River sutra: Waterways are the arteries through which flows the life-blood of civilisations

I am in Kaliabor in Assam, 200 km from Guwahati, and before me stretches the immense expanse of the Brahmaputra. It is the dry spell before the pre-monsoon rain squalls come sweeping in grey sheets of water, turning the dry land into iridescent green, and the great river is shrunken, revealing sandy beaches.

But even in its reduced state the river is a stupendous sight, its width, spanned by a bridge, stretching over 2.7 km. And i’m told that farther upriver, beyond Dibrugarh, it broadens out to an incredible 52 km, its shimmering surface stretching out to a horizon unbounded by the farther bank.

India is indeed blessed with its rivers. In Goa there is the majestic Mandovi, and the mighty Zuari, which makes me catch my breath every time i see it, which i’ve done, over and over, through the years.

Rivers are the currents of history and they give rise to civilisations. The annual flooding of the Nile, a phenomenon which leaves behind a rich deposit of silt that ensures bountiful crops, led to the pharaonic dynasties and the building of the great pyramids. The Indus gave birth to Mohenjo-daro, the first city of the South Asian subcontinent.

Imperial Rome, whose legions conquered the world, rose out of the Tiber.  London, which spawned an empire on which it was said that the sun never set, was a gift of the Thames.

When i first saw both these rivers, i was amazed as to how small and insignificant they looked compared with India’s huge waterways. They seemed mere streams, little more than rain-fed nallahs of no particular consequence.

Perhaps the most revered river in the world is our holy Ganga, worshipped as Mother Goddess by thousands of millions. And the great Indian tragedy is that we’ve poisoned it almost to the point of extinction with untreated effluents, and sewage, and excrement.

Civilisations are born through rivers, and live by them, and those who let their rivers die put themselves in mortal jeopardy.

As i watch the setting sun turns the Brahmaputra into a life-tide, the colour of blood.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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