Dams · Free flowing rivers · Riverine Literature · Rivers and Culture · Rivers in Literature

Saving the Dalai Lama’s Cranes: An adventure, swift as the river!

My son is twelve years old and a voracious reader. His favorites include series like Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Spy School and Space Runners. In short, nothing of the sort I read as a kid. I do not know these books and am frankly, a bit bewildered at the mix of mythology, science fiction and middle school dilemmas.

And hence, when I kept a copy of Neeraj Vagholikar’s “Saving the Dalai Lama’s Cranes” in his hands, I was a bit unsure. There were no kids here with gadgets, but a youth in robes studying to be a monk, his friend from Tawang and a wildlife biologist!

three friends copy
The three friends Illustration: Niloufer Wadia

However, in keeping with their habit of proving their parents wrong, Nachi read the book in a matter of hours and told me that that it was “very cool”. In one reading, he knew about a new river, several new species and a new way of life. In his words, “I loved the part when three friends take upon themselves to get hold of report to save many animals and a river. It’s an adventure. And Nyamjang Chhu is the longest river names I know.”

“Saving the Dalai Lama’s Cranes” is a slender 50- page book written by Neeraj Vagholikar and illustrated by Niloufer Wadia. Neeraj has been working for the past two decades on issues related to governance of rivers, forests and communities, especially in the North East. Disclaimer: Neeraj is a dear friend and colleague and is impeccable and matter-of-fact in his work and therefore I must admit I was hugely curious about his first book. A children’s book at that!

I curled up with the book with an intention of glancing through. But I had to finish it. It is a beautiful and a simple tale of three friends, based in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, a corner of the country we hear little about. They are an unlikely bunch of adventurers: Tenzin studying to be a monk, his friend Pema and a feisty wildlife biologist Tara. The trio races against time to save their river and their beloved Black-necked cranes from being permanently affected by a dam, pushed by a false report. In doing so, we get a glimpse of the way Nyamjang Chhu river meanders in Tawang, its unique wildlife, and its safekeepers. Tenzin, the monk grapples with his own dilemmas about the adventure and ably transforms into Tenzin cheekymonkitus!

Tenzing copy
Tenzing illustarted by Niloufer Wadia

The story is wholesome, fast-paced and swift like a river in the hills, but what also makes the book special are its illustrations. Niloufer Wadia has illustrated the book beautifully in bold colors and traditional motifs. Some drawings of the river, its wildlife and especially the sixth Dalai Lama, flanked by a pair of cranes, are truly remarkable.

cranes, nyamjang chhu river
Black-Necked Cranes on the banks of Nyamjang Chhu Illustrated by Niloufer Wadia

There is a lot to be said about the dam planned across Nyamjang Chhu and how the book contributes to simplifying a complex but essential facet of environmental governance or how it trusts its young readers enough to include a short, lucid section on Rivers, Dams and Choices. But essentially, it’s a tale of three friends, out to save a river and cranes they love. Three friends, who do not have fancy gadgets or iPads, who do not wear branded denims, who grapple with moral issues, but at the end of the day, have a lot of fun. My only gripe: I wish the story was longer. Neeraj has more to tell. The region has more to show. I hope this is but a beginning of stories we will get to hear from Neeraj.

While working on issues related to environment and reading everyday about the tragedies that befall our forests and communities, we somehow lose touch with the sheer joy that wilderness infuses in us and in our children. We become preachy, despite our best intentions.

Read Saving the Dalai Lama’s Cranes. Its for you and for the kids. Nothing brings us together like a good story. Let the river meander into curious hearts and minds on its own, without sermons. Like Steinbeck says, “When you collect marine animals there are certain creatures so delicate that they are almost impossible to catch whole for they will break and tatter under the touch. You must let them crawl of their own into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to this book-to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

As I write this, I hear that the first flock of wintering Cranes has arrived in Arunachal Pradesh. A good omen, if there was one: for the story, for our rivers and for us.

Cranes book Flyer, English

Saving the Dalai Lama’s Cranes

Author Neeraj Vagholikar
Illustrator Niloufer Wadia
Year of Publication
Publisher Kalpavriksh
Language
ISBN-13 978-8187945819
Dimensions A5
No. of pages 56
Reading Level 10+ yrs

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

 

 

Dams · Riverine Literature · Rivers and Culture · Rivers in Literature

Riverscapes of a Lonely Poet: Jibanananda Das

Again I shall return to the Dhansiri’s banks, to this Bengal,

Not as a man, perhaps, but as a shalik bird, or a white hawk.

As, perhaps, a crow of dawn in this land of autumn’s new rice harvest,

I’ll float upon the breast of fog one day in the shade of a jackfruit tree.

Or I’ll be the pet duck of some teenaged girl — ankle bells upon her reddened feet —

I’ll spend the whole day floating on duckweed-scented waters.

