Kush Sethi's nature walks around Delhi's limited green spaces help residents understand the importance of and benefits in conserving nature and creating pockets of breathable patches in urban areas.
Kush Sethi did not learn the importance of ecology and urban environmental activism from textbooks. Indeed, no traditional pedagogical avenues imparted those crucial lessons. Rather, he picked up the need for nature conservation, especially in urban spaces, from graphic novels and documentaries. This spurred the then high school student to explore a career in urban ecology and sustainability.
Today, the 27-year-old does something unusual in Delhi: as the National Capital Region chokes from rising pollution levels, he finds pockets of haven in the city to take people along on nature walks. In an interview to Scroll, he explains how, while he was on a research project on the Delhi Ridge, he discovered green spaces in the national capital that served as a reminder that all was still not lost. He says,
Walking started as a necessary tool to gather findings from the forest. My then-colleague Aastha Chauhan (on the Delhi Ridge research) and I gradually began to see the potential of this tool as an art practice – to learn, explore and mobilise.
So, with a Facebook page called ‘What’s happening in Sanjay Van?’, an online space was created to talk about Delhi's most accessible forest. This page evolved from a forum to share news, observations and expert opinions to one that announced regular foraging walks in Delhi's forests and gardens.
The Delhi-based landscape designer now conducts thrice-a-month foraging walks around Lodhi Gardens, among other spaces, for people to explore nature and discover edible flowers and plants that they had never heard of. These walks also let Delhi residents in on ways to participate in urban ecological practices, and has become a means of having conversations around foreign species versus native species, wild versus planned planting and landscaping etc.
Some walks conducted on full moon days lets nature enthusiasts walk under a canopy of stars, with nothing but the dappled moonlight illuminating their path. They encounter jackals, neelgais and fireflies and discover new plant species and the joy of stepping away from the streets of Delhi swirling with smoke and dust.
Kush tells DNA the walks are usually followed by a cookout with the ingredients picked up along their path:
We collect 15-16 ingredients, including wild succulents, something fragrant, food dyes, and some greens to go as the base and citrus fruits for a dessert or welcome drink.