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Student: Sir, when did you first see the River Narmada and how?

Author: I first saw the river in Jabalpur. That is where I was born. I have been seeing the river since I was a child. I often saw it when I went to Bhedaghat. In those days there weren’t any transportation facilities. We used to go walking. There was once the case when I and my father went and came back walking. That is why I love the river

Student: River Narmada originates at Amarkantak. There are various stories to how it originated. Have you heard of any more stories?

Author: I have heard this one story that when God Bhramha cried and 2 tear drops fell from his eyes, one of the tears gave rise to the River Narmada, the other to the River Son. I have heard this story. But more famous story is the one of Lord Shiva and his sweat. That’s why it is called Shiv Putri. That’s the reason why there are all Shiv Temples along the banks of the river.

Student: Why do you feel the story of Lord Shiva is more popular?

Author: The River Narmada is situated right in the middle of Madhya Pradesh where the Aryan and Dravidian cultures meet. Lord Shiv is a Dravidian God. When the Aryans came to India, people were already worshipping the God Shiva. The meeting point of these 2 cultures is the Narmada and that is why I feel the story of Lord Shiva is more popular. The jungles here were so dense that the Aryans could not reach till here. That’s why all our Vedas have no mention of the River Narmada. They had never seen it. But after the Vedas, came the Purans and that time the River was chronicled. In the Skandh Puran there is an entire chapter dedicated to the River.

Student: What kind of people did you meet when you were on the Parikrama?

Author: Now, before when we went we stayed in the homes of the villagers. Now when you went up to Amarkantak we did not have any dharmashalas or ashrams. Most people who do the parikrama take the straight road from Jabalpur to Mandla and then the straight road ahead again. But we walked right on the banks of the river. There were no temples or ashrams to stay and so we stayed with the villagers. Now maybe that person was a fisherman or maybe he was the ‘kotwal’ of the village or he may be the Sarpanch of the village. We did stay at dharmashalas too but mostly with the local people in their own homes. And these people took very good care of us. If you read the book you will realize that the Indian saying of Atithi Devo Bhava (Every guest is like God) is alive and well today especially the ones who are on the parikrama. One person in particular followed us on his motorcycle with a big load. He stopped and asked us if we were on the parikrama? When we said yes, he pointed out to a village and said, that is my village and that there is the neem tree and below it is my house. Please do come and stay with me. Rest for a couple of days, get fresh and then continue on your way. I was in a hurry and informed him that I had to reach Nemawar today itself. I asked him at Nemawar, where can we stay? He mentioned he has a relative who stays there and he will write a letter to her. She stays right on the banks of the River Narmada. We thanked him a lot and he said he will walk us till the outskirts of the village. I mentioned that there are hundreds of people who take the parikrama. Who all will you help? Do you not get bored with it? He said, no matter how poor a person is he will always take care of his family. We treat all the people who take the parikrama as a part of our family. Their well being is our responsibility. We believe that in their parikrama, we have to play a role. So in this way we met a lot of different people.

One more incident was that while we were doing the parikrama of the Banjar River which flows through the Kanha National Park. We had taken special permission to go through the Park. You can go there only in Jeeps and you cannot get out of them too. And we wanted to go walking. So we reached the banks of the river and in the buffer zone of the river we got lost. And at night after walking 32 kilometers we reached a village. We were searching for the Sarpanch when one person approached us and said, please come and stay at my place. It is small but comfortable. Now, his house was another kilometer and a half ahead. We were very tired. When we reached, the wife of the person was feeding their little children. She welcomed us with a big smile. We had Deepti Bhattacharya with us and she said we are uninvited guests. The woman replied uninvited guests are the other form of God. This is the love we received from these simple people. If today in the city the same situation occurs where 9 uninvited guests come home. Will you call them to your place? The villager practically gave us his whole house, his kitchen everything. He told us to cook our meals here itself. During another parikrama, we came across this small house with only 2 rooms. One room was occupied by the aged mother and father and in the other were their son and his wife. So, they vacated a room for us and they themselves slept in the lawn outside in the bitter cold. These are the most recent incidents. The last foot journey we did last November from Barmal Ghat to Jabalpur. So we went to this little dharmashala; 30 of us, from all over India. There was only space for a couple of people let alone 30 people. At that time, another person came and said we have a big house with a big lawn and all the facilities to cook food and running water and so on. It was a big place. The same person had even made accommodations ready for the next night. But we wanted to walk on and told him we will stay the next night in the next village. So this person even made accommodations available for us in the next village. And there the person with who we stayed told us to relax as he had taken care of everything. He had even arranged for a cook to cook for all of us.

