Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh
(Thames has become a very special river for me now, it will have a special place in my heart, for the hours and hours I spent in the parks on its banks during long days of lockdown, not a few but for many days I spent here, without any other place to move around and not many friends I had and with no chance of socialising. Getting badly stranded, the chances of extension of the lockdown was becoming again higher, the evacuation flights were too few to hope for, but I enjoyed every day I came on its banks, I filled myself with high spirits every time, always gave me something to appreciate, something to write; love you Thames.)
The Thames is not a large river nor a long one. It starts from somewhere near Wales border of Gloucestershire and joins the North Sea on the Northern side of English channel travelling about 360 km. Its current is not that intimidating though it has a number of life boat or live saving stations on its banks. The water also doesn’t not look clear, not the best of water, but the flow is very steady and level does not fluctuate very much. It is still navigable to a large extent. The small ships and cruise boats offer package tours operating for trips to the cities along the river and also along the English Channel.
The Thames (pronounced: tEmz) is neither an English nor a Roman name. The name existed before Anglo Saxons came; it is Brittonic Celtic, many origins of the name including Sanskrit word tamas (dirty) has been suggested, primarily due to the brown colour of the water. The name of the city of London itself is not English name. It was a modified from Londonios in Britonnic to Londinium by Romans. Some of legends tell us of London being there prior to Romans came in some name. The name London was given by the Romans after setting up the city in 50 AD. The Brittonic meaning is place of bold ones. The place was thoughtfully chosen, as the river is navigable, it could serve as a port and ships from the sea can easily come in but for the raiding Vikings and other invaders, it is too inside for their convenience. Going around the Thames is like revising the British History lessons we had in our school days (British History was a part of syllabus under BOSE, Assam). Though, history is not the intention of going around Thames, one cannot help recalling the history lessons such as roman conquest, Anglo Saxons, the Norman conquests, house of Tudors, house of Stuarts and so on. Very interesting history they had. The position of the Thames has put it in the centre of British history which extended all over its empire where the sun never sets and London on its banks was the capital of such an empire, naturally, it was one of the most popular river in the world. London being built as port city, the importance of the river remained even after the empire days.
There are a number of parks along the river Like Richmond Park, St. James Park, Green Park, etc. numbering over thirty large ones and there are also a number of gardens leaving out those not touching the river. Even the famous Royal Botanic Garden of Kew is on it bank. The parks and the river coexist complimenting each other. Of course, in upper catchment, they may be following the some rules for the riparian zones, because, under EU, they had EU Water Framework Guidelines. Not a shred of plastic is thrown in to the river. So the riversides become good breathing space full of clean air from the river and the trees in the park. The parks and gardens also contribute a lot to the environment of the country, because the forest area of UK is about 13% of Geographical area and the trees in parks and gardens what we call TOF (trees outside forests in India) are very important. The river supplies two thirds of drinking water of the city, rest come from underground water. So, undoubtedly, they use the river for health of the citizens and drinking water and tourist attraction of course. Many of the landmarks of London are on its banks.
In Manipur, rivers are big problems; they are taken as dumping ground of garbage. Everybody throws their garbage and waste there. How much waste is there in Nambul, Kongba, Imphal; that everybody have seen. Many of the drains and ditches with lots of dirt and untreated sewage will discharge in to it. Any given point of time, one would find heaps of garbage on the inner side of river. Even Iril River which is outside the outskirts of the city is not spared. These rivers are the source of our drinking water. With so much of filth there, it is a miracle that no water borne epidemic has caught us so far, but it won’t be long before we have one. The habit of throwing garbage in to the river has to stop at once. Another tradition is of locating crematoria near or inside river course which spoils the beauty and cleanliness of the river, even in the Ganga, it has been huge problem. But it is time to change this tradition and belief. As for Thames, there is no cemetery or crematoria adjacent to the river, they are away from it. Though a Christian country, there are a number of crematoria, sometimes located side by side with the cemetery.
In UK, the taxation is very high, but then the government creates lots public facilities infrastructures and free healthcare, the roads are so well made (unlike our state), the public transport is one of the best and fare payment is through contactless cards, no cash, direct to the government coffers (no conductor). There are innumerable number of Parks, Gardens, Museums, Libraries etc. and the tax payers reciprocate by using (very very) properly and protecting them. With their civility and manners, I do not think that anybody would misuse such facilities, forget about littering and throwing garbage in to the rivers. So, the great Thames is a place for health and clean air and it will remain so for centuries to come. For us also, all our rivers have place in our mythology and folklore and associated with our civilisation since time immemorial. For Imphal, they are our life line; there is no other means to survive without them. Let us also work to make our rivers clean and safe and objects of beauty. The Thames was once like our rivers, dirty, stinking, all sewers directly discharging in to it, it was really dirty as the name says, black river (in Celtic). Even, one of their princes staying by the side of the river died of water borne disease in 1861. The river was ingloriously known for its great stink of 1858. Now, it is totally different river, a clean safe and beautiful river, a source of good health for the citizens. From the stinking river in 1860, now it is one of the cleanest, it won the environmental award in 2010, the International River prize, the largest environmental prize. The Thames should be a good lesson for all of us.
“Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights.”
- TS Elliot.
(The author can be reached at [email protected]