When I see the river Alaka these days, I get a testimony that each one has an end. The river, an integral part of the Mahanadi river system, which once flowed majestically through the district of Jagatsinghpur, and drained into the Bay of Bengal in Ersama, looks now like an unattended open sewer stinking to high heaven. Nobody may know with certainty why a gigantic river like Saraswati died and vanished from the earth except for the idealists to identify and plan for its revival. But it can be easily understood why this relatively small river like Alaka has gone through the process of slow decay and is slipping into an irreversible collapse. We have been responsible for this.
Like every river has an unseen bond with the dwellers nearby, I have lovely reminiscence of Alaka. I remember how I learnt swimming with the help of my grandfather who virtually threw me into the water and pulled back a few moments later. A few repeats of this act with a couple of accompanying instructions spanning over several days taught me the nuances of swimming like a fish and like a human. Though I have not had opportunity to keep up my swimming practice after my childhood, the memory persists – of my grandfather playing water-sports with me or vice versa. The memory still floats in some corner of Alaka’s mighty bosom that is perpetually inviting.
I still remember of choosing the law of shortest path while returning from my school and crossing the river rather than taking the land route and bridge. I knew how to keep my school bag safe while treading through water as the river had turned into a swallow stream already at certain points. Of course, some of my friends used to accompany me. But all my exploits were giving disappointments to my grandmother. It’s a different thing that I knew how to convince her at the end of the day and each day; and the matter never reached my parents, at least to my knowledge till date.
The river became wimpish and spiritless as the government had a ridiculous fishery plan through the live stream. Later, when I trekked along the river, I came to know that the source too had been made dry.
I have heard many stories about Alaka. The presence of crocodiles in the past, and boats ferrying people across. In fact, some historical mentions also point to the arrival of Dutch and later British for trade through this river channel. Even a place, a few kilometres away from my home, also bears the signature of an early European trade center. My grandfather once told me that the shear depth of Alaka made the navigation of ships possible in those times.
Since last two years, several news reports talk of initiatives including a court directive to revive the river. The soul of my Alaka has departed; and perhaps, they are now looking for the physical body – for last rites.
NOTE: The above photograph was snapped yesterday by my son, Ayash, showing the state of the river near my village. And, he allowed me to publish : )