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.