Place of Rivers in Humanity

A River not only create conditions for settlement of the people on its banks, it sustains the people living near it. It provides them with all the things of human requirements. Water for washing, irrigation, fish. It had been held in great esteem by many civilizations. Rivers are revered because they nourished the life. Many saints and great men loved to live on its banks.

Rivers are held in great esteem in Sikh religion. The region where the religion flourished is aptly called the land of five Rivers.

First Guru Nanak is said to have experienced enlightenment after a dip in holy river. Legend is that when he emerged out of river Kali Bein which merges into the confluence of Beas and Satluj rivers at a place called Harike in Punjab after three days, he was glowing and a completely transformed. He recited the “mool mantra” .

It seems that Guru Gobind ji, the tenth and last Guru had a great affinity for rivers. His Life revolved along the different riverbanks of India.
He was born in Patna and spent his early days on Ganga river.
Then he came to Anandpur sahib which has Satluj river close by. And during wars with hill royalties he stayed in Paonta sahib on the Yamuna river and wrote prolifically.
And then finally he moved to Maharashtra where he stayed on the banks of godavari river.

Alas , due to the unlimited greed of some people, these rivers are being contaminated by discharging the effluents from factories, city sewage and sand mining.

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In Search of Chemist’s pure water

Chemist’s pure water which is formulated as H2O exists only in the theory. In the laboratory too, it has to be prepared from the water from the tap. The reason isits high polarity and very dielectric constant which makes it is a potent solvent. It can dissolve ionic inorganic salts, polar organic compounds, acidic, basic and polar gases. It also carries suspended matter like clay particles which are in the form of colloids. Some of these are loosely suspended and separate out with time by sedimentation and other are stable and has to be destabilized by using defloucculants to settle them out. For example, the river water continuously interacts with the rocks and soil during its flow and leaches many inorganic salts of alkali metals, alkaline earth metals in appreciable amounts and many other metal ions in trace amounts. It can absorb the lower molecular weight organic acids like formic acid and acetic acids. Gases are trapped in two ways by water. First category are gases which are acidic like carbondioxide and oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide etc reacts with water and render it acidic and basic like ammonia react with it to form basic solutions. Another way by which water traps the molecules of non polar gases like oxygen, methane etc is that there are cavities in the grid of water molecules where these gases are trapped through weak Van der Wall forces.

Not only that, when water freezes, in the lattice it creates, gaseous hydrocarbons are trapped if certain conditions like availability of these gases at the time of freezing, pressure, temperature. If the conditions fall into the favorable envelope, gases are trapped. These are called gas hydrates. In fact, it has been estimated that vast amounts of methane is trapped world over in this form. Technology is being developed to tap the resource in a safe, environmental friendly and economically feasible way.

Chemist has to remove all these impurities to achieve a tentative pure water. The degree of purification depends upon the kind of experiment. For example, for the ion chromatography where presence of ions is determined at ppb or ppm level, the water used in this work has to be free from the ions under determination in a sample. This water is prepared with sophisticated water purifier called ultra purifier which removes suspended matter, kills bacteria and removes every ion present to negligible amounts. For ordinary work on a gross level determations, onetime distilled water will do the work.

This also does not last long as it is continuously absorb the gases from the environment if it is not sealed. If your laboratory is located near a highway with high volume of vehicles then due to the emission of the acidic nitrogen oxides, this water immediately turns acidic. Thus even during the conducting of experiment, special care using isolating techniques has to be taken if the correct results are to be achieved. In the analytical work, the procedures specially mention the freshly distilled water to be used.

So whenever we speak of water, it is not the pure H2O but a mixture of different salts and gases dissolved in the chemistry water. Some of these ions are required for human bodies but these should be within limits.

So the chemical composition of water is very important to know it’s potability for drinking purposes. Generally, in most of the cases treatments are necessary to make it fit for drinking.

Owl on the wall

I regularly go out for morning walks. Since there is no park near, you have to walk cautiously to avoid being hit by speeding vehicles which continuously pass on the road. So the fun of the morning walk is marred but one has to live life compromising since we are not kings. I found the recourse to going out into the chunk of fields which are still intact despite the greedy eyes of the builders for acquiring the piece of land for any price and turn the land into concrete jungle.

Secondly, i go to walk into the river bed of Ghaggar river which in winter and summer is dry and occupied by tall grass and thorny shrubs. Many beautiful birds inhabit the water and the grasses. There are water wading birds. There are ubiquitous wattled lapwings which makes alarm calls at your approach and begin flying and circling over you. There are green parrot like birds which are very fast.

Anyway, since it has become unbearably hot it is not possible to go out unless you go before the sunrise. So these days, I walk inside our society along the path adjacent to the boundary wall. It is about half a kilometer in perimeter. Here you are distracted by the people who come from all the sides.

One day while walking, I spotted the young owl sitting on the boundary wall near a tree. I took the pictures with mobile camera. Usually other birds are easily scared off and does not allow you to approach near and fly away. I took chance to approach it. It saw me but did not make much effort to fly. It will rotate its head and see through half closed eyes. I could almost touch it. It was very lovely bird.

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After some rounds, I found it sitting there. On close inspection, I saw one of its parents sitting on the scaffolding of electrical distribution system. It did not allow the approach and flew away as soon the camera was trained on it. Then I spotted another one sitting on a neem tree outside the boundary. Whole family was there.