Thus the real India is still alive and vibrant. The hectic nature and the fast paced life of the city, the behavior of the people has not yet touched these simple village people. They derive happiness from the smallest of things. When we were doing the parikrama of the Shakar River, one person commented that no one does the parikrama of this river. It is indeed an honor to meet you as you are doing the same. And then he invited us to his place to stay. Not many people visit the tributaries. This was the poorest of the people give you so much love. They may be poor by financial levels, but they have the biggest heart in the world. They are rich by that standard.

Student: When you do head out on the Parikrama of any river, what all do you carry with you?

Author: 2 pairs of clothes, beddings, sweater, shawls and so on. We had to carry everything ourselves. We had rations and utensils. We also used to take along 2 or 3 servants. This is because while walking on the river banks, there are no villages around for long distances. So we had to manage on our own. And we also had the feeling that we should not be dependent on these poor people. We should not give them additional burden by being there. Why should we not cook on our own? At one place, a teacher asked me to say a few lines and they were so happy that they gave us rice. We said we had enough with us, but she insisted on us taking the rice.

Author: We met a lot of learned men too. If you have read the book, we had met “Handiwale Baba’. He had with him only a handi and a mattress, nothing else. We were walking with him in the jungles after Mandla and he asked me, “Tell me, where does taste lie; in the tongue or in the gulab jamun? So I asked him the reply. He said, if the gulab jamun was sweet, then it would lie in the pot only and if the tongue was sweet, there is no need to have the gulab jamun. The taste is neither in them, but it exists when the two meet. Then he told us in the same way, the body and the spirit coexist as one. The spirit without a material body is nothing and vice versa. He gave us a very simple explanation to a various issue. Our Sadhu and sanyasis have this unique ability to explain the most critical of the issues in the simplest of ways.

Then at Amarkantak, Kalayanji has a very big ashram there. At the time when we went, there were only small huts there. This was during my first parikrama in 1978. So, he was sitting under a tree in a loin cloth and he also told us a very fascinating story. He said, Sudama went to meet Lord Krishna, and the Darwal did not let him pass. He asked Sudama, “Who are you?” Sudama replied, ‘We have studied in the same gurukul”. To that the darwal replied, “There are thousands of students in a gurukul, how do you know him?” Sudama replied, “We were in the same class”. The darwal said, “Even in a class there are 20 30 students, how come you know him well?” Sudama replied, “Go tell him his brother in law is here”. The darwal was convinced. So he went and told Lord Krishna who has come. Lord Krishna was surprised and came to see who it was. When he saw Sudama he was even more surprised. He took him inside, sat and spoke to him and then later asked him, “Sudama tell me, how come you have become my brother in law?” Sudama replied, “There are two sisters, prosperity and adversity. You are married to prosperity and I am married to adversity. So we are brother in laws right?”

Then we went to another place before Mandla, where a sadhvi was residing. I greeted her and told her that due to my work I am doing the parikrama in bits and pieces. During vacations mostly since I was a Professor of Art and I used to teach painting. She told me simply, “If you eat boondi ladoo, you will get the sweet taste. If you eat the crumbs, even then the taste will remain the same”. In means, it is immaterial how you do it. You will derive the same happiness. Now for me the break journey was a better option for me because after I used to return from a particular journey, I could write down my journeys in my dairy and pen my thoughts. Now, if I go on the complete journey of 3 years, 3 months and 13 days, and then when I return I will have too many things to write down. I prepared sketches and collages after every journey and I freshened myself up. And then go back on the parikrama. Now even more people do it this way.

Student: Did you meet a lot of adivasis people on the river banks? How are these people?

Author: We have stayed in their houses. We stayed at the home of Gones and at the homes of the Baiga community. They are very simple people. I realized that true happiness is in simplicity. If you accumulate a lot of stuff you will not reach anywhere. The more you stay simple the better it is. There is something in us and we have to satisfy our inner self. The body and the soul both need to be satisfied. If you live in the material world, you will be corrupted by many influences. If you listen to your soul, it tells you to give more to other people and to help them out. So, the body wants to take and the soul wants to give. So if we want to be humans, we have to listen to our inner voice. The religions we follow are ingrained in us. There is a joy in giving. People do not understand this. Colleges will not teach you to give, it will teach you to take. Give back to the society what you take from it. We say India is our country. That is true. It has been sustaining us for generations. But am I an Indian? What have I done for the country?

