Ruchi Todi at work in Rabindra Sarobar. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Before flying off to the US for higher studies, Ruchi Todi, like many 17-year-olds in the city, wanted to do an internship. But her work station for the past six months was not in an office, a university or even a lab. It was in a park!
The spunky girl with a green thumb is off to study environmental science at the University of Wisconsin and wanted a stint at Rabindra Sarobar to get some hands-on experience.
So she wrote to the Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) requesting them for an internship. “If I wanted to work for the Sarobar on a regular basis and initiate changes, I would have needed the CIT’s permission. Hence I wrote to the trust requesting them to let me work as a student intern,” explained Ruchi, who has completed her A level from The Cambridge School after her ICSE from Loreto House.
Over the past few months, Ruchi visited the Sarobar regularly, identifying areas that needed any kind of improvement. Her list of dos started in January with spotting ditches and uncovered manholes. During the Great Sarobar Run, she also helped the scouts clean up certain parts of the Sarobar and put up proper signage.
In April, she started setting up swings in the park, replicating the Red Swing Project after she heard about it from activist Mudar Patherya. The Red Swing project was started in Austin, Texas, in 2007 with an aim of “positively impacting underutilised public spaces with simple red swings.”
The first step was writing a letter to the chief executive officer of CIT that runs and maintains the Rabindra Sarobar. The Trust never had students wanting to intern with them before.
“We have not come across school students wanting to work with us. When she approached us, we agreed because it would mean important feedback for us. During the Great Sarobar Run she identified a few ditches and signage that we had missed,” said an executive engineer of CIT.
For the swings that Ruchi put up, the wooden seats were sponsored by a corporate house and she arranged for the ropes. Then with the help of the family gardener and chauffeur she scouted for locations to set up the 29 swings.
“We looked for trees and branches that were parallel to the ground and strong enough to bear the weight of humans,” said Ruchi.
“When she approached us with the swing idea we told her that she should first set up a few and we would see how it was being accepted by people. Then we can give her the go-ahead for more. The project is still in the experimental stage, we are in the process of collecting feedback from those using the Sarobar,” said a CIT official.
Mudar Patherya admitted the plan was a gamble but lent his support for the good cause. “We recognise most public places are drab and it was a gamble to set up the swings here but even if 80 per cent of them are retained it will be a success,” he pointed out.
CIT officials are all praise for the committed teen. They say research scholars often approach CIT but that’s “restricted to the library where, the students go through maps and written material”.
“They would perhaps go to the field only once or twice to spot the areas on a map. But the difference with Ruchi is that she made regular visits, e-mailed us the changes that she would like to see, how it can be executed and the project that she would like to initiate. We would be happy if more students showed this level of interest,” said the engineer.