“I am no longer the River I was once
The River with full-flowing water
The River that made the land fertile
The River that fed the folks
The ‘Pengba-Tharaaks’ The ‘Ngatons’
The ‘Ngarois’ the ‘Nganaps’ the ‘Ngakijous’ the ‘Ngaseps’
The River that shaped the cultural landscapes
The River that was the pride of the town
Where have all they gone now!”
As a poet and sociologist, who had spent the last 60 years near the banks of the Nambul river in Manipur’s capital Imphal, professor Rajendra Kshetri recaptures the historical and cultural significance of Nambul to the people in the yesteryears in the above lines from his poem ‘Where Have All the Rivers Gone’.
The poem is one of many in his ‘Cry of a Dying River’, a poetry book, which is an ode to the deplorable and dying condition of all the major rivers in Manipur, especially the Nambul which cuts through the heart of capital city.
“Love is the key ingredient missing in the rejuvenation of the dying Nambul River. Multi-crore isolated projects, policies or acts will remain futile unless community participation to rekindle the relationship with Nambul River is exhorted,” says professor Rajendra, while speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press.
Professor Rajendra hails from Singjamei Kshetri Leikai and currently teaches Sociology at the Manipur University, Canchipur.
“The current settlers of Nambul River banks are completely alienated and do not have any substantial link with the river. The so-called distorted concept of ‘urbanisation’ has actually encouraged the degradation of relationship with the river and thus, is unable to rekindle that lost link till now,” the professor points out.
Rajendra Kshetri is of the view that the disregard for setting up an effective waste management plant in tune with the growing urbanisation led to people treating the Nambul River as an open dumping ground. Such callous actions have contributed to defiling the umbilical relation of Nambul River and Loktak Lake, he adds.
“The health of the lake largely depends on the health of the Nambul river but unfortunately, the long-drawn pathetic conditions of the Nambul river have damaged the Loktak lake so much so that rectification would prove a mammoth task,” the professor says.
Nambul of yesteryears
“I grew up on the banks of the river in the 60s; I have personally witnessed the many changes the river has undergone but apart from the natural, the first human intervention to ‘beautify’ the Nambul River came in the form of ‘Nambul Project’ in the early 90s under the government,” he says with nostalgia.
Recollecting the old landscape, the professor says there used to be numerous playgrounds along the centuries-old hardened banks of the Nambul river in the early 60s-80s which were all destroyed in the name of preventing the overflow of the river as a part of the project.
This incepted the rift between the people and the river. The river banks served as an informal learning ground where people of all ages in the locality used to gather, play, and spend their evenings. But the destruction alienated the people and severed the intrinsic age-old bond with the river of great significance to the state, he laments.
Professor Rajendra further mentions that in destroying the hardened banks, several old trees growing along the banks were also uprooted. Felling of trees contributed to erosion of the river banks, he says.
Three-four decades ago, Nambul used to serve the people residing on both sides of its banks, for domestic and other household needs, he says, adding that it was the lifeline of valley dwellers.
“I still remember the scenic sight of ‘hi-honba’ (row boat) from Thanga-Karang canoeing up against the stream to ‘Thong Nambonbi’ early in the morning with their fresh organic produce (Heikak, Kambong, Koukha, eggs, etc.) and return down the stream in the afternoon after finishing their businesses at Khwairamband Keithel (market),” he recalls.
He further says that every locality used to have a ‘heeden-tapham’, a place from where locals would wait to buy the organic produce from the boat.
The meandering water of Nambul River then was navigable and so clean that children used to jump into the water and eat the various fruits and vegetables which were offered and flowed down the river during ‘Langbal Heisoi’, he says.
He also explains that Nambul was the source of popular Manipuri proverb - Leima Yenglingei Khunu Kai (Distraction leads to disaster) - and had deep historical significance with the myths and legends of Manipur.
“The indigenous variety of fishes which was found abundantly in the past are nowhere to be found today; the intrinsic relation between the river and the people has been completely wiped out,” he adds.
Nambul in the present
One of the most common sights seen in and around the capital Imphal today is residents flinging garbage, kitchen scraps, plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable wastes into the river; nearby bridges are popularly used as the launching platform for the disposal, professor Rajendra points out.
Also, saying that though the state government had initiated temporary measures in recent years to reduce the pollution in the river, he stresses the need to enact a policy or project, prioritizing the involvement at local and community level to rectify the issue.
Stressing on the importance of community participation, he says, “Involvement of the people living around the banks of the river should be the primary objective of every measure aimed at rejuvenation of Nambul.”
Further emphasizing that understanding the root causes of the problems infecting Nambul was crucial for its survival, he maintains that symptomatic treatment of the problems by alienating the people would fail to achieve the desired result.
“It is crucial to remind all about the deep-rooted relationship which use to exist between the Nambul and the people in 1960s while launching any projects and plans in connection with the river and for their successful implementation,” Rajendra says.
