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The mythological story of the river Goddess, Ganga, and its power to purify the sins of all those she comes in contact with, fuels many a festival in India along with countless accompanying rituals and ceremonies. Ironically, though, it is our respect for Ganga, the Goddess, that leads to our utter disrespect for Ganges, the river. The recent coverage of The New York Times, splashing a picture of floating corpses in the holy river, has brought the issue of wanton disregard of the river centre stage. Here is a piece of verse I have composed – ‘When Ganga says No’, a kind of a dialogue with the holy river, where she bemoans her loss of purity, accuses us of sustained abuse and warns us of the existential crisis she confronts today, saying a firm and final ‘No’ to being exploited any further. 

When Ganga says No

The headlines screamed

‘The Ganges returning the dead’

Unbelievable, eerie

It simply left me stunned!

 

I visited the holy river

Always the mother

Broad-bosomed, accommodating, caring

I could go to her anytime 

Smiling or despairing. 

 

I pleaded 

Mother, you have a hoary past

Our history and myth

Our song and story

Around you is cast

We revere you as a Goddess,

O Mother Supreme, ever kind

What makes you return us today

When our lives are forever entwined. 

 

The Mother, though deeply annoyed, 

Managed a feeble smile 

That I was her child

She did not decline 

Weakly, she replied-

I am glad you remember my divine origin 

My majestic sweep…..

Yet I sit here today

And weep….

Look at my plight 

Come, see how I have been 

Debased, defiled.

 

Dear child, she continued 

All through I have shared

Your darkness and pain

All your secrets

Sacred and profane 

Like a mother, I owned you up

But you have shown scant respect. 

Look around 

And inside me

The river that I am, is dying

My arteries are clogged

My waterways choked

I am only a mishmash of flowers and faeces

And a dumping ground of corpses……

Such wanton disregard

Such desecration…..

Yes, I am older than history, older than tradition

But today, I face an existential crisis 

No more of you- dead or alive….

My child, I maybe a mother alright

But for me to bless you

I need to survive!


Also read: Two Telugu states, one river — why Andhra & Telangana are fighting it out over the Krishna


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