Success or otherwise of any event comes not only from the numbers associated with it but also the experience of the participants contributing to it, coupled with grace and flair with which it was conducted. On these parameters the 8th World Atheist Conference (WAC), held at Trichy could be termed a remarkable success.
The organizers, The Dravidar Kazhagam and the Atheist Centre did a wonderful job under the able leadership of Dr Veeramani and Dr Vijayam, both of whom were seen overseeing even the minutest details like arrangement of books and science models at the exhibition stalls and greeting the delegates in person. The smooth flow of activities at the event was ensured by untiring efforts of hundreds of volunteers, mostly students and teachers from the chain of Periyar educational institutions. From guiding you to various venues / halls or serving tea and snacks during various sessions and then delicious food in the dining hall, these volunteers excelled everywhere with their humility and discipline. The young teacher who ferried me to and from the hotel where I was putting up is a committed atheist and so is the young girl student who explained to me various models at the science exhibition. Then there was this young woman with whom I interacted on stage making comments on her presentation. All these youngsters had one thing in common, not only atheism but sheer self confidence. And with self confidence you simply can't go wrong.
The sprawling 160 acre spread of the Maniammai University at Thanjavur has many projects related to ecology and environment. Paper recycling, energy from biogas plants, preparing vermi compost, using alternate building materials and above all, planting trees and ensuring water conservation by using improvised drip irrigation system for watering plants and fields, all are done in a planned, meticulous and economic manner. This is the most important statement on atheism which is symbolic of coming back to nature and adapting the natural way of living.
The delegates were served tea and snacks in the shade of bamboo shrubs and then taken to the venue in a traditional musical procession through the live bamboo arches along the walkway about one kilometre or so in length before starting the proceedings scheduled for the day. Earlier upon arrival at the university complex each delegate was given a chance to plant at least one tree. I also planted one called 'Kal Thekku' in Tamil (botanical name: Tectona Grandis).
I was told by the person in charge of their alternate building materials section that they were saving Rs 600 per cubic metre of masonry in comparison with brick masonry done with conventional sand cement mortar by using hollow concrete blocks and pointing the joints with just 6% cement mixed with flyash and sand mortar. A remarkable saving considering the enormous construction activity going on in the complex.
These activities conducted in complete harmony with nature was a practical demonstration of the theme of the WAC - Atheism; an alternative culture.
In front of my house I have four big shrubs of bamboo which I have been thinking of felling for quite sometime but could not as many birds take shelter in them in frosty winter nights. Now, back home from the WAC, I have resolved not to even think of cutting any of them. They say each one releases 850 grams of oxygen into the atmosphere.