Anupam ji: Aaj bhi kharen hai simplicity and quite hard work

(Above: Anupam ji speaking at the inaugural function of India Rivers Week 2016)

“I need to go and pay respect to the people fighting for India’s Rivers” insisted the weak Gandhian, barely able to walk, on Nov 28, 2016. In his speech at India Rivers Week inaugural function that day, an ever alert Anupam ji with his characteristic wry humor, said if changing stones and electric poles at the ghats, morning and evening prayers on loud speakers is all that the government had to offer to rejuvenate the Ganga, than no amount of faith or funds is going to help the river. We first need to understand from where the rivers are getting fresh and polluted water and see how we can sustain the former and stop the latter.  

Twenty days later, on Monday (Dec 19, 2016) morning when I saw multiple WhatsApp messages, I did not want to believe that Anupam ji is no more.  He breathed his last at AIIMS, Delhi at 5.27 am on Dec 19, 2016. He was suffering from double cancer and doctors at AIIMS had tried everything to save him after complications developed at a private hospital earlier. Friends like Sopan Joshi, Prabhat Jha and Farhad Contractor, who were with him during these last days, weeks and months, told me about the ordeal he went through. He is survived by his wife Manju ji and only son, Shubham.

Born in Wardha (Maharashtra) on June 5, 1948, he was son of famous poet Bhawani Prasad Mishra. He has worked at the Gandhi Peace Foundation (Delhi) in different capacities after completing college education in 1969. Anupam Mishra is known as a Gandhian author, environmentalist, with focus on water conservation and traditional rainwater harvesting techniques and management systems. He had to rarely use the word Gandhi, but he could connect to Gandhian principles and ideals in a way that would be convincing and appeal to all, including the young, because he lived those values and principles. He was the editor of the bi-monthly magazine Gandhi Marg, published by the Gandhi Peace Foundation.

Anupam ji at Bhagirath Pryas Samman function at IRW 2014 along with late Ramaswmay Iyer, Justice Madan Lokur and Manoj Mishra ji
Anupam ji at Bhagirath Pryas Samman function at IRW 2014 along with late Ramaswmay Iyer, Justice Madan Lokur and Manoj Mishra ji

He is best known for his knowledge about India’s traditional water harvesting and management systems. After eight years of rigorous field work on these issues, his most famous book, Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab (Ponds are still Relevant), was published on the subject of traditional pond and water management. It got translated into 19 languages, including Braille, published over 10, 00,000 copies (by one estimate, since he allowed anyone who wanted to publish permission, there is no accurate estimate), out of which the prestigious National Book Trust published it in 13 languages, including English.

Rajasthan Ki Rajat Boondei (Radiant Raindrops of Rajasthan), his next publication (1995) was more specifically about water harvesting and management in West Rajasthan. He has been travelling extensively in towns and villages across several Indian states, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, describing the value of time-tested systems of water harvesting. Amazingly, all his books are copyright free and are available on PDF on websites! The announcement with PDF files say, it will be nice if the source is acknowledged! Most of the pioneering work on local water systems in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and elsewhere in recent decades was inspired by Anupam ji’s work directly or indirectly. Saaf Mathe ka Samaj was his next publication.

Many years earlier, he was one of the first one to publish an account of the Chipko movement of Uttarakhand. He was one of the main authors of first State of India’s Environment report in 1980, as also second one.

Anupam ji giving away BPS award to Lobsang Gyatso of Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) along with Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra at India Rivers Day 2015
Anupam ji giving away BPS award to Lobsang Gyatso of Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) along with Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra at India Rivers Day 2015

Anupam ji was conferred the 1996 Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. He was awarded the ‘Amar Shaheed Chandrasekhar Azad National Award’ in 2007–08, by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. He spoke on the topic “The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting” in a 2009 TED conference. He is the recipient of Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2011.

More recently, he was the chairman of organising committee of India Rivers Week 2016 and also member of of Bhagirath Prayas Samman (award for exemplary work on river conservation) Jury since inception in 2014 and chairman since 2015. In spite of his poor health and weak body, he came to our organising committee meetings several times, last one in Sept 2016 and also came to the inaugural session of IRW 2016 on Nov 28, 2016 and spoke with characteristic clarity and simplicity and effectiveness. He was completely exhausted and in pain at the end of it, but that he came in spite of that showed his dedication to the cause.

Personally he was most affectionate and encouraging to me, for over two decades now. When he first wrote an encouraging post card in his own writing two decades back, I was just starting to work on India’s water policy issues. The letter came to me totally out of blue, but every since, he has remained amazingly supportive. I later learnt that he has been similarly positive to so many other people working on water and environment related issues.

A person with such clarity of thought on water and river issues of India, such effective and simple way of communication, so affectionate and yet so humble will be difficult to find. As Ravi Chopra of People’s Science Institute says, he was truly ANUPAM (unique, incomparable, matchless).

God only knows how can one think of losing someone like that. When I am feeling so much at loss, I can only imagine how his close family and friends must be feeling. The legacy he has left behind is so rich that one is tempted to think that it will not die. In his last public function on Nov 28, 2016 at India Rivers Week described above, he ended by saying that we need to save our rivers for our own survival. He also said that this effort (India Rivers Week) must continue. One hopes, that statement of Anupam ji reminds us everyday of the tasks ahead. We must succeed and it will take some doing.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), SANDRP

[An edited version of this was published on Dec 20, 2016 at: https://thewire.in/88340/anupam-mishra-obit/ under the title “India Will Be Hard-Pressed to Find Another Anupam Mishra”.]


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