Long before the urgency of ‘sustainability‘ pierced its way into our everyday lexicon and collective consciousness, Dia Mirza was practising and preaching it.
Archived newspaper reports swirling around the Internet will tell you that in 2010, the former Miss India Pacific had adopted two leopard cubs—Ashoka and Naks—at the Lucknow zoo. (A noteworthy detail is that the cubs‘ mother had been rescued in Mirzapur, and named ‘Dia of Mirzapur‘ by the forest staff.) Nearly a decade later, a baby rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya was also named ‘Dia Mirza‘, and a delighted Dia (the actor, not the rhino) took to Instagram to post a photograph of her namesake, urging followers to do their bit to conserve wildlife.
Over the years, the Thappad actor has used her voice and influence to spread awareness about the perils of plastic, the need for greater mindfulness in matters of consumption and climate change, and why it is so important to maintain a balanced ecosystem. Her work as the brand ambassador for the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) includes drawing attention to the danger—and suffering—faced by several animal species. Her longstanding support of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also features a compelling ad campaign that shows Dia dressed as a bloodied snake, imploring people to give up wearing and carrying animal skins. And in 2018, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by UN Environment (alongside custodians like model Gisele Bündchen, singer Ellie Goulding, and Alibaba Chief Jack Ma).
Dia‘s appointment with the UN gave the actor greater impetus to use her social media assets for change. Her Instagram feed is brimming with stirring messages, urging her Followers to rethink their environmental choices. Occasionally, the said Followers are also treated to photographs of majestic elephants, often in regards to securing safe elephant corridors (“Just the thought of being near an elephant makes me happy,” Dia said in a post from 2018).
But perhaps the greatest testimony to our CoverGirl's passion for the environment comes from the changes she has brought into her own life—Dia is an antiplastic advocate and has galvanised family, staff, friends, and neighbours to rethink their water, electricity, energy, and everyday lifestyle choices. At the Cosmo cover shoot, incidentally, the actor carefully scrutinised each garment on the styling rack, before giving it a ‘sustainable’ nod of approval. “We are confronted by an existential crisis,” she tells me later, her voice imbued with significance. “The way we have built the world, the way we have created patterns of consumption and economies, it’s simply not sustainable. The Earth is running out of resources, and we won’t be left with clean air, clean water, or the kind of climate that is necessary to grow food. We just have this decade to fix what we have done wrong. This pandemic should have been our biggest wake-up call, because if we don’t change the way we live our lives, things will only get worse.”
Read on as Dia explains the link between our health and that of the planet (“when we disrupt the balance of the environment, we are causing ill health and misfortune to ourselves,” she says); addresses the subject of conscious consumption, and tells anyone who will listen that the fight against environmental destruction can no longer be ignored...
Nandini Bhalla: How have the last few months been for you?
Dia Mirza: “The last seven months have given me the opportunity to spend quality time with my mother. It’s been wonderful, eating mom’s food every day, playing Scrabble and carrom with her...
But I realised, soon enough, that while this ‘pause’ was wonderful, there was a lot to be done. So, I made a conscious decision to engage in more social work and mobilise support for NGOs. I also used my Instagram platform to launch a series of conversations called Down To Earth With D, to drive information on sustainability.
On most days, I practise yoga daily and do something called ‘earthing’, where I walk bare feet in the grass. I enjoy spending time in the garden, watching birds, and it’s been interesting to shoot remotely, do your own hair make-up, be directed by your director over a call. I guess that aatmanirbhar is a term that applies here [laughs].
Emotionally, this has been a time for introspection, a time of realisations and actualisations. I remember being asked, several times over several years, about where I saw myself in 20 years. I don‘t think any of us could have imagined that the future included a global pandemic, turning our lives around and compelling us to ask some very important questions of ourselves.”
NB: You have made so many significant contributions to the fight against environmental injustices. When did you first discover your passion for wildlife and the Earth?
DM: “This understanding, that our life is connected to nature, started early for me. I was educated in a school called Vidya Ranya, which means ‘forest of education’. It was a school based on the philosophies of J Krishnamurthi.
My mother is a huge nature lover; you can ask her for the name of any plant, any tree, and she will know it. And her father, who was a professor of astronomy, taught her the names of constellations. So I grew up in an environment that fostered a strong, abiding relationship with nature. We would climb trees, pluck fruits... I remember going rock climbing, sailing, and swimming in the lake. These are not experiences many urban kids have today.
The alarm bells for climate change had started to ring in the ‘80s. And during my foundation years at school, many of the conversations were centred around a need for responsible consumption. We were taught how to compost, and many of the classes were held under big trees, Shanti Niketan-style. We would spend a lot of time in neighbouring villages, to interact with farmers and farm children. So value, consciousness, and empathy were deeply nurtured.
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