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Our Mother

Until about 10 years ago, the banks of the clean and fresh Yamuna river in Delhi were teeming with thousands of migratory birds. Today however, the Yamuna dies as she flows through the national capital. Photo: Nikhil Devasar

“Tomorrow morning, 6:00 a.m., we meet at Flamingo Point,” I was told, the first time I wanted to join the Delhibird group for a bird walk. Fanciful, wishful name I thought, whoever heard of flamingos in Delhi? But at 6 a.m., when I focused my borrowed binoculars, I saw countless waterfowl noisily dabbling, ducking, diving and upending; and standing by in a group surveying all this activity – flamingos! In the following weeks, the Yamuna river became my favourite haunt, as I spent many an hour making the acquaintance and trying to remember the names of the numerous species of migratory and resident water birds that teemed and filled her waters. That was 15 years ago. Today, Flamingo Point is no more.

Rivers have been revered for eons. As sources of freshwater, they were the lifeline for most terrestrial animals and it is no surprise that the earliest human civilisations were birthed and settled on their banks. India is a land blessed with numerous rivers emerging from the towering Himalaya, and her people have worshipped them recognising their own dependence on them, much like a mother-dependent child.

The Yamuna’s present condition is a human-made disaster with 70 per cent of the total pollution in the river coming from New Delhi. Photo: Nikhil Devasar


Myths and legends have risen around the river. Yamunaji that emerges from the Yamnotri glacier is said to be the daughter of Surya, the Sun God, and sister of Yama, the God of Death. She flows 1,300 km. until she merges with her twin, the Ganga, at the Sangam in Allahabad. Here both rivers are celebrated in the Kumbh Mela held every 12 years, one of the largest peaceful gatherings of religious pilgrims in the world. Nearly 60 million people depend on the waters of the Yamuna. The City of Agra, its Fort, the Taj Mahal, are all built on its banks. Shah Jahan is said to have sailed down the river to his new Red Fort in Delhi, from where the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar fled, again by river, to take temporary refuge from the British, at Humayun’s Tomb. Until 1909, the waters of the Yamuna were blue in comparison to the silt-filled brown waters of the Ganga, but today, this sister of Yama, is herself...

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