A sewer runs through it

RIVER OF LIFE, RIVER OF DEATH: THE GANGES AND INDIA'S FUTURE By Victor Mallet, Oxford, Rs 550

By Uddalak Mukherjee
  • Published 9.02.18
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RIVER OF LIFE, RIVER OF DEATH: THE GANGES AND INDIA'S FUTURE By Victor Mallet, Oxford, Rs 550

"The direction of this book," Victor Mallet writes in the Preface, "is... downstream." This holds true both literally and metaphorically. For even as Mallet journeys across the Ganges, from its source in the mountains to its delta in the sea, the hopes of rejuvenating India's lifeline seem to dip markedly.

Mallet, groomed in reportage, identifies some of the causes of this downward spiral in the Ganges's fortunes. The resources for resurrection, evidently, are not scarce. The National Green Tribunal has noted that the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government have not been able to stop the Ganges's decline in spite of spending 73 billion rupees. Some of the problems, Mallet writes, are entrenched corruption, the venal nexus between industry and politics as well as the sloth-like nature of Indian bureaucracy.

Mallet's book is well-researched and richly anecdotal. The chapter that examines how visitors looked upon the river is enjoyable. But, much like the river itself, the book is beset with problems of its own. Mallet seems quite taken in with the mighty king, Sagar, repeating the myth twice: sharper editing could have done away with the excrescence. The narrative is, at times, unbalanced, accommodating a bit too much of Narendra Modi in an attempt to expose his duplicity on the river. But what disappoints the most is Mallet's unwillingness to fully explore the less obvious questions. Does India's culture of venerating the Ganges contribute to its apathy for the river's well-being? Is the weakening of the scientific temper under the present dispensation a potential threat to the Ganges's regeneration? Should civil society explore newer solidarities, with the scientific community for instance, to bring pressure on the government?

Those eager to know about a near-perfect desi template of killing a river would be advised to turn the pages of this book.