Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Married & Unmarried rivers !

We were listening in rapt attention to D.K.Mishraji, to his analyses of the impacts of the Kosi embankments. D.K.Mishra, is the grand old man who has devoted his life to researching, writing and activism on Kosi, against her embankments. He is a story-teller, a teacher who can hold forth in complete authority on the subject. He is an IIT graduate, a structural engineer who does understand the intricacies of the impacts of building mega-structures like the Kosi embankments. His talk is peppered with stories he has heard from the people of the land. One such story was of the Rivers.

People, from time immemorial, know how to live with floods. Note: they do not control floods or even manage floods. They live with them. Unlike our foolish technologists who tried to conquer the temperamental Kosi. But not that now ... I will talk about that in another piece. For now, I am recounting the story of the Rivers. So, as I was saying, people lived with the floods. Monsoons came. The rivers swelled up. The waters spread out - clearing garbage and trash, filling ponds and wells, rejuvenating the tired land with fresh soil from the Himalayas. The water rose up to 4-5 feet. And the people built machaans, platforms of bamboo, where up went everything. Their grain stock, their precious assets, their kids and cattle and also sometimes a stray snake which found its shelter from the raging waters. But that was the principle during the floods. Everybody helped everybody. Enemities, even between the species were forgotten. People waited the floods out. Eventually, in a few days, the waters would recede. And life returned to normalcy.

Once in way, the rivers threw their tantrums, refusing to withdraw to their course. The women, then, held poojas, lit lamps and prayed to the river to go back. And if the river still refused, the women threw sindoor, the red powder which married women in India wear on their forehead. They threatened the rivers with marriage !

These Himalayan rivers, were apparently unmarried. They were young, they were full of life, and they came tumbling and skipping down the slopes. They were immature and juvenile. And thus they were unmarried. Ganga, on the other hand, is married - at least in Bihar. She has run a long course, seen the world, runs sedate and peaceful, and nurtures her people. Marriage apparently has tamed her. Made her more responsible.

The Kosi and her playmates, Bagmati (the tigress), Kamala, Gandak etc. were as yet unmarried. They changed their course ever so often. Got distracted. But were powerful.

The threat of marriage, the women say, works. For the rivers retreat in a hurry when sindoor is thrown at them.

Looks like even the rivers know a good thing, huh?

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