There are those who disapprove of nature, because their aim is not nature’s aim, they are those who I call strangers. The reason for this article is a question of the first order to me – admitting, much as I hate to say it, that we have turned the beautiful Wah Umkhrah into the city’s excretory organ.
While we elders come out with such piquant expressions – an exercise in self criticism well taken – viewing ourselves as an unaesthetic race alone instead of offering a solution to restore it to its former state is still bad. And so the one who was concerned and unconcerned at the same time decided to write down the shared meditations of these elders on this the biggest river that flows through Shillong – just another article on the curious kernel we call the Wah Umkhrah and the tragedy she is subjected to by the very people that depend on her for their sustenance.
Even as an afterthought we must not forget that the Wah Umkhrah impacts our power supply. Fifty years ago this river was as clean as the cleanest river in Asia that Meghalaya boasts off today – the Wah Umngot – but at that point in time clean rivers was to us Khasis as snow is to the Himalayas because at that point in time we were a race of men well fashioned, beautiful, envied, like no other race in the entire country. We didn’t know that we needed to protect the Wahumkhrah when we built the dam, because if we did we never would have done to the Wahumkhrah what we have done to it today.
Every discussion into the cause of the condition of the river is an exercise in self criticism since the state of the river reflects the state of the people, a state of failure, it follows that we are inherently sick and a threat to ourselves. Pause a minute here, have we declined? Is that what we have to admit? Have we not grown in strength, in prosperity, in intellect, in wealth and in fullness of body and spirit? Yes, and no because set in an economic status we have risen but set in an interrogation concerning the value of existence we undoubtedly have declined.
We were blind to the intellectual predilection of the hard truth that our desire for comfort – call it arbitrary, idle, and fantastic if you will, betrayed a spirit which was determined, inspite of all hazards, to make a stand against the moral interpretation and significance of life itself. Maybe we actually yearned to put ourselves to the test, a test to determine our abilities and hopefully learn to admit our weakness, or reset our authority – humble ourselves to the fact that we are not greater than any other life form in the ecosystem in which we survive, because that is how we are seeing it now.
From everything that we can see around us we have increased in our intellect and prosperity but our instincts have disintegrated, and we never bargained for this. We have taken for granted that man made things are the real symptom of life and that they signify life more than our natural instincts: life is science and science is life. Isn’t that how we think these days? Isn’t it a fact that we have abandoned the lessons of nature that our ancestors depended upon for the proof that science relies on?
And if all this self criticism isn’t enough we now have to admit that we have got ourselves into a problem, something terrible and ugly as far as the Wah Umkhrah is concerned…not a simple problem but a problem that stinks. We have to admit today that the state the Wah Umkhrah is in is a problem of science, civilisation and progress, and a neglect of nature. This may not be agreeable to the fake sons of the soil whose only aim is to make a killing from everything they can lay their hands on, because our attempts to restore the Wah Umkhrah are precisely based on machines and manmade gadgets only. Some years back more than a crore was spent to clean the river, with chain-link fencing along its banks, bulldozers and JCBs in the river to dredge the river bed…yet the water remains as mucky and murky and smelly as ever. Our science has failed us miserably.
On this account, if for no other reason, whatever we may propose should be treated with some concern and reserve, yet I could not altogether conceal how disagreeable some ideas appeared to me, how even after fifty years the Wah Umkhrah remains a stranger to us no matter how much more mature we have become, and a even a hundred times more fastidious, but not wise enough to admit that one must view science thought the eyes of nature and above all through the eyes of life. An impossible situation has grown out of a changed lifestyle.
Too late we have come to realise that what we have caused has come about from nothing but precocious raw self concern and the danger is that we may continue on this tragic path instead of the collateral analytical and retrospective attitudes that can only be found in nature but which we feign would seek out despite the demonstrated success in a nearby location – I’m referring to the restoration of the Lum Nehru Park which was, for those that were around when it was a barren, ugly, rugged hillock, now turned into a major attraction.
The approach at delivering Lum Nehru was an ecological one, dedicated planting and replanting of trees year after year for many years and only those involved know the efforts that were required. Yes, the solution to the problem of the Wahumkhrah lies in a similar approach – are we capable of such dedication and determination these days? A question perhaps for future generations…
Everyone we turn to, in finding a solution to what we have made of the Wah Umkhrah, hang their heads in shame, in disapproval as if to say its restoration is an impossible task. Those who know the solution are uncertain whether they should speak out or not fearing that the remedy they propose would be mocked; but what is their solution?
The Wah Umkhrah is a gift of nature they say and only in nature may be found the solution. If that be so speak out, guardedly if you please, since anyway every other opinion has failed miserably; perhaps your solution is a sign that we have not totally degenerated, totally declined, perhaps you still possess the original knowledge of our ancient culture of turning to nature to heal that which un-nature has brought about? What does the synthesis of the river gods and the forest gods of the Khasis point to?
And if the forest gods and the river gods are just a myth is there in nature a scientific connection between a river and a forest, a connection so strong that if one perished the other suffered as well? If we are to believe that these natural connections exist and still survive inspite of all the modern ideas and prejudices of civilisation, it may not be possible that the loss of the forests has caused the death of the river.
Ahhh now I see where you are heading, the solution you are offering is the most natural and therefore the most difficult to comprehend by the learned who look to technology for solutions! Grow trees along the river bank, grow trees in every free space along the banks, stop creating parks and buildings and concrete structures, dismantle everything that can be dismantled and raise trees instead. Yes, together with the removal of solid wastes, chain link fences and all, the growing of well selected tree species along the banks will regain the Wah Umkhrahs’ former state. This is the technology we once knew and depended upon. There is no quick-fix for the Wah Umkhrah – it will take time.