Once again I’ll come, smitten by Bengal’s rivers, fields, to this

Green and kindly land of Bengal, moistened by the waves of the Jalangi.

 

Perhaps you’ll gaze at buzzards soaring, borne upon sunset breezes,

Perhaps you’ll hear a spotted owl screeching from a shimul tree branch,

Perhaps a child is strewing puffed rice on the grass of some home’s inner courtyard.

Upon the Rupsa river’s murky waters a youth perhaps steers his dinghy with

Its torn white sail—reddish clouds scud by, and through the darkness, swimming

To their nest, you’ll spot white herons. Amidst their crowd is where you’ll find me.

~ Jibananda Das, from Ruposhi Bangla (Bengal the Beautiful) Sonnet 1 Continue reading “Riverscapes of a Lonely Poet: Jibanananda Das”

Climate Change · Dams · Floods · Krishna River · Monsoon

Sangli and Narsoba Wadi: Painted Red with Record Flood levels in 2019 monsoon

Sangli, on the banks of river Krishna in Western Maharashtra faced a historic flood in Aug 2019. Nearly One Lakh people were displaced and over 30 lost their lives in this district alone. While we covered the impact of floods on the agricultural and rural fabric of Sangli in the earlier photoblogs, Sangli city with a population of more than 22 Lakhs, too suffered huge losses.

Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad Municipal Corporation is on the banks of Krishna-Warna confluence in Western Maharashtra. Both rivers reached historic High Flood Levels in the 2019 floods. Warna, in Samdoli Village, Sangli District recorded an HFL of 546.9 Meters on 09 Aug 2019, breaking all previous records. Irwin Bridge, a historic bridge built in 1929 in Sangli city, recorded a river stage that the bridge had never experienced. Sangli and the nearby region are is not new to floods and has witnessed devastating floods in 1853, 1856, 1914, 2005, 2006 and latest 2019.

Same is the story downstream. Especially in the pilgrimage center of Narsoba Wadi near Kurundwad town of Kolhapur District. Situated at the confluence of Krishna and Panchaganga, floods are not new to Narsoba Wadi. In fact, there are elaborate flood rituals, in which the deity is moved to upper precincts after each flood event. But here too, 2019 floods broke all previous records, including the 1914 HFL.

Photos, videos and brief interviews by Abhay Kanvinde (taken in September 2019), show us the extent that Krishna waters had reached and all that they had swallowed in the first two weeks of August 2019.

Continue reading “Sangli and Narsoba Wadi: Painted Red with Record Flood levels in 2019 monsoon”

Climate Change · Dam floods · Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Dams · Floods

Impacts on cropland: 2019 Maharashtra Floods

Photo-Blog 3

Flood-hit districts of Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara are leading agri-producers in Maharashtra. They are also the historic sugarcane growing regions of the state. Assured water availability and rich soils have made these regions prosperous cultivators of sugarcane, grapes, bananas, groundnuts and other oilseeds like soybeans and also vegetables. Continue reading “Impacts on cropland: 2019 Maharashtra Floods”

Dams · Floods · Hydropower · Krishna River · Western Ghats

Breaching Historic Flood Levels many times over: Aftermath of Ghataprabha Floods 2019

Photo-blog 2

On the 8th August 2019, Krishna River itself and several of its tributaries in Maharashtra as well as Karnataka crossed their Highest Flood Levels at multiple places to set new records. Nowhere is it more stark than in Gokak Falls on the River Ghataprabha in Belgaum District of Karnataka. At Gokak Falls, the Highest Flood Level of the river was more than 553 meters and exceeded the earlier record by more than 5 meters! (For More Details: https://sandrp.in/2019/08/12/krishna-basin-floods-in-karnataka-the-role-of-dams/)

Abhay Kanvinde visited Gokak Falls, Hidkal Dam and villages along the Ghataprabha and Hiranyakeshi Rivers in Karnataka to understand and photo-document the impact of raging water levels on communities and ecosystems. Some interesting facts were thrown up in this trip. Mainly that 2019 Flood levels exceeded not only the 2005 and 2006 levels, but even the historic 1914 Flood levels, which are carefully marked by the British at Gokak Hydropower Station. Continue reading “Breaching Historic Flood Levels many times over: Aftermath of Ghataprabha Floods 2019”

Dams · Disasters · Floods · Krishna River · Maharashtra · Rainfall · Western Ghats

Homes in Deluge: Aftermath of Maharashtra Floods 2019

Photo-blog 1

August 2019 Floods in Sangli and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra have been historic. River levels washed away all  past records many times over. New High Flood Levels (HFL) were reached multiple times at multiple places both in Sangli and Kolhapur. These districts, which form the fertile Black Cotton Soil belt of Maharashtra, are the floodplains of mighty rivers of the Krishna Basin: Krishna, Koyna, Warna, Panchaganga, Tarli, Urmodi, Dudhganga, Hiranyakeshi etc.

