Ganga Saptami…

A little fire is quickly trodden out; Which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench. -King Henry VI – William Shakespeare

April 23rd…the traditionally accepted birth date of William Shakespeare…and the date of his death too….

Rivers cannot quench little fires that are allowed to grow, says the bard…what about the fires that threaten to burn rivers dry? Who is to quench that?

April 23rd, 2007, happens to be Ganga Saptami…In the Indian calendar, this day is the traditionally accepted date of birth of River Ganga….The great Ganga that is revered by hundreds of millions across India, and indeed shines as the symbol of all rivers of India….a river that has at its banks, the story of civilizations, and towns and cities whose names evoke magic….a river so sacred that millions of people keep little sealed cans of Ganga water in their homes, hoping to have a sip of that just before they die, for they have faith that this will cleanse them of all demerits…

That Ganga, one reads off and on, is in danger of drying up…Usually a small inside page column or two in a newspaper, of some study or the other,  talks of this….

Geological Survey of India, and other agencies, are reported to have found that the Gangotri glacier is receding at an alarming rate, the volume of glacier ice is falling…and this, due to environmental causes that have happened only in the last half century or so….Gangotri, the source of Ganges, one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas, is in danger of disintegrating, say some reports.

Global warming, rampant deforestation are some of the fires that are burning the river….That Ganges will considerably dry up in the next hundred years or so is distinctly probable, they say….They point out to other Himalayan glaciers that have gone the same way….In the Saraswati valley, the glacier Ratakona is on the verge of drying up…The Pindari and Milan glaciers are also receding….

But then the story of rivers drying up is not something new in India, is it? Every time one passes the Paalaar river in Tamil Nad, one sees massive stretches of dry river bed…and the wonder is that the river bed is so broad…which was soon explained when one came to know that Paalaar was a perennial river, and dried up only in the last hundred years….now, sewages and industrial waste effluents try to keep some flow going in the lower end….the majestic river, that once upon a time flowed into the ocean at Mamallapuram. has only its bones to show….and even that bone dry river bed, is being ravished by sand quarrying…

Should we worry that Ganga too would go that way?

Or is it that in the cause of industrial progress, all this cry is “Much ado about nothing”?

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