Kere Habba was on an unusually warm January Sunday. The biggest tell-tale sign of the third edition of the habba was people busying around in the well-maintained walkers’ path of Kaikondrahalli Lake, which piqued the curiosity of commuters on the main road. This was my second visit to the lake. As I entered, it left me questioning if this was indeed the same lake I had visited a few years ago with a group.

Kaikondrahalli Lake suffered the same fate as many of the city’s water bodies. Lack of funds to maintain the lake, combined with misuse, spelt a slow death starting with the disappearance of its bio-diversity. If not for Mahadevapura Parisara Samrakshane Mattu Abhivrudhi Samiti (MAPSAS) and neighbourhood volunteers, it would have perhaps been reduced to a dead water body with raw sewage or perhaps a high-rise in its place. Who’s to know?

Kere Habba, which means ‘lake festival’, is an annual celebration. ‘The festival was always envisioned with a two-fold objective— fundraising, and more importantly, to bring to the forefront the importance of lakes”, says Rekha Raghunathan. She has been an active member of the community for the last two years. “It’s hard” she says, “people will come on a day like this where there are activities and food, but how do we make it last?”

This year’s Kere Habba had activities for everyone. There were nature walks in the morning, rangoli competitions at noon, and a music performance in the evening.

The food stall, mainly millet based, was crowded and aromatic. There, a lady with big, blue bins ensured that food waste and left overs were segregated. Yes! The festival was a waste-free one too.

Kasa Muktha Belandur, one of the most active groups of waste warriors in the city, ensured that there were no single-use disposables, and red and green bins stood bright indicating the type of waste they carry. In addition to the wares up for sale, there were also stalls that provided awareness on waste management and sustainable menstruation methods.

The section with stalls had every imaginable organic product up for grabs. From dark unrefined jaggery to baby products, every inch of stall space had something to offer. Energetic young kids stood by selling fresh juice to all and sundry, and sent out their most entrepreneurial and persuasive peer to get people to buy the juice.

The lake receives no funds from the government or the Municipal Corporation and yet, it is well-cared for. “Many people thought that the lake is maintained by the government and were reluctant to donate. Thankfully, now that has changed a bit” says Rekha. “It’s hard to get funds for maintaining the lake”, she adds “CSR initiatives prefer donating towards a project, as does everyone. So we are splitting up work that needs to be done, into projects.” Additionally, there are also some funds raised by running, the latest one being at the recently held Mumbai marathon. The community also gets requests from schools to bring children to the lake. This is usually outside the lake’s normal opening hours, and the group is charged a nominal fee of Rs.1000.

Colourful rangolis decorated with flower petals made one stop and admire them.

Not too far were kids trying their hand at bow-and-arrow, at one of the stalls that offered some fun sporting experiences. The day was filled with activities like a writing workshop for nature, storytelling, pottery, painting, a Kere Habba quiz, scavenger hunt and so much more. Excited little faces peered at the potter so effortlessly making clay pots as the wheel spun round and round.

There was also the floating island activity, where an artificial island with specific plants that feed on sewage was floated, which acts as a natural purifier. There was so much to do and even more to learn!

A lady next to us exclaimed, “Look at this beautiful park! It’s so nice to come here and relax. We don’t have anything like this where we live.” Open, natural spaces are fast disappearing in the city limits. “We get a lot of offers from groups to clean the lake; we don’t need that” says Rekha. “We need people to form a connect with the lake, understand what’s it’s all about and help sustain the progress”, she adds. The group is trying to also engage with the nearby villagers who used the lake in the past. “For us, the lake is a leisure space, but for some people, it was their livelihood” says Rekha. The group has also moved away from a manicured setup and has been exploring permaculture, but owing to BBMP guidelines, there cannot be a food forest in the lake premises.

The Kaikondrahalli Lake has come a long way. Its water level has risen, it is bio-diverse, and the community is a lot more active. This is no mean task. The community has spent more time and effort than they initially signed up for in this journey. The Kere Habba continues to reach out to more and more people. Connecting with the lake is the most important step towards conserving it. As author Richard Louv puts it, ‘We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.’