“Sir, I wish to jump into the river. I want to know what the water is like.” I told my instructor. With no hesitation, I did the craziest and most unhygienic of things- I jumped into the Yamuna to experience its waters. I wanted to find out if it was a river or not.
Like most Delhites, I always thought that the Yamuna was a drain that the government was trying to clean up, poor remains of a mighty river, divinely blessed by Lord Krishna, mother of grand capital cities, kingdoms, settlements of people who built along rivers. How could people bear to immerse Durga and Ganesha idols into this pool of muck? The Yamuna Action Plan was obviously a hoax; the Yamuna could never be changed into a river!
A few weeks ago, I fell in love with her. A newly enrolled NCC Naval cadet, my training includes activities like boat pulling and sailing. Our training area is located on the bank, with its cool breezes and breath taking view. Yamuna has many tiny green islets, flowers patches and fields. The current is strong and the going upstream is tough. I recall reading Khushwant Singh’s descriptions of the banks but never could imagine what he was talking about. I now encounter scenic beauty I never knew existed in my city, new birds and new flowers.
I took the plunge when our boat was at the centre of the river, near the DND Yamuna Bridge and went at least four feet under before emerging. Surprisingly, the water was sweet and cool. The water is blue green and there were tiny fishes. Visibility, zero. The river is dirty, undoubtedly. Nevertheless, she has her own charm, a calm, understated force, much abused and in need of treatment.
Yamuna provides drinking water to almost 70% of Delhi’s households. It is shameful that the discharge of harmful effluents and mindless pollution is not checked. Those who settle along the banks treat the river as a personal dustbin, lacking basic knowledge of garbage disposal. The Yamuna supports ecosystems and agricultural land. Many have raised their voices in protest against the ill treatment of the Yamuna but this is yet to gain mass support.
By waking up to this issue, we could create a new haven within our little state, along her banks, much more meaningful than man-made gardens and lakes. Nature has endowed our city with such a precious gift, the gift of river, which gives us fresh water, flora and fauna. The idea of clean rivers has been treated as a textbook subject for far too long. It is important for us to “take a walk” so that we bear witness to these horrendous crimes against Nature.