An ode to the community of care-givers.
By Sushmitta Renganathan
For time-immemorial, natural waterbodies and the landscapes around them have been mankind’s reliable sources of recreation. But for most of us born during the information age in India, large parts of the concept of recreational waterbodies were brought to life by theme parks and water park rides. The realization that these are replicas of the nature and principles of our immense natural resources in controlled environments, seems to have been bogged down by the excitement of purchasing tickets, hopping onto the large orange buoys, and swooping into the “Raft Slides”, “Lazy Rivers”, and “Wave Pools”.
Regardless, India has always boasted a long list of recreational waterbodies, immensely precious to more than the geological fabric of our subcontinent.
Although a majority of the written tourist-guide materials on water-rides come with adjectives like “crazy”, “fast”, “adventurous” etc., they are rarely accompanied by a definite safety and wellbeing guideline tag. We believe that our wellbeing is somehow guaranteed, either by the efforts of the organization in-charge, or by our own prudence. On the contrary, the plethora of information on “precaution” and “safety measures” that cap any research on recreational waters, is an extension of our doubts about if and who holds the responsibility for our wellbeing there; especially when the simple brochures and hand-painted “caution” signs don’t say much to alleviate the fear instilled by some incident, somewhere, told by someone:
The answer to this is in realizing the significance of the communities of care-givers.
True to their principle, natural waterbodies cannot be controlled by the flip of a switch. But on the other hand, recreational waterbodies in India and the experiences they promise, rely on the deeply rooted sense of community and hospitality of our country. The declared recreational waterbodies in India, through the scope for spontaneous growth around them, have always belonged to the people – especially to the native population, some of who establish their businesses on the shores of these waterbodies, while the others dive right into the waters for their livelihood. Thus, these waterbodies and their surroundings, that become the founding elements governing the sustenance of the communities around them, naturally entrust this vigilante with the task of ensuring the wellbeing of the visitors; which in turn is effortlessly taken up by them as part of their day-to-day lives – even if not printed so on a glossy brochure.
Second to none, the extraordinary beauty of the recreational waterbodies in India falters not in binding with awe the resident and foreign guests alike, and in etching its way into their fond memories. Yet, for those who care enough to ponder: the experiences around these magnificent expanses, and the ensuing memories, are often born out of the subtle guidance and care of the native communities. To begin with, the relevance of the recreational waterbodies that is maintained by catering to the wide range of interests of the visiting population, is supported primarily by the efforts of the local communities who we meet as our tour guides, lifeguards, vendors, and small-scale business owners. These efforts not only guarantee an inclusive spirit, but also create life, excitement, and vigor on the shores – a welcome gift, wrapped and handed to every visitor.
The Hogenakkal Falls from the Kaveri River, that forms the border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in South India, is one such recreational waterbody. On the rocky banks, the floating population of visitors merge with the natives. Their symbiotic relationship is founded on the bounties offered by the river which is merchandised by the natives and purchased by the visitors.
“Adding to the charm of the waterfalls itself were the hawkers, their local products, and the artifacts from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The wafting smell of the fish fry, the relaxing massages, the coracle rides are iconic, almost synonymous to the Hogenakkal Falls.” recalls Mrs Jayanthi Ranganathan, of her childhood visits to the falls in the 1980s. The banks continue to thrive with these activities.
While our efforts over time, in curtailing pollution and encroachment to conserve our waterbodies are certainly benchmarks of progress; it seems that realizing the significance of the native communities, the role they play in conservation, and supporting them in their efforts to empower themselves, are the next potential direction-markers in this journey forward.
Our respect to the all-embracing communities of care-givers!