The fast-paced digital era we live in often leaves us detached from our need and love for nature. And with the ever-growing impact of social media that tries to pull us in, it is all the more imperative for us to understand and rebuild our relationship with nature by slowing down in the ways we think and live and enjoying moments of stillness. However, not everyone has easy access to greener spaces, a deep understanding of how nature plays a role in our lives, and the growing climate crises, especially when caring for the environment is not an integral part of our education system yet. We had the pleasure of interviewing climate activist Sriranjini Raman about her love and passion for nature, how it reflects in her creative projects, and how her latest social venture Nurture helps children and youth get the right environmental education at this time.
You deeply inspire us with your love and passion for reconnecting with nature and how it reflects in your illustrations, writings, and projects. Can you tell us about how your creative journey began in this area?
In this fast-paced digital world, we sometimes find ourselves detached from nature and do not understand and appreciate it enough. How do you stay rooted despite the busy pace of life and its distractions? What would you like to tell the younger generation about the same?
Most of us can name 50 brands but cannot name 50 species in our local ecosystems. Our ancestors befriended their environment and built relationships with the species that they depended on for their survival. These species still protect us, and we still depend on them for survival, but there is a disconnect in the relationship. Staying rooted is a work in progress; scheduling nature time every day has been something that has helped me stay connected to nature- this includes watching the sunrise or sunset, listening to birds, cooking with fresh local produce, gardening or feeling the bark of a tree. I don't need to leave the city to feel connected to nature; I have so much to learn and connect with if I just try to pay attention to the species around me, like the earthworms, birds, squirrels, native trees and plants, moss and fungi.
I’d like to tell the younger generation to get their hands dirty. Learn to garden and grow food, go on nature walks, become bros with bugs, and be a naturalist. I love technology and the internet and easily get warped into the digital world. But then I remember that technology would not exist without nature. Healthy ecosystems with clean water, soil, air and fresh food produce led to healthy humans in safe and comfortable environments to innovate for the future. Food is human software; plants produce food and oxygen for us, and all species contribute to the food web that we are also a part of, so it’s about time we become friends and rebuild relationships.
Nurture is your latest social venture that helps children and youth reconnect with nature through food literacy and engaging in land stewardship. Can you tell us more about it and how you advocate for intersectional climate justice through it?
I did not have environmental education in school until the 11th grade. Apart from reading and curriculum, we gardened and did Landcare, did experiments, engaged with local communities, and went on naturalist walks. Most schools do not offer a curriculum, and outdoor experiential learning is far from the education board’s horizon. I had access to environmental education without realising it because of traditional ecological knowledge that was passed on through stories and spending time outdoors and in forests.
As part of the climate justice movement, I engage with communities, environment think tanks, not-for-profit organisations, policymakers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and funders. I saw there was a huge gap in the rate of the speed of change or the barriers to communication and decision-making. Everyone wants to protect the planet, but that personal connection to nature and land stewardship is often missing.
Nurture is an educational program that I wish I had in school that I hope all youth can benefit from. Nurture is four months old, and over 100 youth have benefitted from the program in Waterloo, Ontario. Nurture helps children and youth reconnect with nature through gardening. The learning modules also help children understand food literacy and climate justice. By understanding how food systems work, we can understand the ecology of the land we live on, the people involved in producing food, labour rights, land laws, nutrition, the importance of eating local and seasonal produce, and the impact of climate change on food. The learning modules are a combination of outdoor and indoor activities. Species diversity is essential even in diets and nutrition, which are getting wiped out due to monoculture and industrial agriculture. Knowing the history of your food, the land it comes from, the people who grow it, and the culture that protected it and gifted it to the world and eating seasonally is also intersectional climate justice.
We would love to know more about other youth movements you’re an active part of and how you create a system to bring the community together in making a difference.
I joined Fridays For Future India in early 2019 after being inspired by the youth climate justice movement that received global attention thanks to Greta Thunberg. Across India, with over 40,000 young people, we raise awareness about climate calamities and upcoming development projects that will negatively impact ecosystems and the people depending on them and understand and explain climate policies passed at sub-national, national, and international levels. As young people, we question and put pressure on the politicians and elders in power who are failing to protect our generation and country from the climate crisis. We believe in decentralised systems and are a leaderless movement. We believe we’re all in the same storm but different boats, so for climate justice, the systems of oppression must be dismantled in tandem with collaboratively discovering alternative, resilient climate solutions.
We love the colourful illustrations you make and the stories behind each one. How do they help you express your vision of a better future?
I make illustrations to condense what I’m feeling, like climate anxiety, frustration over inaction, gratitude for the power of the people, or to honour someone that has deeply inspired me. Making illustrations act as a reminder for me to continue to work for a better future.
You have spoken about wearing beautiful handloom sarees and the importance of knowing how they are made and where they come from. We feel such experiences and advocacy are integral to the slow fashion movement. How did this connection with textiles begin for you?
The connection with textiles began with my grandma, who sourced different silks and cotton to stitch clothes for me as a child. She never throws out her clothes and always repurposes them, and she still wears sarees that are over 50 years old, and that inspires me. I started following slow fashion when I joined the youth climate movement and realised the impact of fast fashion on the climate crisis. I travelled across Rajasthan and interacted with artisans, which made me realise the socioeconomic importance of handloom and knowing who makes my clothes. Sarees are incredibly diverse and can have stories woven on them, and six yards look beautiful on all bodies.
My capsule wardrobe consists of many handloom tops and dresses- I love kalamkari, bagru prints, and ikat. As a student, I can vouch that handloom is not expensive, and It’s often cheaper than fast fashion. It requires some effort to source the cloth from the right places, people, and businesses. I do have old fast fashion, and some thrifted pieces. Along with thrifting, I invest in handloom pieces that I love and know I will wear for the next ten years at least. I believe frugality is an essential aspect of sustainable slow fashion that is often not discussed. I buy clothes only out of necessity, and I mostly borrow, repurpose or reuse what I have.
What advice would you like to give to our readers about creating a sustainable future?
To create a sustainable future, we need to live in the present with intergenerational equity in mind. Will our consumption or behaviour positively or negatively impact the next three generations after us? A sustainable future means, unlearning resource-intensive behaviours we currently practice and unlearning conditioned casteism, sexism, and ableism that contribute to power hierarchies. Creating a sustainable future means creating just and equitable opportunities for everyone to have access to resources for a healthy, happy and holistic life.
Interviewer and Writer PRERNA MALHOTRA
Layout and Graphic Design VEDHIKA HV
Editor RHEA GUPTE
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