Print Edition - 2017-09-09  |  On Saturday

The river claims its path

  • We can dam a river with concrete walls. We can breach its banks and dictate its boundary with sand and stone barriers. But is it even worth doing?

Sep 9, 2017-It didn’t take long for the rain to start. The wispy cotton balls sailing in the sky started gathering along the slopes of Shivapuri.  There they merged into one formidable mass which then spread all over, like a layer of butter on a piece of bread, until, unable to hold itself any longer, it tumbled down in big, marble-size drops.

There was nothing exceptional about it. After all, this is the season of rain, and a heavy downpour or two is to be expected. I stood and watched the rain flood the road with its gushing torrent that forced vehicles to stop and turned people into jumpy children in knee-length garments playing hopscotch. Even as it hit an hour’s mark, the rain only grew stronger. There was no stopping it. Tiny marbles falling from the sky had by now turned into drops of deadly projectiles. The road was now a full-blown river. Tyres skidded as drivers ran for safety. 

The road as such didn’t exist even as recently as two decades ago. In its place was a canal with sandbanks at places, locally known as Rajkulo, probably constructed during the time of the Malla rulers to trap monsoon flashfloods and take them to the surrounding fields for irrigation. It moved downhill, cascading along the terraces, before reaching a level ground from where it shot straight like an arrow and disgorged into the nearby Bishnumati.

As the paddy fields starting getting replaced by houses, it turned into a sewer--first an open, dirty, smelly, serpentine channel that carried human waste, then an underground network of large concrete pipes with a road above.

Once in a while, during the monsoon, it came back to life. Not underground, but in full display of everyone. Manholes erupted with geysers of brown, pungent water speckled with bits of shit and pieces of plastic. Water covered every inch of the road surface imaginable and barreled down its original route all the way to the river. Everything else came to a standstill.  

But this year’s swell is probably the strongest that I have ever seen. Having huddled inside for safety, I could hear the howl of the wind, the grumble of the sky, the roar of the stream and the thud of abandoned vehicles bumping into each other. Incessant raindrops battered the tin roofs of nearby houses to produce an unbearable cacophony.               

The devastation was there for everyone to see on TV. A young girl, not far from my house, had fallen into a manhole and died. Her body was later found in the Bishnumati. Another one had barely avoided the same fate in Samakhushi, Ring Road, after a passerby pulled her out to safety.

Then there was the tragedy of the plains, where the flood killed hundreds, rendered thousands homeless and wrought destruction everywhere. Kamal Sada, an eight-year-old boy, lost his life to the disaster. Unable to find a piece of land to cremate his child as per the ritual, his father was forced to give him a watery burial.

What unfolded in my neighbourhood that day was nothing compared with the disaster wrought by the mighty Koshi. But in both the cases the reasons were the same: our attempt to tame nature, exploit it as much as we can and shape it to suit our own vision and necessity. 

We can dam a river with concrete walls. We can breach its banks and dictate its boundary with sand and stone barriers. We can dig all the wealth out of the land and sell it to the highest bidder. But is it even worth doing? At the end of the day, after everything is said and done, the river claims its path. There is no stopping it.  Today its Sada and hundreds of others. Tomorrow it will be our turn. 

Published: 09-09-2017 07:52

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