(This is a guest post by Akshay Roongta)
As I begin writing this post, Siddharth has just hit the road again after a brief hiatus. He’s making his way through Bihar at the moment. The idea of this post, is to introduce city walks, a format that we’re developing to create a tangible way for people to share in the process and experience of walking upstream along the banks of the Ganga.
The idea is fairly simple in its concept, while Siddharth makes his way towards Tapovan over the four odd months that it will take him, we’re going to work with interested organisations and individuals in various cities across India to lead short walks that create a platform to engage with the issues around water in urban India. The idea is quite heavily inspired by the work done by Aajwanthi Bharadwaj with her idea of walks in the Jakkur lake area in Bangalore, and of course the inimitable Mr. Vishwanath (better known as zenrainman).
Starting with just this basic idea we reached out through our networks, and are currently in conversation with very interesting (and driven) folks in Ahmedabad and Chennai. More on that as things develop over the next few weeks. To kick things off, Priyans and I, went out on an overcast, breezy Sunday morning last week in ‘aamchi’ Mumbai to reconnaissance (recce) and figure out how we might structure walks here. Since neither of us really knows much about the subject of water in our cities, outside of some basic trivia like the source being Vihar lake and the existence of the Mithi ‘river’, we needed to get on the ground and figure for ourselves what our plan would be, far more concretely.
So just like Siddharth did in his pre-walk recce, we started at the source, Vihar and then drove along the Mithi, following partially on google maps and partially through maintaining visual contact with the ‘river’ until the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), where we walked along the length of it. We then made our way to the point at which the Mithi drains into the sea, and then tried to understand the role of the pumping station and sewage treatment plants on either side of the creek.
We now have a more concrete plan for three walks in Mumbai, that deal with three questions/experiences.
Where does my water come from?
Living in Mumbai, we take running water somewhat for granted. If asked the source of water, pat might come the reply, ‘the corporation provides it’, or if you’re dealing with a particularly cheeky person, ‘the tap’. The first walk would be to go the Vihar lake area and explore it, hopefully with the right experts, we can trigger conversations about the scale of pumping water from a single location to all parts of Mumbai, what easy and regular water access means, and other such questions that dig deeper, and pick away at our assumptions about the water the ‘corporation provides’.
Where does my waste go?
So you’ve got the water coming home, and you use it, and from the drain in your kitchen, to those in your bathrooms, to the water you flush down (along with all kinds of other things), from your washing machine etc. goes somewhere. But for most of us that is out of sight, out of mind. It goes into those ugly pipes running along the height of the building and into sewers. But what after that? It doesn’t magically disappear just because you don’t think about it. The idea of this walk would be to go to the sewage treatment plant in Bandra reclamation, and get a guided tour to understand what happens to the wastewater that the city of Mumbai and its residents generate.
What is the Mithi?
Having grown up in Bandra east, and having done most of my schooling in Mahim and BKC, the Mithi was a constant in my life while I grew up. But outside of it always just seeming like a ghastly mess of an open sewer, I never knew much about it. Greater awareness over the last few years, in part because of my work on sanitation and water, made me aware of the fact that the Mithi had in fact been at some point a river, but it’s current deteriorating condition was because of indiscriminate dumping of waste from industries along the river, as well as the unsewered households that had sprung up in the urban madness that is Mumbai. Having driven pretty much the entire length of the river from Vihar to Mahim, we realised that the only place that one can have an uninterrupted view and walk along the Mithi is in fact in Bandra Kurla Complex, where quite inexplicably there exist tarred roads along the boundary wall that skirts the river’s edges for its entire length. The walk would start near Kurla, and conclude near where the old drive-in theatre was. Again, while we’re hoping to bring on experts both in water, and urban issues to mediate the discussion as we walk, we believe that simply through the process of observation, conjecture and discussion, people will start engaging better with the river the other ever-present water body in Mumbai. One of the key outputs for us, for this walk, since it requires no permissions, and is on public property, is to design a simple map, based on this walk, that interested groups and individuals can download to lead their own walks along the Mithi.
I hope the question in all of your minds is ‘WHEN ARE THE WALKS?!?’. We’ve just kicked off actively planning the walks, figuring out permissions, finding experts, and so if you can help us with any of these, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and in case you’d like to join the walk, then follow Veditum on Facebook for updates!