Friday, August 24, 2012

My Love and Hate Relationships with Water !

Water bodies used to fascinate me and attract me always right from my childhood. My native village, Elanthoor ( ഇലന്തൂര്‍) , does not have large lakes, seashore or rivers. But it has plenty of low lying wet lands that have been our paddy fields where we cultivated and harvested various varieties of rice.

Elanthoor is a fairly large place which was part of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom which later became re-organized as the state of Kerala way back in 1956 after India became a republic in 1950. During my childhood, my father owned a small piece of wetland which provided us the rice we needed for our own use. There were large and small water streams running perennially adjacent to this paddy field which too used to be covered with a few inches of water always. We used to take two crops of paddy every year from this field at that time.

I never used to miss a chance to go to this field which was located about 2 km from my home. The clean cold water streams which never posed a risk were such an attraction to me ( Unfortunately, the landscape changed lot in the last two three decades, that we have no such perennial water flowing streams there now. Incidentally I felt too happy earlier this month when I visited my village for a couple of days when I learnt about the plans of Elanthoor Panchayat (local administration) making efforts to beautify and restore the old chira (pond) to its erstwhile glory).

But the water bodies that we had were too shallow for us to try and learn swimming. Two learn swimming there were two ponds, including the one that I mentioned above, but only a few took advantage of that. I remember attempting to learn swimming in the smaller pond a few occassions and failing miserably.

It was at Kozhencherry St.Thomas School and College that I had my high school and higher secondary education. River Pamba used to be a fascinating attraction for me besides the floods that covered many areas near the school including the roads that connected Kozhencherry town to rest of the towns of Kerala during the monsoon rains. During the months of February, the river downstream of Kozhencherry bridge used to becomes a narrow stream leaving a large stretch of sparkling white sand bed exposed and accessible to all making it the venue for the largest annual christian convention called the Maramon Convention. (Incidentally, the sparkling white river sands have all disappeared to the concrete houses and buildings that sprang up in the last few decades and for the past few years the convention is being held on alluvial deposits that form during the time instead of the sand beds !)

I lacked the courage to learn swimming in River Pamba though I used to enjoy the gracefully clear river of those days.

During the early days of my high schooling I used to be a member of the Akhila Kerala Bala Jana Sakhyam, a wide spread childrens' organization patronized and promoted by the malayalam newspaper group, Malayala Manorama. This organization helped many of the present day politicians of Kerala to develop their leadership qualities during their teen years. I remember participating in a youth camp organized by the Bala Jana Sakhyam (ബാലജനസഖ്യം) at Mundakayam, a sleepy town at the foot hills of the Western Ghats known as Sahya Parvatham (സഹ്യപര്‍വതം) some time in the late Nineteen Sixties. Here my campmates learnt that I was a novice in swimming that they decided to train me and make me a good swimmer making use of the Manimala river that flowed through this town.

The Manimala river here had plenty of rocks placed here and there that the water looked virtually non-flowing from the top. But there used to be strong currents at the bottom due to the water escaping through the rocky passages. There was good, deep enough pools in the river banks suitable for learning swimming. So for a couple of days my mentors taught me the basics and helped me to get the practice of achieving the buoyancy. On the last day they decided that I should do it on my own. While I was floating with a minor support from my trainer I sank like a stone to the bottom of the river. My head touched the stones a couple of feet below the water surface. For those watching, I simply vanished in to the water. I was experiencing the dreadful thrill of water ! Fortunately, one of my panic striken trainers could swim down to pull me out just before the strong river bed currents sucked me in !

My efforts to master water did not find success ! I could not learn the art of making my body lighter than water !

Later while studying engineering at Govt Engineering College, Trichur in the Nineteen Seventies I got another opportunity to master the art of swimming and fulfil my fascination of water. Near to Trichur was the Peechi Dam which supplied drinking water to the city. Unlike the present day, very few people used to visit the dam site on those days, which was maintained beautifully. There was a beautiful garden and a small swimming pool all well maintained. There was a small motor boat running in the reservoir which could be hired exclusively for a couple of hours by making a token payment of just Rs.6/- per hour. I used to visit this dam with one or two of my friends whenever we got an opportunity. Here in the swimming pool, though I made some progress in floating, I could not graduate to the level of a good swimmer !

The Roorkee University (now IIT-Roorkee) where I moved for my PG studies, in the late Seventies, had a big olympic size swimming pool. Roorkee also has the Upper Ganga Canal, a marvellous engineering structure carrying water of the River Ganges for irrigating north west India. But both these were too awesome for me that I was scared of taking any adventures with the water of these ! I used to wonder at the guts of those British engineer who dared to make such a huge canal system way back in the nineteenth century against all odds. Even now it is an admirable sight to see huge water flows in the canal that runs through the century old aqueduct above a river near Roorkee.

During the initial years of my professional career, I got the opportunity to get associated with water. I began my career as a water treatment professional. Later I also got opportunities to become an engineering designer and consultant connected with various aspects of water management.

Our planet is having life and beauty due to water, though we hardly ever realize it unless faced with problems of water scarcity or water pollution.

India is a country totally dependent on rains brought through the monsoon winds. There could be havoc in the Indian economy if the monsoon fails to bring in enough rain water or it precipitates unevenly or untimely. But the monsoon does bring water to the rivers and interiors of the Indian subcontinent. It should be the duty of every Indian to take responsibility of conserving and using this water wisely.

India had great visionary leaders like Sir M.Visveswaraya an eminent engineer turned technocrat administrator of yester years whose abilities and visions were fruitfully tapped by the political leadership of those years. The Krishna Raja Sagar dam of Mysore was constructed under the technical leadership of this Indian engineer, who is regarded as the father of engineering of modern India. The Vrindavan gardens at this dam site is a great tourist attraction of South India. My younger brother, Koshy C Mathew lost his life in a tragic boat accident in the water tank of Vrindavan gardens in 1981- something that should be a cause of hate to those awesome water bodies ! The state government agency that managed the joy ride in the water body did not care to restrict the people boarding the small boat that eventually caused the old boat collapsing.  Nine of the twenty four that boarded the boat for enjoying the beauty of water perished.

And that is water. Water gives life and water takes life !

It is enjoyable, but it can also terrorise.

It is to be handled with care, just as you care your wife !

Care fully, it is so lovable. Care less, it might kill  !

For that you have to understand it well by careful studies and keen observations.

In any case, you should not neglect it !

That is what water taught me. 


  1. I like to get up early to go out and breathe fresh air. I feel that it is good for health and a good habit


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