A baoli no more?!

When we headed towards the Nizamuddin baoli, I envisioned those beautiful photographs of step wells in Rajasthan and Gujarat that I had seen… with inscriptions and carvings on every block of stone, with some symbols carved on every step of the well, clean water… and lots of green around. But to my shock and dismay, Nizamuddin was not even close to being like these step wells. Built almost 700 years ago, this historic monument served as another attraction to the place where Nizamuddin’s dargah was celebrated with Sufi music by his followers. What could have been a beautiful tourist place, this monument of archaeological importance decayed away miserably amidst the slum that lived nearby.  Apparently, people (some still do) came to take a sip of this water which was considered blessed and sacred from far off places, but now, the poor well is a dumping yard cum bathing pool. They say there have been measures taken to filter the water, that there has been money spent to preserve the structure but I am talking what I saw. The water was green and dirty, some naked kids were taking a dip in the baoli, and around the place, the walls had fungi growing on them. I especially felt very bad about the condition of the baoli after the visit to Nizamudin’s dargah.

But one couldn’t stop thinking of the technology and wisdom thousands of years ago .Step wells or baolis are elements of the history of our glorious tradition of water harvesting by the village communities and individuals. This history reflects not only the ingenuity but also the wisdom of our forefathers and how it was an integral part of native culture and community life. This tradition stood with great strong support and encouragement from the King or ruler of the state. Common man perceived these practices as sacred duty and communities considered it as a social responsibility. It was this wisdom that ensured adequate availability of water for all; the indigenous knowledge was so refined that these people could spot a place in the desert where one could get potable water. Unlike the situations today where the inadequacy and short sightedness of government planning which has reflections of colonial administration has ended up into huge problems of water self sufficiency. Modern technology whether bore wells or huge dams have their share of problems environmental, political as well as social.

No wonder these traditions have been successfully revived by a few visionaries today, with rain water harvesting and ground water recharging becoming common concepts , proving time and again that the old wisdom can be certainly worked upon for the benefit of all.

 We needed water, so people built wells, pools and ponds…

With their vision and mission, these structures they dawned.

Lived away with these wells, generations of people,

Comforted by the waters… loved by its ripples.

With no machines and no education,

Their efforts generated jubilation.

Then we, with our science and brains came along,

With all the tech, we sung the ‘development’ songs,

The blue in the water, soon became green and black,

Perfuming the smell of shit… decorated by plastic sacks.

Deciding suddenly to clean the dirty waters…

so of all those tons, we could also drink a quarter…

machines and money, we had to spend a lot…

to make those fresh waters, come down to a naught.


– Janhavi


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