Rivers and humans go a long way. There’s no better proof than history- the most ancient civilizations sprung up on river banks that were the first cradles of culture.
The Cauvery has perhaps achieved the distinction of being the most debated and discussed Indian river in recent times. Atleast the most tweeted and posted! While issues of water sharing have taken over national headlines, the Cauvery, to people in cities like Tiruchi built on its banks, means more than a matter of dispute. It defines the city’s identity, and sometimes their own.
“People in Tiruchi and Srirangam do not see the Cauvery as just another river; she is an inseparable part of our lives,” says Varsha Gopalan, an eco campaigner. “Whenever I pass near the river, I experience a strong pull towards it. Today, all that is left is a stretch of sand, a very painful sight. Not only is the livelihood of many farmers in jeopardy, our ecosystem is affected and the dearth of clean water source triggers disease.”
For some people the city is incomplete without the Cauvery. An often repeated statement is “This is the river. But where is the water? “As a kid, I remember the times when the water almost touched the bridge. Few days back when I took my little nephew to relive the sights I had enjoyed, it was only disappointment we saw down there,” says a crestfallen Teenooja Ganesh.
There are many Tiruchiites who take a special pride in the river like lecturer Shirley Deepak, “When I was selected to make a presentation about Rotary Clubs in the city at San Diego, USA, my first slide had the river Cauvery in all its glory flowing across the city. I felt a touch of pride when the American audience sat there admiring it.”
Perhaps the Cauvery occupies pride of place in a Tiruchiite’s consciousness, because the river flows under a bridge that stretches between Srirangam and the mainland uniting some of the city’s most cherished icons. As Deepak Saravanan says, “The sight of the Cauvery flowing below with the majestic Rock Fort looming on one side and the Srirangam Rajagopuram on the other side is worth getting out of home every evening.”
Some fondly recall the images of washer men and women drying out their clothes in seemingly unending rows near the river Kollidam. For others, the sight of the river seen from atop the Rock Fort is strongly imprinted. For college student Rathi, the most vivid image the river calls up are associated with the rituals during Aadi Perukku. For Ranjani, the elephants bearing water from the river to the temple for worship and the immersing of Ganesha idols are moments when the river conjures up colour.
As Ranjani puts it, in a city that has few hangouts and no beach, the Cauvery and the bridge over it tops the list of favourite haunts. “Living in a city without a beach has meant that the bridges and the banks are the centre of all our activities be it morning walks, playing a game, chatting with friends or even planning a clean-up campaign.”
The river has something for everyone- some come here to stroll, some to seek solace, some flock here to talk, some to seek silence. But any given evening, there are scores of people enjoying the cool breeze, sprawled on the bridge and munching sundal. “The bridge is indeed Tiruchi’s beach. I used to bathe in Amma Mandapam and play cricket on the banks as a kid. As a grown up the bridge ritual stays,” says tech blogger Uma Shankar.
Ask anyone who is living or working away from home about what the river means to them and you get treasured memories. As Krithika says, “From Chennai to Tiruchi is a six hour solitary journey. But the fatigue drops off the moment I get a glimpse of the river. Bhavya, a communications student adds, “Whenever I come home by the Pallavan Express, I yearn for a glimpse of the river. The lights from the bridge reflecting on the water at night create a sight that fills me with the happiness and thrill of returning home.”
For people heading back to loved ones, the sight of the Cauvery tells you: yes, you are home.