Dec 24, 2009

From Drushyaadrushyam : An extract

 Drushyaadrushyam  An extract From Telugu novel,  Writer:    Chandra Latha,  Translator:   Dr.Ari Sita Ramayya      
New Voices   Golden Jubilee Conference,  Sahitya Akademy ,10 –13 September,2004,Trivandrum , 
Andariki namaskaram.
I would like to give a brief introduction of my novel before reading  an extract from it.

Drushyaadrushyam is a novel about riverscape, water management, environment.. above all a theme that brings out power conflict between nature and man.

I tried to express the relation between man and river and how it changed with times over a period of time in general … over past four decades in particular. How these changes threw new challenges before man and how man became a victim of his own ambitions and sometimes, how he become unscientific in transcending science to technology.

All our science is a natural phenomenon. Our science is developed in the course of understanding nature, admiring nature, imitating nature and also conflicting with nature. But, in this modern world we began to move away from nature. So far so that we forgot the fact that we are just a tiny part of the nature.

 My novel, Drushyadrushyam, is an attempt to bring forward  age-old ambition of controlling nature by controlling rivers.

This novel is set in a rehabilitated village submerged by a big dam . Story unfolds, as a research student Akshatha from Canada comes to study about the “River flow & Waterscape”. Akshatha is a Canadian Telugu whose roots are in the same displaced village.

As Akshatha comes across with oustees, cut-off people, riverbed farmers, marginal farmers, farm labour, feudal lords, fishermen, village officers, water workers, engineers, contractors, dam labour, politicians, journalists, officers, beurocrats, activists, artists, artisans, women in different status and also bullocks and other livestock, fish…the novel unfurls in many folds.

The theme  spreads over Big Dam Engineering to Privatisation of rivers. Economics to ecology, Technical to politics, personal to social, local to  global.

 Some of the above mentioned are visible and some are invisible.
Protagonist, Kesava, is an invisible character but is visible throughout the novel.
Eventually the novel is drushyaadrushyam.

The technical part of the theme is presented by protagonist Kesava’s dairies .These reflect  engineer point of view on various issues raised in the novel.
Kesava thoroughly studies the water management strategies of past, present and plans for the future. Kesava is  an artist and is very sensitive to everything in and around him. He notes and draws every detail in his dairies .
Akshatha finds Kesava’s Dairies after two and half decades of  Kesava’s premature demise  affected by project malaria, an outbreak around  the new reservoir  of the big dam.
Now, I am going to present you the last pages of Kesava’s diary from the tenth chapter
of the novel., ”Drushyaadrushyam
                                                                             ***
November 29: The fever comes and goes. Raagavva, the old servant maid, watches over me diligently. My freind Dasaratha, village accounts officer,  has been here several times to enquire after me.
        As soon as I could muster enough strength, I picked up my drawing sheets and began drafting plans for natural resource development in this area, along with all the necessary engineering.
        I went to the river in the evening to get some fresh air.
       The fishermen were hurrying home. There were busy boats, fishing nets and waves of conversation. The river at twilight was a blushing bride.
       Whoever it was that compared a river to a woman – how right he was! After all, neither is free to do as she pleases.
Tirelessly gushing forward with no end in sight, ignoring the whirlpools within herself.
Feeding us like a mother, even as she dries up quenching our thirst.
       Is the river meant just to satisfy our needs? To be under our control? Doesn’t she have an independent life of her own? Can’t she make her own choices?
If one person controls this bank, someone else reigns over the other. One rules over her upstream, while another ravages her downstream. She stops where asked to, flows where permitted, and stands still where ordered to…as if the reins to her life are in someone else’s hands.
     We worship her, hold feasts in her honor every twelve years, build temples on her banks and then, we control her with dams.
   “Ayyo! What have we done to you, mother?”