There was a businessman who has 3 friends. He had full faith in 2 of them that they would come to his need when the time comes. But he was of the opinion that his third friend was not of any use. So once, the royal police came and slapped handcuffs on him and led him away saying that he had done a crime. The king would like to see you. The businessman was an honest man, he kept on pleading. On the way he met a friend who he was sure would help him in this time of need. He called out to his friend and told him, ‘You know me for so many years. I am an honest man and these people are leading me away like this. Come and help me”. The man replied, “I do not want to get involved in this. I do not want to come with you”. Ahead he met the other friend and told him the same story and asked him to come with him. But the moment the Palace gates came, the friend refused to come inside with him.             He was disappointed in both his friends. That time he saw his third friend who he knew would never help him. Nevertheless he cried out to him. He told his friend the same story. He friend replied, “I know you since childhood and I know you haven’t done anything wrong. Come let us go to the king”. He gave the king such a great feedback that the king released the businessman. In the real life, we can relate to those 3 friends.

The first friend who refused to even walk with the businessman is our material wealth, our home, our bank balance, our land, our wealth. After we die, none of this is going to accompany us. The second friend who walked with the man till the Palace gates are our relatives and our friends who come till the crematorium and that’s where they have to stop. Who is the third friend who came all the way to the king? That is our deeds which we have done in our life. These good deeds are not taught by schools and colleges. They teach you how to earn money. They definitely should teach you all the good qualities. Humanity teaches you these finer points. The prayer which Gandhi loved said the same thing. Good deeds lead to a peaceful existence and an even peaceful afterlife. A lot of sadhus we met were well learned. One of them was even a judge. A lot of them are estranged people, people who are homeless or who have been abandoned. These people are forced to do the parikrama In order to beg for a livelihood. So there are people from all walks of life.

Student: During your travels did you see any ritual by which the tribal’s or the normal people worship the river?

Author: Every night, people perform the puja for the river. On days like Amavasya, Ekadashi, Poornima there is a festive atmosphere. But the devotees themselves dirty the river by immersing puja materials, flowers, ashes and idols and so on into the river. But the one person who pollutes the river the most is the farmer himself and he does not know about it. He will say his farm is 50 kilometers away from the river, so how can I pollute it? The artificial manure and chemical pesticide which he uses            on his crops dissolves in the rain water and flows into the River Narmada. The river is threatened the maximum by this. And their use is rampant. These chemicals have their effect even after decades. The other big pollutants are the big cities that dump their sewage into the river. Industries release their effluents into the river too. The river is being treated like a gutter, where you can throw absolutely anything. On one hand they respect the river like a mother and on the other hand, they pollute it. Now as the population explodes, these wastes will increase and the river will get even more polluted. Now at Jabalpur there are plans to build a bridge to expand the city. The rivers which flow from between the city are the worst affected as the waste comes from both the sides. The classic example is the Yamuna which is inhabited on both the sides. That’s why it has become extremely polluted.

Student: You undertook the parikrama for cultural reasons. A lot of people undertake the same for religious reasons as well. A lot of people claim to have seen the river Narmada in different forms. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

Author: No, I have no faith in the same. The River taking on a human form is something I do not believe. One person said he say a 60 ft high Ashwathama. This is blind faith. One person says that and everyone follows suit. I do not believe in any of it.

Student: The first time you undertook the parikrama; did you get to see the folk dance and songs of the adivasis?

Author: Yes, we got to see a lot of their dances and their arts. We stayed in their homes. But now city influences are slowly killing the traditional ways but there are good and bad effects to this too. The good effect is that now we get to see Primary Schools at such places and children are receiving education. The other good thing is that electricity has reached all these places. The third benefit is that there are hand pumps available now. When we used to stay at the dharmashalas, they were situated at a height from the river. So we had to go up and down to get water.

Student: Do you think the spread of electricity is good or bad for the villages? I mean, due to electricity, more people will come and settle which will lead to a population explosion in the village and so on.

Author: Tell me, is electricity a good thing for a city? If it is, then it is good for a village too. And in today’s world, one cannot survive without electricity. Even if there is a power cut for 2 hours, we all get worried.

Student: Schools teach till what standards here?

