In many ways, I have come to
believe now, that the attitude to water defines civilizations. Water, wind, sun and rain, (in their many
forms and their many consequences) have through the ages governed how and where
They have directed choices
of place – for dwelling, for ablution, for cultivation, for congregation and
safekeeping, for control and for protection.
And the many great cities of
civilized cultures have built themselves around these ideas. And chiefly around
the idea of water – as sustenance, as waterway, as beauty and as defense.
I recall visiting villages,
still without bathrooms or toilets, where the places for bathing, and
biological function were carefully separated and placed along the same life
giving stream from which they drew water for cooking and drinking.
The spot for the daily
ablutions was always down stream, away from any point of the village's access to
One looks at the City of
Delhi, and it becomes clear how over time the city, seems to have turned its back
on the waters it drew its initial reason of being from.
The Yamuna is a ghastly
sight and smell.
But that is not what got me
started on this line of thought. It is elsewhere, on the high point of Mehrauli
the oldest of the still living historic cities that make up Delhi as we know
it. I was standing on a balcony overlooking the Shamsi Talaab, a large water
tank, flanked by the majestic Jahaaz Mahal, looking out over a thousand years of
Delhi, the talab, broken mosques in ruin, new mosque in white and green, the
Mehrauli Gurgoan road and the Metro.
But right before me, the
Talaab, stood walled, a 5 ft high stone wall, and then a metal grill that keeps
only people – not plastic bags with rubbish, and waste and disposable bottles-
out. The bank of the Talaab is littered with plastic, and packaging, and other such
non-bio-degradeable waste of modern consumer culture. Thrown directly into, or
around the very waters that have for centuries made living on the highest point
of Delhi both safe and favoured.
The fence, the only
recognizable presence of the Archeological Society of India, only helps
reinforce and reinstate the idea that the tank is a rubbish dump. Everything
else is allowed access to the water but the people to whom it historically has
This alienation – of
culture, of people, and possibly of humanity itself – from the sources of its
sustenance on a planet of meager means, this is slowly becoming the single most
definitive idea of Modern civilization.
And yet we cry ourselves
sore for “Green” buildings, sustainable design, and a better city. Yet we will
continue to litter our streets, we will throw plastic into every river and
Like all things, like everything, its all begins at home, right at your
door step. I remember once while in
Thimphu, visiting family friends, I went for walk in the forests above the
Radio Tower, a good hour and half way up the hill to a small temple. On the way
back, one of the two I was with took out a big bag, and then with sharpened
stick picked off the forest floor proceeded to spike and collect every piece of
plastic/ paper and waste we could spot.
Once a week she did this, and that week I joined in too. We cleaned a
small path in a forest that had stood and nurtured Thimphu as long as it had
Which brings me back to
where I began, the pond, and the waste on its bank, and a wall, and community
that lives around it that does nothing. Only adds to the waste, and watches in in-action as it is blown by the wind, and strewn across the park and infront of
their houses on the parking street.
How do we change that? How
do we, join all the dots that were once joined, but have been systematically
un-joined. Technologies are only a part of the answer, much of the answers lie
at home, inside and outside our doorways, in the way we choose to ignore and
accept, in the way we have chosen to live our insular, self-referenced and
inward looking lives.
If you walk past Samsi
Talaab, give it a look and think, or if you cross the Yamuna too. And then I
hope you will travel to Pilang or some far off place, miles away from any road,
and see how differently they treat water, and maybe I will not need to make any
more of this argument.
Labels: ASI, city, Delhi, Fences, Mehrauli, Shampsi Talaab, Water, Water and civilization, Water and human settlements, Water and settlements, Water source, Water tank, Yamuna