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Kochi musings: Oil on the water, ire in the mind

February 25, 2013 18:13 IST

R Venkataraghavan comes away from a holiday to Kochi angry and upset at the all-round callousness towards the city's source of livelihood -- water.

I have a question.

An important one, for that matter.

Every good question has a story behind it, so sit straight and focus.

So with the start of the second month of the new year, my father wanted to go for a short holiday somewhere, anywhere. So with Google, an old and trusted ally or sometimes foe, we decided on one of the calmest and picturesque part of the country, Kochi. For those unaware, Kochi lies on the west coast of the country, in the state of Kerala, by the Arabian Sea.

This was my second visit to the city, though first in terms of being conscious enough – I was five years old the first time I visited -- so naturally I had really high expectations from the place after having watched the weird but still visually captivating Kerala tourism campaign, 'Your moment is waiting', two years ago or the brilliant locations from the movies Dil Se, Raavan or the colorful snake boat
races and most definitely, for those yummy banana chips.

In short, Kochi has everything to offer, with a sublime touch, to a naturophile. Be it the Athirapally waterfalls, the backwaters of Aleppey, the grand and showy performances (from the  words of Lonely Planet) at Kerala Kathakali Centre, the temple of Krishna in Guruvayur, and even home to one of the largest ports in India.

Kochi has it all for the kind souls called tourists. This was proved even statistically by the tourism department of the Kerala government ranking Kochi as the most desired location in the state in 2011.

This was evident enough when we saw a large number of honeymooners holding hands and international tourists holding hand fans.

Well, coming back to "my" holiday, the guest house we stayed at was even more amazing, right near the port. With a panoramic view of the coast, the movement of big ships, the constant sound of water waves hitting the bund, the ripples, the cool breeze, amazing, we thought, and to some extent it was.

But…

I'll come to the 'but' part a little later.

First let me tell you how important "water" is for them. Well, like any other coastal region anywhere in the world, water is the main source of income either directly or indirectly for the people of the town. We can see many ferries plying between islands taking people and vehicles to their destinations day in and day out. You could see fishermen going about their duty with their fishing arsenals, people with fishing poles standing at an old bridge for their own share of fish, or the famous Chinese nets with their own unique and unusual method of fishing or over a dozen of offices renting out houseboats.

So isn't it important to respect this natural gift to them?

Isn't it mandatory for the government to keep it clean?

Let alone clean, to at least prevent people and the shipping moguls from polluting their most important resource?

I was shocked, disappointed, and even scared to see the state in which the water was.

Oil leaking from the ships, water in some rainbow-ish colour, oil patches on the surface, and the most common sight -- plastic bottles, polythene bags, cigarette butts, anything and everything that a tourist would carry.

Why?

Is it that we are so careless and nonchalant about our environment? I know this question has no relevance at the present time and age. But we shouldn't stop asking this question.

Is it that difficult for the official department to carry out cleaning processes now and then? So that at least the water near the port would be clean enough to attract more tourists?

I understand it won’t be an overnight process to educate the locals and tourists to keep their trash within their bags, but at least we should start somewhere, or the day won’t be far when we see fish being taken out wrapped up in polythene bags.

Travelling further into the sea, I was joyous to see dolphins close to the port, right under the ferry I was travelling in, but somehow it didn't look "healthy". It had some sort of patches on its body, and when I inquired, the local said that it got infected by the oil on the water.

I was flabbergasted by the casual way he said it.

I have a question to ask the people, of the authorities in charge.

Don't you think having the water clean would better your economy, with more tourists coming in? With more water animals floating in? With more passenger ships wanting to dock in?

Don't you want to see Kochi not only as the most preferred destination in Kerala, but in India, in Asia or maybe, in the distant future, all over the world?

Think about these questions not even for the sake of environment, because that's far off now, but at least from a selfish point of view. Who would benefit from doing all these? YOU.

That's why I began my article with the line, ‘I have a question’. So that when you end this article, that's the question you need to ask. Just imagine if each and everyone does the same, just not the officials I hope, because they are in the witness box.

But having said this, we also have a role to play. Help the officials by being their allies, by guarding our habitat, by making sure that people behave and to educate them.

I'll finish this article in the hope that someday I can follow this up with another article, starting it with the line ‘My question was answered’ with positives.

R Venkataraghavan