The professor urges authorities concerned to pay heed to the concerns and assertions of those who love and have an emotional attachment to the river, if they seriously wanted to protect and preserve the sanctity and significance of the Nambul river.
Psychological root of disconnect
The Manipuri society is one which prides itself on being extremely patriotic. This is a fact, but this fact is contradictory to the self-centred actions people mete out every day on a daily basis, says psychologist Dr RK Lenin.
He points out the absence of long-term vision among the general public in Manipur and the failure to assess the gradual impact of one’s interests and desires on society.
“This concept of ‘mine’ has greatly contributed to legitimising ‘others’ or ‘anywhere’ excluded from this concept as feasible to conduct any business we want, for example, dumping of garbage in public spaces is seen as permissible as long as it is not within the compounds of one’s personal residence,” he said.
He points out that the concept of ‘public space’ had greatly eroded in the present Manipuri society and that it was seen as the job of ‘others’ to maintain the public space which we use.
This is a totally misconstrued concept; people need to realise that maintaining public as well personal space is not a one-man job, he adds
Lenin opines that the three so-called schools of society- home, formal education (schools, colleges, etc.) and society had despicably failed in successfully inseminating the concept of social responsibility and building up a sense of belongingness to one’s roots.
He states that the three schools are lagging behind in awakening environmental awareness and consciousness among the people.
“The rectification process has to start from childhood but at the present when a local nullah is blocked, everyone waits for the local MLAs and ministers to have it cleaned; there is zero sense of collective social responsibility among the people today,” he says.
Dr Lenin exudes confidence that the realisation of social responsibility would save a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources.
“There is zero assertion of ‘collective effort equals collective gain’ among the people, everyone wants personal credit and thus in the process create division among people,” he says.
The doctor further explains that this degradation was further enhanced by the unrealistic artificial environment in which people were caged in. The people would lose the sense of ‘self’ if this trend continued for another 10-20 years.
As such, Dr Lenin emphasises the need to make people understand the ground reality and start pushing for massive stringent re-education of the roots.
Saying that action starts from thought, Dr Lenin stresses upon the need to re-educate the people on the reality founded on hard-hitting facts.
Opinion on Nambul River Rejuvenation and the way forward
Keeping the Nambul River clean will only be possible when all the clogged and waste-filled drainages which contribute to the river are cleaned; the Naga nullah is a primary urban example of such drainage which contributes directly in choking the Nambul, said RK Budhimanta, a renowned painter and resident of Keishamthong Nambul River road.
Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, the painter alleges that state authorities within the last two decades had not been honest in their Nambul conservation efforts. He also says that the Manipuri society’s distorted interpretation of urbanisation had all contributed in making Nambul one of the filthiest rivers in the globe.
“All projects will continue to fail unless the sentiment and concern for the river are revived first; for the so-called Imphalites to take notice, a proper cultural re-education starting from the root needs to be promoted. Till then, the Nambul’s only fault is that river courses through the heart of Imphal,” Budhimanta says.
Meanwhile, professor Rajendra states that he had witnessed several positive changes under the project, for example, the tremendous decrease in the volume of biodegradable and non-biodegradable in the river.
He, however, points out that the move to fit large sewage pipes on the banks of the Nambul River was a highly misplaced move which contradicted the objective of the rejuvenation project.
“These are personal observations as I do not have access to the DPR but fitting such a large sewage pipe on such a narrow river with a shallow riverbed can potentially disrupt the flow of the river in the future,” he says.
The professor states that placing the large sewage pipes on the banks of the river was contributing to the ‘canalisation of Nambul River’. The authorities concerned had succeeded in their objective if their plan was to turn Nambul into a large canal, he adds.
“Fitting of such pipes would be feasible in large rivers such as the Ganga and Yamuna, but in the case of Nambul, though I am not an engineer, I can predict that the river will be gravely impacted by the move. They need to think about what measures to take if the sewage leaked into Nambul river,” he says.
He explains that Nambul had an umbilical relation with Loktak Lake as it was the one and only river in the valley to empty into the Loktak Lake. Therefore, every measure taken to rejuvenate has to be viewed with its impact on the Loktak, he adds.
“If we want to save Loktak, we have to save Nambul as such measures which potentially prove detrimental to the health of Loktak need to be properly assessed and rerouted,” he says.
He claims that ensuring the Nambul’s survival directly depends on cleaning its riverbed as the shallow depth of the river adds to the mass deforestation at its source and lead to the drying of river water scarce seasons.
“Not only the Nambul but all major rivers were reeling under this issue; it was the first time in 60 years that I witnessed the Imphal river bone dry and this could have been prevented if the riverbed had been cleansed periodically,” he added.
Professor Rajendra appeals to the authorities concerned to seriously delve into this matter and enact stringent appropriate measures incepted from divergent views as the ‘shape of water’ in Nambul has a greater impact on the environment.