On the 8th August, Krishna breached its HFL: Highest Flood Level at two places in Maharashtra (Kurundwad and Arjunwad). On the same day, Warna and Panchaganga too crossed their HFLs at two places: Samdoli and Terwad (Kolhapur). Continue reading “Homes in Deluge: Aftermath of Maharashtra Floods 2019”

Dams · Dams, Rivers & People · Narmada

Photoblog: Rivers for Life: Narmada Rally at Badvani, July 2019

As I write this, around 1000 people are on a hunger strike in a small village on the banks of Narmada river in Badwani District, one of the most fertile and culturally rich part of Madhya Pradesh. The hunger strike which started with 5 women and leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Medha Patkar is now in its 6th day on Aug 31, 2019. Continue reading “Photoblog: Rivers for Life: Narmada Rally at Badvani, July 2019”

Dams · Godavari · Interlinking of RIvers · Maharashtra

From thirsty Tribal areas to Industries: Travesty of Intrabasin Transfers in Maharashtra

Above: Tribal women fetch water from a well which was supplied by the government tankers at a village in Mokhada, April 2019. This is the “Surplus” region which is supposed to transfer water to Sinnar as per the Damanganga-Upper Vaitarna-Godavari Link. Photo: PTI

Maharashtra Government is aggressively pushing Intrastate River water transfers from West flowing rivers into Godavari and Tapi Basins. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has tried to package these transfers as “Diverting water from Konkan to Drought Affected Marathwada”. This can be an eye candy for majority population, if we do not look at the details of these destructive projects.

One of the first projects coming for Stage I Environmental Clearance is about transferring water from Damanganga and Upper Vaiatarna Basins into Kadve Dam in Godavari Basin and from there to Dev Nadi in Sinnar, to provide water to Sinnar. The project, costing Rs 2700 Crores, will displace more than 4000 people, mainly tribals, submerge 8 villages and 1230 hectares of land, 179 hectares of Forest and possibly parts of Tansa Sanctuary. Continue reading “From thirsty Tribal areas to Industries: Travesty of Intrabasin Transfers in Maharashtra”

Dam floods · Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Dam Safety · Dams

Tivare Dam Disaster: Surviving in the State with maximum dams

Late that night of July 2, shouts of “Dharan Futla, Dharan Futla” (The dam has breached!) saved the already-scared 62 year old Narayan Gaikwad and his family, as the family ran to nearby hill[i]. Tivare Dam (Longitude: 73° 42′ 0″; Latitude: 17° 36′ 0″ as per CWC’s National Register of Large Dams), across a rivulet in the Vashishthi Basin of coastal Maharashtra breached around 9.30 pm on July 2, 2019, taking 24 men, women and children with its fury.

But how many and how much of Maharashtra would be saved considering the fact that Maharashtra has India’s highest number of large dams, BY FAR? And especially considering the serious questions this episode is raising about the absolute lack of accountability of the government dam establishment.

These questions become pertinent for Konkan region of Maharashtra, where Tivare was located as this region faces highest rainfalls in the state, steepest slopes and is tainted with several incomplete, illegal, inefficient dams which are posing a risk to humans and environment. SANDRP had published a report on incomplete and illegal dams in Konkan region 3 years back[ii]. High Court, SIT Committee Report headed by Madhavrao Chitale and even CAG [iii]had singled out dams in Konkan for their inefficiency and violations at multiple levels. The situation remains the same till date. Experts and past dam bureaucrats put on record that conventional dams-and-canals approach does not work in the steep and hilly region of Konkan. Quality assurance of dams is nearly nonexistent, lighter soils are used in dam cores and even after doing all this, displacing thousands of people and submerging Western Ghats forests, “Area irrigated by Konkan dams may be less than the area submerged by them”[iv] Continue reading “Tivare Dam Disaster: Surviving in the State with maximum dams”

Art, Literature, Culture · Dams · Fish · Fish, Fisheries, Fisherfolk · West Bengal

River as a Companion: Titash Ekti Nadir Naam

Part 2

Just as all festivities of a fisherfolk life are connected to the river, their dreams and nightmares are riverine too.

 “For several days I’ve been noticing something different in the river’s flow pattern-familiar calculation just don’t seem to hold. The current where we knew it to be slanted is now straight, where we knew it to be straight is now slanted. There is no fish. The fish leaped a little away from where I laid the net, where I expected the flow. Finally, I went near the mouth of the Kurulia Canal. Found the current there turning like a top. I couldn’t sleep and all of a sudden I had this dream, Titash has gone dry.”

– Titash Ekti Nadir Naam, Adwaita Mallabarman (1956), translated by Kalpana Bardhan [i][ii] Continue reading “River as a Companion: Titash Ekti Nadir Naam”