Author: Most of the schools are primary schools. Some of the villages don’t even have primary schools. The children of these villages go to the neighboring villages to study. For high schools, you need to go to a bigger village. The spread of education has been there compared to the earlier years. Now, road have been built too. There weren’t as many roads as before. Transportation facilities have increased.

Student: Any particular thing which is found that is unique to this region or unique to the River Narmada?

Author: Maheshwari Sarees is one and the other thing is that all the Shiv lings worshipped in India are Narmada Shiv lings only. As in they are taken from the River Narmada only. But due to the construction of a dam, it is now not possible to remove any more of them.

Student: So is the dam a good thing or a bad thing?

Author: It is neither a good thing nor it is a bad thing. For the exploding population of the country, there has to be provision of drinking water and food. For that water has to be given to the fields and electricity has to be generated as well. No one wants to purposely build a dam. It is the necessity due to the population explosion. When we became independent in1947 our population was only 30 crores. Today our population is over 100 crores. Every year our population is increasing by 2 crores. Now for growing population there should be atleast 200 inches of rainfall. Will that happen? It is not even raining 50 inches since you’ve cut down the forests. The rainfall is getting less and the population is increasing. So these dams are necessary. The natural beauty has been destroyed but we know this has to be done. This is a necessary evil. Or else we will have thousands dying every year from hunger and thirst.

In Jabalpur, we have power all the time. Even during cuts, the power is restored in a couple of hours. We have running water. This is due to the Bargi Dam. If it wasn’t for the dam, we would still have 8 hour power cuts and water would be running only for a couple of hours. We cannot have everything, the comforts and the rest. I am in support of Medha Patkar when it comes to the compensation to the project affected villagers. They should receive the correct compensation. But I am against her when it comes to the issue that of the dam not being built. This is wrong. The dam has to be built. Go to the root cause of the reason for building the dam. Oppose population explosion. Nip the problem in its bud. She should look into family planning. It is already getting too crowded to walk let alone cross a road. Every year the number of vehicles has kept on increasing but the roads remain the same. The railways are still the same. It will get very difficult to live here. After 50 years it will be impossible. Corruption will increase as demand will outstrip supply. Jobs will be difficult to come by. Crimes will be on the increase. No one even thinks of the direction this country is heading towards. Family planning is very important. The land supporting the population is the same and the rainfall is the same. This is ruining our country.

Student: What is the part you play in the Narmada Samagrah?

Author: Mr. Anil Dave is the brains behind this association. All the hard work is his. But he wanted an older man at the head so he made me the President of the Association. But all the work is his. And his work is very good. His work ensures the river stays free of pollution and stays clean and even in the coming years the water level of the river should stay the same. It should not decrease. To maintain the water level, we need to plant more trees. Only then we will have more rainfall. This is the good work which he is doing. And I am connected to the River for over 40 years. One more thing I would like to tell you is that if our population keeps on growing, it will soon be impossible to keep our rivers clean. We will have to grow more crops for which we will have to use more pesticides and chemical fertilizers and all of that will run off into the river. New industries will have to come up to keep up with the increasing demand of products. The use and throw culture which has now taken over; no one wonders where the “throw” goes. It goes into the river. As hard as we may try, until we cannot control our population, it will be difficult to keep our rivers clean. The growing population will eventually cut down the remaining forests as well. Where will the villagers get wood to fuel their kitchens? Not everyone has a gas cylinder. Now the expensive wood used in houses will be cut away by the politicians and corrupt people. Post independence the number of forests which were cut down, the same number of forestswas not cut in a thousand years. Now, the villagers will cut more of the fire wood for their use and the timber will be cut by the richer people for its use in the cities. In this way even the forests will not survive. There will come a time when there will be food to eat but there will not be a drop of water to drink. There will not be fuel to use in the kitchen. I am not a person, who wants the worst, but this is the future and we can already see it happening. Crime will increase. So will corruption due to the population explosion.

You get to meet real people. I know that they are real people but they can help you feel the essence of the River Narmada.

Author: When she went on the parikrama, she slept in a cave near a sleeping snake. She later recalled the incident saying; she slept in peace and woke up with God. The snake is sleeping and so is she. This happened on the other side of the Narmada not very far from here at Sakalghat. It will take years for a person to experience the Narmada

 

“There was a time when I used to believe in the good in this world. I visited the Narmada. Now, I believe in the great.”