Monday, December 04, 2006

The river

The river Hooghly flows between Calcutta and Howrah. There are regular ferry services connecting a number of points in Calcutta and Howrah. And there are two magnificent bridges connecting the two cities.

The river is near the end of her course here, before flowing into the Bay of Bengal (having begun her long journey in the snowy Himalayas and flowed through the huge north Indian plain). Hence it is highly silted, and the water is brown with clay. The Kolkata Port Trust studies the river course and when cargo ships enter the mouth of the river from the sea, they are steered by the expert Hooghly Pilots of the Port Trust.

To many people in Calcutta today, the fact that they live next to one of the major rivers of the world, or the sacred river of the Hindus – has nothing to do with their lives. But earlier, people used to want to live close to the river, so that they could walk down for their daily bath and ritual prayers. Today, for a large number of labouring people, the river and the river-side are one big public toilet and bath.

The river is very polluted, with industrial effluents and municipal sewage being discharged into it. Animal carcasses can be seen floating. In recent years, there has been an effort to control the pollution, with some success.

The river is home to the Ganges Dolphin, which can occasionally be seen leaping up from the water.

The river is also the principal source of drinking water for the metropolis, with water treatment plants making the water potable.

For me, the Ganges Dolphin is an icon of the city. It symbolises the child in the city, whose mythic protector it is. If environmental management in the metropolis is sound, the dolphin will flourish, as would the city's children. Now both are endangered.

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