How come we call a place new and another old?
Don’t both exist on the same earth?
It is the time of human habitation and culture which makes a place new and old.
Time is eternal and endless as is space.
But time and space are also referential and contextual.
So we have old civilizations, new civilizations, old cultures, new cultures, old cities and new cities.
A city has its history, characteristic, and flavour.
Just see what Henry James said about the city of Cambridge in ‘English Vignetters’ (1879): “Six or eight of the colleges stand in a row, turning their backs to the river;and hereupon ensues the loveliest confusion of Gothic windows and ancient trees, of grassy banks and mossy balustrades, of sun chequered avenues and groves,of lawns,and gardens and terraces, of singled-arched bridges spanning the little stream,which is small and shallow and looks as if it had been turned on for ornamental purposes. The thin- flowing Cam appears to exist simply as an occasion for these brave little bridges-the beautiful covered gallery of John’s or slightly collapsing arch of Clare”
In the light of the above, what can we say about Guwahati?
Once upon a time, Guwahati was a sleepy town dotted with big and tiny temples, hills and hillocks and marshy lands.
Then, in the sixties and seventies when the city was developing and slowly expanding, it became dirtier and dustier.
Then, the bank of Brahmaputra from Bharalu to Shlukleswar temple was like an open latrine.
Machkhowa was a noisy and messy place.
But it was still sleepy and sparse until the beginning of the new century.
In the new century, following globalization, the city had undergone a sea change.
Old Assam type houses were replaced by the new high rise buildings.
The expansion of business and commerce brought new speed and mobility to the city.
The road conditions also improved a lot and like many other cities of the country, Guwahati was transformed into a shiny and happening place.
The population increased and vehicle clogged its roads.
Once the nondescript Jalukbari area turned to a complex maze, while the lush green surroundings in the university continued to offer some fresh air.
In place of the Maskhowa bus terminus came up a cultural complex and bus terminus was transferred to Adabari.
The open latrine on the bank of Brahmaputra was also replaced with different parks.
Trees of all hues came up in the parks. The area started looking green and refreshing.
Meanwhile, the government and the authorities went on playing pranks with the city.
Judges’ field located in the centre of the city was once considered a landmark of the city.
All public rallies and mega-events were held in this file along with the annual book fair.
But suddenly all the old trees on the northern side of the field were felled ignoring the public protest and the place was made out of binding for the public and preserved only for sports.
The road between Nehru Park and Judges’ field was blocked and some ugly food park was made there.
The latest nasty thing the authorities did to the city was during the Brahmaputra Pushkar Mela.
The devotees came from far-flung places of India to take a holy dip in Brahmaputra during the Mela, sponsored by the government.
But many drains from the city are flowing various kinds of filth to the river water and making the river water unfit for bathing.
Among all these the main filth carrying channel is the river Bharalu which after travelling the length and breadth of the city joins the Brahmaputra at Bharalumukh.
How could the filth dare to join the mighty Brahmaputra when the holiest of holy people were planning to dip in the sacred waters of the river? No.
The natural flow of the river Bharalu must be halted.
So ordained the authorities and an embankment was made to obstruct the flow of the filthy water to the Brahmaputra.
The sluice gate at Bharalu was also closed.
The filth clogged on the other side of the sluice gate and people in some parts of the city experienced a nauseating smell.
All in the name of Pushkar Mela.
People in the neighbourhood protested.
Assam Science Society condemned the authorities for this senseless act.
No, they didn’t listen.
They said that it was a purely temporary arrangement and the embankment would be cleared immediately after the Mela.
The Pushkar Mela came and went.
But the authorities forgot to clear the embankment though the sluice gate was opened.
Once the sluice gate was opened the river Bharalu took the task of clearing the blockage in her hand and eroded the embankment.
First thing first.
Why can’t they treat the watery filth before allowing them to fall in the Brahmaputra?
If they do that that will keep the water clean and then, they needn’t resort to such Quixotic acts.
Close on the heels of this controversy came the news that the administration was planning to remove more than three hundred grown-up trees of Sankardeva Park for preparing the approach road for the second bridge over the river Brahmaputra between Guwahati and North Guwahati.
Again the local residents have come out against this move and asked the government to redraw the plan of the second bridge so that these trees and the riverfront can be saved.
If the government involves the stakeholders and the citizens while planning a new project then only such controversies can be avoided.
Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at [email protected]