Human vocabulary is very limited, and it fails miserably when it tries to capture nuances of nature. The word “river” is one such generic term used to describe waterways that are as different as chalk and cheese in ecological terms. A river can be mightyBrahmaputra, flowing strongly round the year, and even Rupen from Kutch that fails to reach the sea even during monsoon. So, each river has its unique ecology following its natural water cycle.
Our history books keep referring to rivers as cradles of civilization due to our typical short-sighted anthropocentric view point. In reality, every citadel that springs on a riverbank is just a part of a larger ecology that is formed around the availability of water. We are not the only users of the water. From small insects to large trees that co-exist alongside us are parts of a larger picture that we fail to see.
For Ahmadabad, Sabarmati was (and still is) the raison d’être, as its presence allowed us to settle on the edge of a dessert. Luckily for us, it has a drainage basin that is well fed by monsoon, allowing it to run water for most part of the year. Sabarmati, when natural forces operated it, was a seasonal and not a perennial river. Ecology that naturally evolved around it is tuned to accept few months of dry river bed with only subterranean water available for use. So, like all rivers, there exists a rhythm, a song of the river, sung in sync with arrival and departure of life-giving elixir that Sabarmati carries for us all.
The gecko on your wall, the algae in your tank, Peepal tree and the myna sitting on it, your neighbor Chandukaka and the bacterial colonies digesting the food in his stomach, the mosquito that bit you today morning and everything else that is alive in this part of the world has painstakingly evolved to the sing the song of Sabarmati. It has taken many years for the song to be in perfect tune.
And one fine day we decide to change the tune, from a smooth organic melody to the electric-rock, and turn the seasonal river into a lake for all the seasons. To hell with the seasons and to hell with dry and dirty riverbed. We want to see water all around the year and we are almighty humans so we have gone ahead and done it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t wait to ask the algae and now she is confused. Gone are the days of scarcity of water that controlled its growth. Bright sunlight, a city full of Homo sapiens pouring in organic nutrients into the near-stagnant water and algae blooms like never before. So does other aquatic plants. The algae and plant proliferation will soon rob the now stagnant water of all oxygen creating dead zones for bellow-water life.
Interestingly, this process will aid mosquito breeding in two ways, as organic material will provide mosquito larvae with food while dead zone will reduce its natural predators. And what mosquitoes can do to a densely populated city is stuff that my nightmares are made of. And yet, however impossible it may sound in today’s technologically advanced era; if it happens, we will surely not be the first city on earth lost to a siege of malaria.
What is completely missed by our urban planners is the fact that nature takes a lot of time to settle down to a rhythm, and when that rhythm is disrupted, nature passes through a period of chaos that is very difficult to compute/control using human (and frankly, very limited) understanding of natural forces.
We have disrupted the song of Sabarmati, so we will have to wait for her to find a new song. I hope that Ahmadabad survives the process.