If you hire a taxi in Kolkata and suddenly realize fellow motorists and passersby are ogling at you or angling their cellphone cameras at the vehicle to get a better view at traffic intersections, chances are it is not your charm offensive that they are after.
Instead, take a good look at the cab you are on board. A miniature garden in the dashboard: Tick; a few plants dancing happily on its boot: Tick; the roof done up with a patch of green grass: Tick.Voila! You are riding Kolkata's 'Sabuj Rath' (green chariot).
In a city where most yellow cab drivers are infamous for charging extra bucks or rudely refusing rides to passengers, soft-spoken Dhananjay Chakraborty, who drives the Sabuj Rath, has no such demands.
His only motto is to raise awareness about our environment and he politely requests passengers who take a ride with him to plant more trees wherever they can.
The 40-year-old green crusader drives a yellow Ambassador that has a rooftop covered with a bed of real grass.
So how did this idea dawn on him?
“Over the past few decades, Kolkata has seen a massive construction boom, resulting in hack of trees and depletion of green cover. Gardens these days are being set up on terrace of big buildings to help trap pollutants and deflect heat. That inspired me to come up with the idea. All I want is to make greenery visible to people and inculcate the love for nature,” said Chakraborty.
If Chakraborty's intention was to draw attention to an important issue, he has been quite successful. Most who come across his 'green chariot' shower appreciation, take pictures and praise him for the initiative.
“People get inspired and plant saplings at home and even invite me to their homes,” said the driver, who also writes poetry and creates artifacts out of bamboo.
Some of his fellow taxi drivers, too, want to emulate the model but the cost of installing a roof-top garden has become a deterrent.
“When I installed the 'rooftop garden' I had to spend Rs 35,000 on it but I am sure it could be brought down to Rs 20,000. If that happens, you will see several mobile rooftop gardens plying on city roads,” he said.
Some disbelieving souls even tear out a strand or two from his roof to check if it's real grass. Curious onlookers always crowd around his vehicle, making it difficult for him at times to get passengers. But many who hire a ride get inspired.
“Some passenger also give me some extra money to plant saplings on their behalf,” said the green crusader.
So how does it work?The rooftop tray, whose base is made of metal and coated with a layer of fibre to make it rust-proof, weighs 65 kg. A layer of soil, white sand, stone chips and netting has been placed just to cover the tray before the grass was planted.
The excess water gets drained through some small holes at the base of that metal tray. As a result, the taxi remains cooler than non-AC cabs.
Priyank Singh (29), who booked a ride, said: “This is fabulous. Hats off to Mr Dhananjay and his ideas. He deserves a good pat on his back. Apart from spreading the message on why we need to save greenery, the taxi feels much cooler than other non-AC taxis.
"This is a saving grace in Kolkata’s sultry and humid weather conditions that turns yellow taxis into some sort of a blast furnace during summer.”
No wonder Chakraborty gets celebrity treatment from fellow drivers, public and even the police. Some even take selfies with him and his 'chariot'.
This means a lot to Dhananjay, who drives a rented car and has invested most of his life saving on it.
“The motto is to save and revive greenery. In Kolkata and all over the world people should plant greenery. So that the coming generations would get an unpolluted, safe and green world to live in,” said the green crusader.