I was born in Allahabad and my family is from Haryana. Allahabad recently named prayagraj for xyz reasons has Ganga and Yamuna and if legends are to be believed it has Saraswati too. I grew up in a village in Haryana and it has no connection with the name Narmada except some rare mentions in some bhajans once or twice in a year. I heard the name Narmada first time in a bhajan when I was below 10.
All I knew about the Narmada was that it is a river, where it is, I had no idea.
The second time I heard about the Narmada was in my social science book where they talk about dams. I think I was in the fifth standard. The book talked about that dams are good for people. It mentioned it brings electricity, fishing, and water for agriculture too. It did not forget to mention how a lake formed out of the dam gives birth to boating and other picnic activities. That is where I hear from my social science teacher glorification of the biggest and grandest Sardar Sarovar dam which is on the bank of river Narmada and it benefits four biggest states MP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.
The third time I heard the name Narmada was in 5 rupees general awareness book which people sell in government buses which has a package of three books for 10. The three books were of Akbar Birbal ke chutkule, Ghar ka vaidya and this book on general awareness.
The general awareness book mentioned important people which also had Narmada Bachao Andolan slash Medha Patkar.
I did not know who Medha Patkar was. We could not afford the everyday newspaper when I was a child. Something which made me wonder was ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan” that time also which in English means “Save Narmada movement.” I used to wonder why someone needs to save the river. For me, a river was a sacred mother. A goddess. I asked my social science teacher and he had no answer. I read about chipko Andolan where people hugged the tree to save the forest and I was able to imagine it. But saving a river was out of my imagination. I just did not know why a river needs to be saved, from whom and how can you save a river. There was no teacher to answer that question in the village. And the internet did not exist in those days. Time passed and I went to study in Kurukshetra on a scholarship. In very good English medium schools where we had a teacher for every subject and a library with actual books. Before I did not know that there are other books apart from the school syllabus. In school days, I was a genius who did not need to study math or science. It came naturally to me. Hence, I spent a lot of time in the library, reading other books. It was a new world. That is where I first saw the proper map of Narmada first time in my life and later in 10th standard. Our social science teacher taught us the exact location of all major rivers in India and Narmada emerged as a river as important as Ganga. Even though I had no special place for the Narmada but Ganga.
Still, nobody could tell me why a river needs to be saved.
Amir Khan was one of my favorite actors back in those days. I became his instant fan when I first saw the film Ghulam. Siddhu was a character i could relate to a lot and he wore nice jeans. I bought my first jeans after watching Ghulam.
We had all the newspaper in our school library and I used to read all the filmy news in times of India. Times of India speaks in simple language which someone like me coming from a village with basic knowledge of English could understand. Mostly I was interested in who is dating who or which new movie is releasing even though I never went to the cinema until I was in the eleventh standard. In 2006, a piece of news came out where amir khan is sitting in a protest with a social activist called Medha Patkar for Narmada Bachao Andolan. I believed in amir khan and hence I believed in the movement despite not knowing what the movement is all about. I had read people were part of many movements for independent struggles but why people are in a movement against the government. The very little news I could know from that newspaper was people have lost their land due to the dam and are demanding their lands in return to live and work and hence the protest.
Amir Khan movie fanna which was a big hit across India suffered huge violent protests in Gujarat. I think the movie was not even released in Gujarat ( I do not remember the facts).
A month later, I forgot everything about the movie, the movement, and the protest and the river Narmada. I took science in my undergraduate and stayed away from newspapers and media to keep myself away from agendas. Geography was also miles away. I never had money to travel. So, even by accident, the name or thought of Narmada was not there. Meanwhile, I visited Ganga in Rishikesh.
In the final year of college, I got an interview call from TISS. MY friend booked Punjab mail sleeper, S8 43. I remember it because it was the first time in my life, I was traveling in a sleeper train. Before it was only, general train ticket and that also once or twice in a year. I was happy. In 24 hours of the journey plus train was 5 hours late, I only did not look out of the window when it was dark.
In Bharuch, we crossed a very wide river. A few minutes later, someone told me it was Narmada river and amir khan and Medha Patkar came into my life again. By now, I knew who Medha Patkar is. I read about her because she is an alumnus of TISS and I read everything I found on the internet about TISS and she stood out. In the interview nobody asked me a question about Medha Patkar though. I think they are proud of her but they do not want to show it because it is a government funded institute. Anyway, I got admission into TISS and every time will go home, I will see the train crossing the Narmada with no emotion but excitement.
It was only in 2015 when I got an opportunity to visit the Narmada. A classmate of mine who started a newspaper with support of TISS was asked to document the event in Badwani where people of Narmada were celebrating their struggle of 35 years by a peace march on raj ghat in Barwani. My friend Ishan who takes very now pictures asked me to come and bring his camera also. He was in Delhi then. So, I took a night bus with them and reached barwani next morning. Hundreds of people, mostly villagers had gathered. Our first stop was the head office of Narmada Bachao Andolan which is a very basic house turned into the office. It was piles of files and people, toilet and kitchen. I saw Medha Patkar first time. She is an ordinary-looking woman who is slowly getting old. Her voice was low because of the cold. Until then I was not interested in the movement at all. We had poha for breakfast. At 10 AM, one vehicle took us to Raj Ghat. There are already more than thousands of people. Someone pointed me with his right finger “The Narmada is there.” and immediately I walked towards the river and after two minutes of walk, I had the first proper glimpse of river Narmada. In the first view, it looked beautiful. I sat there for a long time. Many people are taking bath; both men and women with no shame of hiding their chest and breasts. Men were not looking at women there, unlike north Indian men. Only after sitting there for a long time, I realized water is moving extremely slowly. The river is almost a lake. When did I ask why it is? People told me it is because of the dam.
I spent a day there. I was very sad to hear and see that thousands of people have not received support from the government for their lost lands.
The movement has survived 30 plus years. What intrigued me more was that people do not want to live the Narmada even in their dreams. Their idea of life is not complete without the Narmada. Their dream house should be on the Narmada. One said “I am born here next to the Narmada. It has a significance you see. I was born here and I will die here.” He did a pranam and said: NARMADE HAR. That was the first time I heard the word “Narmade har.”
I took photos and videos, returned to Mumbai the next morning with a promise that one day, I will visit the Narmada for a longer period of time.
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