By: Katyayan Sharma
‘Bohnikheda’, under a bridge and next to funeral home a foul smelling drain flows; which the locals identify with a mythological and sacred river once called Saraswati. Today, by the looks of it, can’t be more than a drain and it was the first thing that caught my eyes. The water which appears as black as soot and the river has become a dump yard for the locals. The first person that we met while surveying the course around this area was a local shop owner named Rajan. Rajan sets up the scene: the river as old as any in the world, was revered since the Mahabharata times. The reason as to why people settled here was this very river. “Pooja karte the yaahan par”, his eyes lit up with the memories of the place which he remembers as a place of veneration. From time immemorial, the river to his forefathers, many around the place who have ever lived, akin to a Goddess to whom they would worship, drink water from and use its water to sow their fields. “Roz nadi par karte the” he interjects, answering all my questions in one go; the river-which-was had clean water flowing with full force and the condition it is today in, was not how it always was.”Seher ke kachre ne sab barbad kar diya”, my romantic interlude on history is cut short as Rajan brings me back to reality. Today, Drainage from all sides of the town is dumped into the river without any treatment whatsoever, industrial wastes from the factories like the one just upstream from Bohnikheda, he recalls, “Gatta factory”.
“Zamindaran ne saari zameen lai li”, Harbans answered joining in the conversation. Harbans, who is a local farmer, came to India from Pakistan during the partition. The petty landlords encroached the catchment area of the river and as the flow receded the practice heaped on.
Thinking out loud, Harbans ponders “aithe meenh ghat painde han”, suggesting that the current state of the river is also attributed to the fact that the region receives little rainfall (‘meenh’ in Punjabi is rain).
As we stroll through the weeds growing in the filth and dirt, Harbans leers in to the course of the river, ”aithe vohot vadde vadde vagh bagichee si” he explains how the place had lush green gardens and dense trees that were eventually cut down for various reasons. The most plausible reason for the present status for the river-that-was can be the Green revolution and the vulgarities of industrialization that followed in the area. Too much use of fertilizers and pesticides, growing rice (which requires a lot of water) in a place where rainfall is scanty maybe termed as foolish by many. The consequent urbanization of the area led to the river being converted as a sewage and garbage dump yard.
‘’Drainage tunnel ko hatana hoga, pakka ghat banana hoga”, Rajan suggests with a tone of finality as we reach back to the road. As a delayed, halfhearted response to the affairs of the river-that- was, the Government in the hope to divert the sewage from the river created tunnels along the course of the river which is far from perfect, emerging from the very fact that it is along the course of the river defeating the purpose for which it was built in the first place. Interestingly, the locals have brilliant ideas for the revival of the river-that-was, all that needs to be done is their involvement and mobilization.
It is ironical how development can blind people and the state. “Hale bhi aithe ruk ke hath jod ke jande ne”, ‘’ Pakistan ton vi aithe mattha tekan aunde si”, these words of Harbans had a huge impact on me. ‘Once-revered-river-now-turned-into-a-drain’, in a line, points out the ironies of the present world. Man today has become a slave to the comforts that world has to offer, even if it is on the cost of the environment that we live in. For me, the term development will never mean the same again and the river-that-was will always be a symbol of the vulgarities ‘development’ has to offer.