.
It seemed a good way to spend the rest of my life… travelling, meeting people, writing about them, mining the Internet, watching India change. But after a time, that too felt inadequate.
…Then in just 8 months following July 2002, a young nephew and his sister were carried away by cancer. I was at inflexion point again. I was 60 now and realised I was entering the last lap of my life. There was the farm, now worth sinfully high prices thanks to the economic boom but the same boom was also ruining my peace. Development for tourism and leisure homes were destroying old habitats and the environment. Over a hundred swimming pools were built in the mid-90s in a 5km stretch of the coast near me. The spanking new East Coast Road was ruinously changing values.
Death of my nephew and niece, made me want to go away again. I began to look for land farther south. The ones I liked were unaffordable. For a wealthy man, I had little money to spend. I was too attached to my green acres even though high decibel levels around me were making me tense and restless. Most of my money was locked. My wallet was skinny.
Stories in GoodNewsIndia were more and more on the environment. I was gathering news of many endeavours, but I was too bound to what I had achieved over 26 years with the land, to be able to let go, move away and start again.
The moment in 2003, to buy land passed.
…I started the GoodNewsIndia Foundation instead, reasoning what I can’t do myself, I will support from outside. Three foci had emerged in 2002 and have remained till now. The Foundation will give money to support …
◊ Sustainable solutions for water and its use
◊ Energy solutions based on oils derived from trees, and
◊ Making the Right to Information Act a widely used utility.
There could be other approaches, but I will stick with these three: they are my essential molecules to build a fair, new India
…Father died on May 3, 2006. He was 89 and went in peace. Predictably, the urge to buy land and start again has returned.
But this time, there is no pathos.
I will heed the call for several other reasons:
◊My three concerns of water, energy and transparency are in deeper need of direct, personal commitment
◊I am utterly single and alone in this world and at 65, beginning to pant a bit as I run my last lap. If I don’t bite the bullet now, I never will and so, will go unfulfilled.
◊My green patch created over 26 years in Muttukkadu is marooned ever more in an emerging urban chaos. I am ready to sell out and so find the money to pay for my dream
◊Spending my money on an idea like pointReturn might be a better legacy than leaving money in the bank
◊Publishing GoodNewsIndia has taught me many lessons and shown me many ways to show-case solutions in the three areas of my concern.
◊Though I am a recluse and not a great team man, the Internet will make up for this flaw and find me friends, help and volunteers.
So I will take the jump.
…I have had a glimpse of the bugler in the near distance wetting and readying his lips to blow me the last call. And that concentrates the mind like few other things can.
*** End of Excerpts ***
For the curious amongst you, pointReturnis in Kancheepuram district in north Tamil Nadu, in southern India. It is almost exactly midway between Chennai [formerly Madras] and Pondicherry.
It is one place I would love to visit the next time I am in that area.