Usha Rajagopalan

She Who Walks the Talk

Usha is someone who follows her thoughts with actions, working hard to champion the causes she believes in.

When civic issues pile up and governance takes a back seat, we think that something should be done. With that thought, our concern usually ends. However, there are a few individuals who decide to follow the thought with action. Usha Rajagopalan is one of them.

Moved by the plight of a lake in her neighbourhood, Usha mooted a public campaign to save the 13 acre Puttenahalli Lake in south Bengaluru. In order to collaborate with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike in the rejuvenation, Usha and three others registered a non-profit charitable trust, Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) in June 2010. They signed a MoU in May 2011 and became the first official citizen custodians of a lake in the city.

Under Usha's chairmanship, the lake transformed from a cesspool to a thriving natural haven teeming with birds, fish and other life forms. The water table is recharged and the 350 trees planted around the periphery since 2010 have increased green cover in the area. Over a hundred bird species have been spotted in and around the lake.

PNLIT organizes regular events and activities at the lake premises to engage the neighbourhood and to make the lake a community responsibility. Voluntary donations made by residents are used to meet lake maintenance expenses. The rejuvenated lake and PNLIT’s inclusive approach encourage others to follow suit and Usha is frequently called upon to share her experience and the PNLIT story at various forums. Her neighbourhood initiative has led to the formation of over 30 citizen groups of lake champions in Bengaluru.

At a time when there is talk about women’s empowerment, it is interesting that five out of the six trustees, are women. Usha values the contribution of each member and helps them grow so that they may work together as a strong team. Some of PNLIT’s initiatives which led to the transformation of the lake are:

1) Preventing sewage from entering the lake by getting BWSSB to lay an underground drain.
2) Finding new sources of water by getting BBMP to divert surface runoff from an adjacent avenue into the lake.
3) Feeding the lake with excess water from the STP of an apartment complex, a KSPCB pilot project.
4) Planting trees, climbers and shrubs to attract birds and butterflies.
5) Planting artificial perches in the lake bed for birds.
6) Improving water quality by growing plants in floating platforms, an innovation in Bengaluru.
7) Water samples tested every month in a local engineering college.

By reviving a lake in a city of dying lakes, Usha proves that citizens can and must work closely with the government to bring about social change. She epitomizes that individuals, more so women of any age, can make a difference to society.

Her lake restoration activism has won her and her team several accolades, including the prestigious Namma Bengaluru Award. They were featured in the Times Now national television series ‘Amazing Indians,’ Season 1.

Usha Rajagopalan is also a writer and translator. She has won many prizes for her work and is a three-time consecutive winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Usha was a Charles Wallace fellow at the University of East Anglia, UK, and a resident translator at Le Château De Lavigny, Switzerland, and Andrew Fellow in Fiction at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Usha believes that with passion and perseverance, one can achieve anything in life. She is the author of three novels, one short story collection, two volumes of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s poetry (translated into English) and a writer’s manual (ed.). Above all, she revels in her role as a hands-on grandmother of a frisky two year old.

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