    “Saamy...” Someone grabbed my shoulder and shook me out of my thoughts. It was Saayanna., the fisherman.
   “Nothing Saayanna. I was just looking at the river. How she has changed!”
   “Well, you’re the educated one. You tell me. What do I know?” Saayanna shrugged his shoulders. “They brought us unprecedented hardships. The river is destroyed now. People who knew nothing about fish came here with fishing nets. Did we ever take spawning fish from the river? These greedy ones took them because they weigh more. If we don’t let the fish live long enough to lay eggs, where will young fish come from? What will we catch tomorrow? I have never seen these things before. We have certain norms, Saamy.... when a certain fish should be caught...when it spawns...when it lays eggs... we have to pay attention to these things when we live off the river… I heard that you gave them some papers?”
  “Yes. Licenses.”
“Whatever. These lying creeps came out with your papers and their fishing nets and caught everything...didn’t leave even the spawning fish or fry. They even had the gall to preach us which type of net to use and when!”
They brought with them motor boats and nylon nets...and introduced us to debts.

Lured by their money, our youth crossed over to their side, danced to their tunes, got drunk on their liquor, and fell asleep in their huts. Damn it, they mortgaged our lives, Saamy. Our lives are poisoned. This huge dam here, Saamy, it is a curse for the fish. During this season we used to see so many types of fish come here to spawn. They used to lay their eggs and return to the down stream or ocean .These days you just don’t see any of those stocks.”
“What do you mean?”
“How will they come upstream, Saamy? Can they jump over the dam?”
For a second I didn’t understand what he was saying. When I realized what had happened, I could only look at him in shock!
True. The river is not ours. It belongs to all creatures that depend upon it. Man is just one of them, but how arrogant he has become! Arrogant enough to wreak havoc on all other forms of life.
Every disappearing creature mocks man. “You too are just like us. This extinction you brought upon us, you won’t escape it. Your turn will come too.”
What a colossal disaster! We control water. So also the fish that lives in the water and the fisherman who lives off it. Where will this human authority over nature lead to?
Why, Timmanna, the poor farmer, was saying just the other day, “Saamy... you said water will be released. We ploughed the soil and planted the seedlings. Water was not released for the planting. You said you would release water in two weeks. I’m not hopeful. The same thing happened for the first crop too! What shall we do with what we planted? Let it dry up like last time? Sometimes you promise to release water enough for wet crop, but it is barely enough for dry crops. Other times you ask us to plant in only dry crop ,but release enough water to wet crop. This dam has damned our lives! What troubles you brought upon us, dora !”
Yes, The crop is under our control. The farmer who raises the crop is under our control too.
The dam attracted industrial development here.  The dam facilitated raising crops necessary for the industries. Crops...industries...big dams...they have become inseparable.
That means... the few that control nature inevitably also control many nature as instrument.
This is neither democratic nor human. How will this situation evolve? Who will eventually pay the price for our misdeeds?
This dam has spawned too many thieves and bosses. The freedom of many others hangs in the balance. Too many have come to live insecure, uncertain lives. How sad!
The times of feudal lords have changed, but feudalism continues. True, they look different; their color has changed, but their behavior has not! How very sad!
I set out to live a simple life, distancing myself being a dora, feudal lord, but here I am, a front for those very feudal lords , standing as the accused before Saayanna and Timmanna.
Water – that is what Saayanna wants, Timmanna, everybody, including me...we all want water.
Saayanna is demanding an answer right now. Timmanna is accusing me. They are questioning my very existence as an expert. They are challenging my identity; they are reminding me of my responsibilities.
Everybody thinks the resolution to all their problems lies in water. But does Saayanna know that sewage from towns, industrial wastes, pesticides from farm lands ... they all pollute this water?
What does Timmanna know? Political strategies, alliances, gimmicks! Iron-triangles, financial institutions, industrial corporations, water logging, air pollution, hidden agendas behind each and every one! Poor Timmanna has no clue.
But how could he know? Even I, supposedly an expert, didn’t know enough; I do not even know as much as the fish in these waters!
Even so, this dam has become the life blood for everybody around here. Sadly, nobody feels the need, nor has the opportunity to understand its limitations. There is no rationality; every situation, every decision is dictated by politics.
Cultivable land has far exceeded the initial estimates. The demand for electricity increased dramatically. Population increase and water usage have no restraints. Industrial needs have multiplied. Can the river keep up with such increase in demand?
The prescription for every disease is the same..... the big dam!
But what happens then? It raises hopes and dishes out disappointment. Needs become traps, and we become helpless.
Dams on rivers .... even on rivulets feeding them! How many dams! If a dam upstream doesn’t release water... if they impound more water... if they decide to raise water level behind the dam..... if a new dam is built upstream.... if dams are built on every rivulet and stream.... will there be any living, flowing river left? If it doesn’t flow, is it still a river?
Even a dam has a life span. It will grow old, become ill, and eventually die. What then? What will happen to our existence centered around the dam?
Isn’t there a limit to how much pressure the dam can take? If we don’t recognize that limit and continue demanding more and more from the dam, what will be the consequences?
What will happen if we ignore alternative ground and surface water resources?
We need to protect the dam. We have to protect the river. We must protect all water resources. Yes, protecting the entire waterscape is essential.
We need a plan to protect our water resources for generations to come. That alone will ensure our water security. If we don’t recognize that...famine and death will dance a terrible dance of destruction. We will end up clamoring for a single drink of water. Hills and valleys will become scorched. Entire green fields will wilt to a dry yellow. Those famines my great grandfathers experienced will become a reality once again. The entire region irrigated by this river will be completely deserted. It is inevitable!
I slumped down on my knees in the sand. Weary and sad, I picked up fistfuls of sand.
Sand – probably as old as the river, produced by the waves dashing against the rocks for ages. The rushing water grinds stones and pebbles to sand. In turn, the sand allows flood water to percolate and helps preserve it as ground water.
Sand - a million years old – What a gift!
The contractor who bid crores for this sand in the auction...will he let the reservoir fill up? Or will he dry it up?
The sand is slipping through my fingers, slowly and softly.
“Saamy,”  Saayanna shook me by my shoulder. I thought I was in deep thought; hadn’t realized that I had faded out and that my head was drooping.
Saayanna, who was barely visible before, has disappeared. The river behind him shimmered into nothingness.

