Yesterday, when the people of Jalpaiguri Town woke up, they found thousands of dead fishes floating in the river Karala.
I remember a young man from Jalpaiguri, who was then completing his tourism course with North Bengal University, visited my office quite often. He was loud in his comments and proud about his Jalpaiguri town; his regular comment was as follows:
“What River Tames is to London, River Karala is to Jalpaiguri. This is the only city of India, which can be compared with London”.
I had spent a major part of my childhood in Jalpaiguri, the ancestral house of my mother, located next to the Karala River, just opposite to the Jalpaiguri Jail field, a large wooden house, high up on 08 huge Sal (Shorea) logs, which even withstood the heavy floods of 1968 and 1971. There was a boat which was tied at the river just after a small backyard garden (almost wild) and our favourite place for night picnics. As children, we often explored till the mouth of mighty Teesta River in that boat and sometimes in the opposite direction to the Rajbari (King’s palace). On the opposite bank was the Dinbazaar. Then there was a regular flow in the river and I remember there was atleast 02 community cleaning of the river.
I had no idea where the river originated from, but there were stories from my grandmother that Devi Choudhurani often used this river for her movements. The living river was the proof of the good quality life of the people of Jalpaiguri then. My Grandfather being a freedom fighter of his times, saw good number of friends who were dedicated to the development of Jalpaiguri and her people. There was a living culture for education, health, dance, music and business. I often found it more lively than Siliguri then. With my Grandfather I often visited his friends and relatives at Lataguri, Kathambari, Takdah and sometimes Bhutan. My Grandmother’s father often visited her from Rajsahi in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with good Simul cotton and sweets. All the journeys had crossing of several rivers and life with livelihood along the rivers.
Gradually with time our connectivity the rivers have almost gone. We just look at it as a line of feel good, but often forget that these water networks still helps to keep the good health of this earth, provides us with the sweet water supply and inturn food for all living beings on land. We often try and create hurdles for free movement of our rivers through dams and ducts, and do not allow the complete flushing out of all pollution from the land. It is time when we have to think beyond beautification of out river banks, building bridges, covering the river banks near cities to built housing colonies and slums and dumping daily household wastes in the rivers (forget industry, corporate and medical wastes). It is time when we have to think that these rivers, however small or big or ugly they may be, they are the mother of our lives.
The Jalpaiguri incident should be a lesson for all of us. Let every town and village take ownership of their rivers and run community programs, regular volunteering programs from the children, to the working class to retired elders, and establish connectivity with their rivers.