Outside is the fallow land with bushes and grass. Nearby are dense woods where peacocks roam making the calls. These owls must have found their prey like small rodents or others small birds here.

After that day, I could not find them any day except once.

A shard of water

The scene from the balcony of my apartment in the third floor of the building is breathtaking. It harks me back to my childhood. The place where all these apartments have come up were fields then. There were rills with gurgling water running through the path which led us from our home into our land.

Now this patch which is remaining reminds me of those times. There are fields in which the cattle graze when the land is fallow. In the rainy season, the cattle roll in the mud and after that go to bath in the pond of water.

This pond looks like a shard of mirror. It is a narrow strip of water. I was surprised why the pond does not get dried. Still there is water. This time I found the answer. There is a river not far from our place. It is called Ghaghar. It is not a big river like the other mighty rivers of Punjab. In the past, as I have mentioned, there were small streams which ran through the area and distributed the water for irrigation to the landowners on the rota basis. I have presumed that all those stream must have become extinct but I was surprised to see one in which pristine water was flowing and leading towards the pond and beyond.

There is a narrow path made from the constant walking of the people. It is narrow strip of bald land. People who are walking on the path look tiny specks from our home. During the high sun, the water simmers and it becomes difficult to look at it directly.

From the height of our home, the pond seems to like a broken piece of mirror-placid. But a closer look indicates lots of activity taking place there inside it. Buffaloes wallow in it. Besides you can see the cormorants and ducks smoothly swimming over the water surface. Water continuously exits the pond from other side.

There is algae over a part of it. The same algae called cyano-bacteria or green algae which is on the surface of the earth since times immemorial when no other form of life existed. This is the same algae which is the precursor of life that is present on the earth.

On the other side is a preserved patch of woods where eucalyptus and poplar trees grow along with undergrowth. There are trodden paths running and getting lost inside these woods. These remind me of the poem “the road less taken” by Robert Frost.

I don’t know how long this patch of remaining land will last. I fear the day is not far when the demon of concrete will overtake it. In the last I present a picture of laborers carrying dried wood stick bundles on their heads for firing their hearths and sitting around the fire for keeping the winter at bay.773614_4119964200461_125172242_o 773760_4119963520444_349074978_o

Boats: the metaphor of life

Boats evoke mysterious feelings in most of us. The scene of a far off  boat on the river water looking like a speck is etched permanently in the memory of those who had seen this. It is feeling of departure of some one close to us who is going away. When the fishermen leave for high seas for their occupation of  catch, their families wait anxiously with baited breaths for their safe return. Sea is full of hopes, despair and surprises. Same is the story of life which wobbles on the surface of  sea of life. Many a times the fishermen had a windfall, at others, even after spending so many days in the sea, nothing comes in the hand. Many a times, we have to battle with the difficulties of life like the old man who comes victorious from the jaws of death in the epic book “The old man and the sea” by Ernst Hemingway.

Those who live near the shores of rivers and sea are familiar with the boats sailing on the water. They inspire so many songs and pages of the literature. Boats enrich their literature and provide metaphors for many events in our lives. For example, many of our saints who lived in the towns situated on the banks of great rivers like Ganges, had compared the life to a boat floating in the turbulent seas of this samsara. They urged the God to steer the unstable boat whose sails have become tattered facing the strong winds to safety.

Panvel Floods of 2005

The memory of flash flood on the evening of July 25 2005 and destruction in its wake sends chills in the spine of anyone who had witnessed it. Although it was raining very heavily for three days continuously, although a thick solid sheet of rain was battering the land, no body expected that it would turn into a nightmare. Within minutes the area around Panvel was under 10 to 12  feet of water. It looked as if the Arabian sea has expanded and and gulped the pieces of land lying in its vicinity. The loss of property was huge though human lives were spared by the nature to some extent.

Many a times afterwards, I wondered where did so much water come from. I did some analysis thanks to Google Earth imagery. The area around Panvel is full of geographical features with uneven landscape and so many hills all around. Just after the Panvel town flows a river called Kalundre so named after the village on its bank. It seems like a sinuous ribbon of uneven thickness in summers and winter. It is season river. On tracings its source, it is found that it flows from the hills and is made of two rivers joining together. One is Kundsar lake and another is Panvel lake situated under the foot of Gadeshwar. Water is fettered at both places by barrages. Beyond the Gadeshar are Chanderi hills and one can approach Matheran through this area on a road leading to Dhandheri village from Panvel.

There is another very insignificant river which is known by the name Kirki the origin of which I could trace only to Shedung. I am not sure of that. Many people believe that ONGC colony which is like an island between these two rivers was inundated by this river. This may not be very true, because the capacity of this rivers is very less. I surmise that very heavy rains threatened the dams up the hills and their gates were opened. The another factor was that Panvel being very close to the sea, in the event of high tide which was there at this time made it impossible for the area to bear the brunt of so much water coming like a demon on the town.

Next few days were so bad and depressing, that many people left the colony and searched for the safer houses on the upper floors. It is also a bitter truth that we are ourselves responsible for these disasters. By snatching the land which belonged to sea, where it dumped its extra water in the times of high tide through a network of channels of water all around. We have filled these channels and constructed the houses. Nature does not care about the differentials, its justice is done on an integral scale. Builders make profits and enjoy at safe places whereas the poor people bear the brunt of nature’s fury.