Anupam Mishra is an environmental activist and currently works with the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. The inspiring contribution dealing with the indigenous water systems of central India has been translated by Nirupama Adhikari into Bengali.
The book first published in 1993 records the unknown history of ponds. It book helped expand the ambit of water conservation and has been used as a handbook by people interested in water conservation work. The book deals with how the indigenous knowledge is being slowly forgotten and serves as a guide, in organizing to face and tackle the current water crisis in the country.
In Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab, Anupam Mishra documents the life and work of several individuals and communities, across the country, especially Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in setting up water harvesting and management systems through talaabs (ponds/lakes/tanks).
These traditional water bodies are the lifeline of many villages and towns in the country even today. This work based on the people/society organising themselves, to harvest and manage water is considered a landmark work in the field, and continues to inspire several individuals even today, to take up work on setting up and reviving these time-tested water harvesting systems.
The book lays stress on the importance of the rural model of water management which by providing precedence for water over land, and also by tapping into the ability of the community to work for the common good provided a near perfect system of water management. Detailed images and descriptions of rural water harvesting structures in India are collated in this book. The book serves as a knowledge bank on rural water harvesting techniques and technologies, helping in the upkeep and adaptation of the same to modern times and also to preserve the knowledge systems contained therein.
The first chapter titled “Paal ke kinaare rakha itihaas” begins with an ahistorical account of how the kings had encouraged four brothers to construct talaabs. In the Patan region of central India four talaabs named after the four brothers Kudan, Budaan, Sarman and Kondai exist to date as recorded in the Gazetteer of 1907. Similar accounts of talaab construction during the 5th to the 15th century often continuing to even 18th and 19th century in the rest of the country are provided. In Rewa alone there were 5000 talaabs while there were 53000 tanks in Madras Presidency, 39000 tanks in Mysore State. The figures at the national level range between 11-12 lakh talaabs for the entire country till beginning of 20th century. It also discusses an invaluable 1930 map which showed that Delhi had about 350 ponds then.
The second chapter titled “Neer se shikhar tak” deals with an account of how a talaab is constructed right from foundation to first filling of rainwater as also the social organization of the activity.
The third chapter “Sansaar sagar ke nayak” deals with the gajdhars, the architects of both countryside and towns and more particularly the communities that were dedicated to building ponds in different parts of the country. The responsibility of town planning lay with them.
The fourth chapter on “Sagar ke agar” deals with the reservoir’s catchment and the various considerations which went into shaping the talaab.
The fifth chapter titled “Saaf maathe ka samaj” deals with how from the very onset care was taken to keep the water storage clean and proper. The authors lament how the society at that point was able to handle these issues without problematising them.
The sixth chapter on “Sahashranaam” deals with the richness of Indian languages and the interest with which talaabs have been variously named based on their particularities. The names sagaar, sarovar and sar are the most common though.
The seventh chapter titled “Mrigtrishna jhutlate talaab” deals with the numerous water harvesting systems in the desert areas of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner whose annual rainfall at times is equivalent to the daily rainfall in some other parts of the country. The chapter describes just how the people have been able to device mechanisms of water harvesting.
The eighth chapter titled “Talaab bandhta dharma swabhaav” discusses how talaabs were considered as living entities around which the lives of the people were woven. The indigenous traditional knowledge that went into the creation of these ponds which were the lifeblood of the countryside for centuries is being forgotten.
The final chapter titled “Aaj bhi khare hain talaab” discusses the erosion of the traditions and values. The distance between the state and society widened with the coming of Britishers in India. A proficient society’s water management system was disturbed by the state, the most stark example being in Mysore State, where the ownership of the tanks were vested in the Public Works Department in the year 1936. In the meantime Delhi became the capital of the disregard of talaabs. The 350 talaabs over there were subjected to cost benefit analysis and the ones whose benefits underweighed the costs were subject to state neglect.
The chapter outlines how the problem of water availability can be solved to an extent through preservation, maintenance and regeneration of ponds. The book ends with a section called “Sandarbh” which presents the context as well as the sources used and individuals contacted for each chapter.
Download the Bengali translation of the book below -