November 30:
   “Is it fever?”
I opened my eyes, hearing a familiar voice.  It was Dasaratha’s. He was bent over me, wiping sweat off my face.

“Malaria probably,” I said, imitating the tone of the malaria prevention folks.

Dasaratha laughed.

“Project malaria ,that’s what the social prevention medicine describes and medicos by heart “

“Let’s consult a doctor in town. You can at least get the right medicines.”
“Look around, Dasaa. There is a sudden outbreak of malaria in the villages all around the reservoir. See how many people are getting malaria! Are they all going to town?”

“Kesu, stop this illogical argument. You brought this upon yourself wandering around the countryside.”

“I’m not kidding, Dasaa. I am taking the same medicines that they prescribe for malaria.”

“But malaria doesn’t cause headaches like yours. People don’t faint like you. Stop this stubborn counter-argument. Can you use the same medicines for everything? Stop being illogical!”

“That’s true. I am thinking the same thing. The same medicine cannot cure every disease.

Dasaratha, we’re at the brink of an immense tragedy. Our indiscriminate behavior is about to destroy the river. By river, I mean .... from the waters flowing down these hills and valleys to the waves of the ocean, from underground springs to mighty rivers .... they will all dry up in the not-too-distant future.

This abuse of water will turn nature completely topsy-turvy. And this is entirely our doing. It’s time to wake up to this reality.”

Dasaratha looked at me, astonished.

“Tremors that began under the pressure of vast reservoirs spread deep into the silent valleys. Entire ecosystem is shaken down to roots.
We lost the consciousness to think…
how the stones of the hills turn to pebbles in the river and sand on the ocean beach…
how  the richness of the soil becomes the silt of the river and the loam in the farm…!”

“But these big dams stand as obstructions. The silt and the stones accumulate in the impounded waters. The denuded rivers gush and swell and flood. The reservoirs change the density, temperature and the properties of the waters and create hazards that threaten the very existence of the creatures inhabiting the waters, and become breeding grounds of disease.

What fantastic things we wanted to do with this impounded water! And today I stand here helpless, unable to save this water.

