Life and times of a river and its people

Life and times of a river and its people

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yamuna: Public places private encounters

Thousands of commuters cross the Nizamuddin bridge on Yamuna daily, but how many bother to pause for a while to look at Yamuna? A young student always posed a question during her travels across the bridge, “Why are these tall barricades here?”
The answers varied each time but it left a feeling in her - of the river being ‘cut off’ from the people. Not just Nizamuddin bridge, all other bridges across the Yamuna connecting the two banks have failed to bridge the gap between the river and its people. 

Several years later, for that young student Aparna Das, living in south Delhi’s Munirka, the journey from believing that a river has no importance for a city to what wonders a river can do to a city, has been exciting. Over last decade as architect Aparna, a senior member of the Yamuna Katha Team, dealt with homing to housing to habitations to settlements, it was only her recent encounter with Yamuna that opened a Pandora’s Box.

“The visit was fascinating. The image of Yamuna as a drain was nowhere to be seen. I was overwhelmed,” Aparna recalls. But the romanticism fell flat on face a few weeks on when she saw soon after the monsoon, an empty stinking Yamuna. “And I wonder how at all I missed those despicable drug addicts the first time round?” 

With face-to-face encounters of a different kind, Aparna questions her idea about Yamuna and its development every day. The questioned that troubles her often for cities and habitations: ‘How much is too much?’ has also found an echo in the river front’s development schemes. But the riverfront development may offer a revival.

Environmentalist Manu Bhatnagar had told a reporter some time ago: Yamuna is neglected as it is no more a part of city’s social fabric. It is no more a part of city’s community events such as swimming or boating or for that matter, trekking along the river bank.

One community event that comes to Aparna’s mind is the time when Durga idols are immersed into the river. “If I believe in the Durga idol, I believe in other things too. For me, the river is then not a mere water channel. It is my past and if I want to have my future, I need my past.” 

Durga Puja in Okhla, Delhi – 2011, Photo: Alexander Koecher

The Yamuna Katha is looking forward to understanding this ‘man-river’ connection through various dialogues. The discourse is imperative as the river seems to have lost its relevance to Delhiites.

The state of affairs can be gauged from the fact that when in May 2009, Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies carried out a survey, many of the respondents did not even know the name of the river flowing through Delhi. 

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