A Sacred River

As a boy, the story of the earth’s evolution filled my imagination with lakes, rivers and ocean with swimming pool like water --- transparent to the bottom. That would have been a billion years ago at least. And then little early forms of fishes swimming in these waters would have made it look like a giant fish tank. If I were there, all that I would have had do, was to stand at the bank and look deep into it, to see the fishes swimming right unto the bottom. But then that would have to be few hundred million years ago.

Not really.

In 1579 from his base in Goa, Portuguese Jesuit Father Antonio Monserrate was traveling to Agra to see the Mughal Emperor Akbar. The Emperor wished to learn about the Christian religion. The Jesuit traveled upcountry through central India and then to Agra. Somewhere in today’s Madhya Pradesh, he had to cross the Narmada River. What he saw on reaching there in his own words:

It is full of fish, and its water is so clear that the fish and turtles, and even smaller pebbles, can be counted. It banks are covered with thick reed-beds, and with health-giving herb marjoram

In total contrast, today Narmada’s waters are muddy and wash up a variety of filth, by the time it reaches Bharuch. Ironically, the more sacred a river is thought to be, larger the burden of human generated waste on it. Plastic bags, filth, tons of rotten flowers and food…

Looking back, the astonishing account of Narmada’s waters in the sixteenth century is hard-to-believe. But then that was only 430 years ago, not 100 million years back. We have managed to destroy so much in such little time. Our population bulge is as much to blame as the general apathy itself.

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