Thanks to our short-sighted, selfish actions, I see the river reduced to a shadow of its former glory. The hills are being auctioned off for stone, the river bed is being sold for sand to build roads and houses...If we continue on this path, I know the price we will end up paying for this behavior.”

Should water be stored only in huge reservoirs, Dasaratha? Why not also in the soil? In the clouds?  In rivers? In the sand and the trees? “

Dasaratha kept looking at me dumbfounded.

“Dasaratha, have you carefully observed the people who live along the river? There are people living in the hills; there are folks in the valleys; meadows, deltas, deserts, islands.... there are folks in different environments – some drown in floods and others never see rain.
But they all need water.
Water is a necessity – and water is a problem. What is the solution then? The same solution for everybody? It can’t be. The solution should depend upon the situation, the particular need and the problems faced.
But whose problems are the most urgent? Everybody’s !
 Sometimes the solution to one’s problems threatens the interests of another. What then?

Imagine how much tolerance we need! How much understanding! How much moral integrity and co-operation!

Three-fourths of the globe is water. But is water equally available to everybody? No. If we don’t understand this simple fact, and on top of that, discriminate, divide and incite people one against the other, how can we solve problems? How can we achieve results? We know how to solve the problems, but we stand watching helplessly. What good is our education? Good just to chop off our own legs?”

“Kesava, calm down. Let people reap the fruits of their karma. These things you are worrying about cannot be resolved easily. That too, your health is...”

“Dasaratha,,  it has been quite a while since we passed over this karma theory.  If we don’t analyze the cause and effect of what we observe, future generations will not forgive us for our negligence and carelessness.
If we don’t strive for human values based on coexistence between men and between men and nature, we are doomed. We can’t avoid famines.
You know something, Dasaratha, this destruction, ruination, this famine and poverty – they are all our doing. Entirely my creation! mayaa srishtam! Why do you look shocked?  I mean the result of human selfishness, the after-effects of the egotist, arrogant – I am the center of everything, everything is meant to serve me – attitude.”

“Kesu,” Dasaratha looked into my face, amazed.

“Dasaratha, there has to be a balance...A delicate balance between the use and protection of water resources should become the cornerstone of our lives.”
“So, what should we do Kesu?”
“We should pay off our debts.”

“You mean to the World Bank? We can’t do that even if we mortgage our future generations.”

“No, I am talking about what we borrowed from nature’s bank. I am talking about our environmental debt.”

“But how should we pay it off?”

“Dasaratha, there is a lot that we have to learn. And we need a lot more changes. We need to learn how our forefathers utilized water resources. We have to modify our farming techniques to our food habits. We have to rethink several things from technical knowledge to how we go about our daily lives. Saving every drop of water has to become a natural part of our lives. Let my fever subside.... we will all work together. ...we will save our river. Otherwise, what will we say to our children? What can we leave for them? A valley turned into a desert? No..no. The inheritance we bequeath them has to be a living river – beautiful nature.....”

“Sure, but you rest for now.” Dasaratha left in a hurry. I am feeling feverish and sleepy.

I should keep my sketched plans and books safe. Looks like Dasaratha will drag me to town. I should start working on my plans when I return. I, my family, my village should become examples for enlightened use and preservation of water resources.
Why do I feel so optimistic? I have nothing, I am an ordinary person, a tiny part of this nature.
So what! Don’t I have boundless energy within?

Dear friends,
We have seen all shades and colors of  petro-politics.
My novel, ”Drushyaadrushayam” is an attempt to focus the shades and colors of hydro politics…both global and local.
Whether it is petrol or water, it is evident that few dominate to control many with nature as instrument. All my effort is to alert about the foreign intrusion on our natural resources.

My sincere thanks to Prof. K.Sachidanandan garu  for giving me opportunity to read-out from my novel.
My hearty thanks to Dr. Ari SitaRamayya garu  for his translation with true spirit of   the original text.
I would like to thank Sahithya Akademy for giving me these wonderful moments to share my views with you all.
As my protagonist, Kesava, drew his inspiration from Silent Valley Movement , today ,
I draw inspiration  from  all of you ,here in ,Trivandrum..

Thank you very much.
Namaskaram.
Chandra Latha
11-9-2004
Trivandrum                                         

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