Children

Quiet flows the river

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

The Kuttemperoor River had never been a big river. A younger sister of the mighty Pampa and Achankovil in the Alappuzha district of Kerala, she was only about 12 km long, and 100 metres wide. But the Kuttemperoor was a happy river. She stretched through the little village of Budhanoor in Alapuzha, and the villagers loved their beautiful river. The clear, greenish-blue river gave them drinking water, and provided farmers with enough water to irrigate about 25,000 acres of paddy fields. The villagers fished, played, and swam in the river, and local traders transported their goods on it in small boats. Every day, the river heard the excited shrieks of children as they leapt into her clear, cool water. She watched birds dive into her swirling currents to catch fish. She smiled as she listened to the chatter of women washing clothes on its banks. Her waters washed gently over the huge elephants from nearby temples that came for a bath in the river. Buffaloes waded into the river, and she let them wallow happily in her rippling water. The generous river was home to all kinds of fish, turtles, water snakes, and even crocodiles.

Every year, when the monsoons lashed Kerala, the Pampa and Achankovil overflowed. The Kuttemperoor generously absorbed the extra water from her sisters, so that the settlements clinging tenaciously to their banks didn’t get flooded.

But as the years passed, things changed for the small river, and for the little town of Buddhanoor. Industrialisation brought toxic waste to the area, and it was dumped into the Kuttemperoor. The river was upset by this. She coughed and gasped for breath. She tried desperately to wash away all the dangerous and noxious chemicals that were tossed so callously into her body. But she couldn’t, and to her dismay, piles of plastic bags, bottles and tin cans were added to the garbage that were thrown into her. The desperate river struggled to push all the trash deep down onto her bed so that she could breathe, but the mountain of garbage was just too much for her to cope with. By 2005, the Kuttemperoor had shrunk to a width of only 10 metres. Her once swiftly flowing water, moved slowly, and was smelly, dark, and murky. Weeds grew in tangled masses on her banks, and the aquatic creatures that had played in her waters were rapidly dying. The Kuttemperoor was choking to death.

Death throes

In 2011, a boat got stuck in the water of the river that had, by this time, turned to a gooey sludge. How the river wept as firemen dragged the boat out. “Help me! Save me!” the river cried out from her heart. But no one heeded her cries, and in a few months, the heart broken river, which had been so badly treated, just sunk sadly into the ground in despair, and perished. Budhanoor no longer had a river.

After the Kuttemperoor vanished, the villagers realised that the river had been their lifeline. She had provided them with water to drink, plenty of fish, water for their paddy fields, and a delightful place to play, and enjoy themselves. But they had failed their gracious and generous river. They had not looked after her health and her needs. As they sorely missed, and remembered their lost river, the villagers were filled with sorrow and deep remorse.

In 2013, the members of the Budhanoor village panchayat decided that they would try to bring their beloved river back to life. But this was easier said than done. It took four years for a viable plan to be made, but by January 2017, the project to revive the Kuttemperoor was implemented under the government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. Seven hundred men and women from Buddhanoor volunteered to work to clean up the river, which was now nothing more than a slushy swamp.

Revival

First, the villagers had to wade into the dirty water and cut out the dense growth of water weeds that hid the river’s face. Next, they had to remove all the plastic waste that had choked away its life. And finally, the villagers had to clean the thick layer of trash that was clustered and embedded at the bottom of the river bed. All this was no easy task. Mosquitoes swarmed the villagers, biting them as they worked. Many fell ill, but they were not deterred from their task. They were on a mission, and were determined that they would do whatever it took to bring their beloved river back to life. They slaved away clearing away the sewage, plastic waste and clay sediments that had destroyed the Kuttemperoor.

After 45 days of hard work, clearing tonnes of garbage, the river, which had been dead for years, was slowly resuscitated. As she awoke, water started slowly flowing in the river bed. The triumphant and delighted villagers pressed on even more enthusiastically. By the 70th day of their work, the Kuttemperoor had started flowing normally again. Buddhanoor’s beloved river was back! The villagers welcomed her joyfully. The river was so delighted to return to her precious land that she gave the wells in the neighbourhood the gift of increased water. She invited fish and other aquatic creatures to return to her cool water.

The people of Budhanoor village still do not use the water of their river for cooking and drinking, but they are confident that they will be able to do so in the near future. They put their heart and soul into reviving their precious river, and now, they take great care of her health. They are careful not to pollute her, because they are determined that their happy river will live forever…


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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 12:42:03 am | https://www.thehindu.com/children/quiet-flows-the-river/article20192020.ece