• The Art of Living with a River

    Salil Chaturvedi

    Indo-Gangetic_Plain
    Image via India Water Portal

    Eight I was, when I met her first,
    And she? I imagined an eight thousand years!
    A summer dawn and my very first river
    Calm and deep—an eternal giver
    Around a fort and by a hill
    Flowed she, gently, almost still.

    The adults haggle and strike a price
    We’re in the boat now, off with cries
    In our feet, some sand and grime
    Over the Yamuna, for the very first time.

    I remember the gentle tinkle of oars
    And a turtle out on his daily chores
    As we slided sweetly down her back
    Our cup of joy was about to crack.

    A little life, that day, the Yamuna took
    An innocent boy with an innocent look
    Who must have been about my age
    Was trapped in a whirlpool’s watery cage.

    I still remember that nervous day
    When a young life quietly dipped away
    The dim feeling, never really goes
    A fear of Yamuna within me flows.

    Then off to schools: some nice, some rotten
    While I read, Yamuna flowed forgotten
    Till I spotted her beside the insignificant Taj
    A little rectangle around her gracious arch.

    I thought as over the Yamuna I flew
    From the sky it’s such a different view!
    These rivers that we exploit for gains
    Look like Earth’s myriad veins
    And a city resembles an ugly scab
    Over a wound or a deathly stab.

    Then I met Yamuna at Delhi
    Trapped in drains and quite smelly
    A civilization that once she reared
    Now she flows through it, smeared and jeered.

    How strange it is, the fate of rivers
    How cruel a blow destiny delivers
    As we live our ‘meaningful lives’
    There’s nothing else that survives?

    O Yamuna! Dark sister of Yama!

    Will you not drown us with your waves
    Find for us wet watery graves
    When will your patience finally burst?
    For our lives do you not thirst?

    Culture has now reached your banks
    A million devotees – a million cranks
    A dim feeling within me grows
    A little of your pain within me flows.

    Salil Chaturvedi writes short fiction and poetry in English and Hindi. He lives in Chorao, an island in Goa.

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