City Life – On the Banks of Yamuna

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On the Banks of Yamuna

A dream city by the dream river.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Last night I dreamt of a strange city. It too was called Delhi and it too had many aspects: the bare rocks of the Aravali ridge, the savage perpendiculars of the Gurgaon skyline, the wooded corners of Lodi Garden. It too had Seelampur with its smog and squalor, while the subtle symphonies of white bungalows and tree-lined avenues played out in its Chankayapuri.

But these were not the images evoked by the words ‘the prospects of Delhi’. The vision that arose in that dream metropolis was that of a sparkling river, of temples on its banks, of fishes and ducks floating in its waters, cheerful and tender. The toxic-free Yamuna was the epitome of this landscape.

The very name of this river is dear to those who love this dream Delhi. Possibly only the Ganga can be mentioned in the same breath as Yamuna. But while the Ganga is the holiest, it remains a foreigner. Its source is separate and it ignores Delhi in its course. For Delhiwallas it is always the Yamuna – calm, clean, limpid, lovely, and tranquil.

But in summers, the river, even in this dream city, is a stream of sand. A few thin threads of water drain through its center.

And then the rain falls, in July, and the sandy bed of Yamuna disappears. Trees that have progressed too daringly into the once dry bed raise marooned heads from the rushing water. When the monsoons are especially fierce, the water comes to level with the Ring Road (in the dream city, there are no traffic jams on this highway).

It even threatens the tranquility of the grassy expanse of Gandhiji’s Samadhi at Rajghat. However, the Yamuna seldom breaches its bank nowadays. The last time it touched the ramparts of the Red Fort was perhaps centuries ago.

The rains, though, creates fertile islands in the middle of the river where farmers grow cauliflowers and cabbages; melons and cucumbers. These farms can be reached by boats that take tourists from one shore to another.

On weekends, it is as if the entire Delhi, from both sides of jamna-paar (no social divides here), has gathered on the river. Thousands of country boats float. The water echoes with the laughter of children. There are shikaras selling balloons, bouquets, and ice creams.

A variety of scenes are on view as one row down the river: momo-stalls in the Majnu ka Tila, wrestlers practicing kushti opposite Melcalfe House, Siberian birds flying high in Jumna Bazaar, the stunning span of the historic Loha Pul, the colony of elephants under the ITO bridge, and the worshippers lighting diyas in Akshardham Mandir.

And if thirst strikes you any moment, help yourself from the river. They say that Hazrat Nizamuddin once saw an old lady drawing water from a well. He asked her why she was not using Yamuna’s water. The lady said, “I have an old husband. We have nothing to eat. Yamuna’s water is so tasty that it induces hunger. Since it would excite our appetite, I do not have water from the river.” Stuff dreams are made of.