River confluences or sangams, intrigue and fascinate me no end!
Watching how one river readily loses itself in its entirety into another is a supremely humbling experience. It is a total surrender of one’s name, mythologies (including curses), history, chemistry (temperature, pH and DO values), organic (plants and animals) and inorganic (sediments, salts etc.) components and what have you. Alternatively, the receiving river has to shoulder right through to the seas or at least up to another ‘superior’ river the added responsibility of these submerged legacies.
Imagine the enrichment as well as the plight of the Yamuna River at Pachnada where it first gleefully accepts and later shoulders the physical and spiritual legacies of not one but four rivers namely the Chambal, Sindh, Pahuj and Kunwari.
In physical terms it amounts to the drainage of almost a quarter of the state of Madhya Pradesh. The Chambal is of course the largest of these, even larger than the Yamuna at the confluence. But post Pachnada it is the Yamuna all the way, as if none else had ever existed. In turn the Yamuna itself has no qualms in losing itself to the Ganga at Prayag. If only we humans could learn to let go of our egos like our rivers.
But this is less about the Yamuna or Pachnada and more about Munna Lal in Pachnada.
As part of the multi-year “Thames-Ganga twinning project” we had organized a number of sensitization and training workshops at key villages along the Yamuna. The purpose was to introduce and encourage the participants to adopt ideas and practices that could help both the villagers and their river as part of the theme ‘healthy river ensures healthy village and vice versa’. Facilitated by us these were hosted by the villagers themselves and the participants included representatives of Nadi Mitra Mandalis (friends of the river groups) from different villages on the river.
The subjects we covered included Eco-san toilets, organic farming, testing of water and soil, biodiversity protection, solar energy applications and improved livelihoods. Each workshop was led by an acknowledged expert in the concerned field.
The workshop on the art and science of raising Eco-san (Eco is short for ecological and san is for sanitation) toilets was led by Sri M. Subburaman, Director of SCOPE NGO at Trichy (Tamil Nadu) and was held early in the project cycle at village Ramra in Uttar Pradesh. Munna Lal from Pachnada Nadi Mitra Mandali was one of the participants.
Munna Lal as we learnt is a small-time farmer living with his family in a mud and thatched roof hut at the margins of the Kaleswar Garhi village which hosts the famous Maha Kaleswar temple overlooking the confluence. The temple is famous for an annual fair and claims its antiquity to a popular belief that Goswami Tulsidas (1497-1623 AD), the famous poet and author of ‘Ramcharitmanas’ had made while floating (yes, that’s what is claimed) down the Yamuna, a night halt in it.
Pachnada is not any place but a region deriving its name from pach (five) nad (river). There was a time not long ago when the region had gained infamy as the strong hold of few dreaded dacoits (locally called baghis). We had been suitably warned at Etawah, the nearest major city during our initial sojourns into these areas.
Is it not extraordinary that amongst all animals especially mammals, it is only us humans whose excreta is environmentally polluting while all the rest degrades naturally into dust? This is because we have purely for convenience purposes created a disposal system (toilet) that is anti-nature at the very outset. It mixes our urine with stool producing a pathogen storehouse called ‘sewage’, against a natural dispensation that has provided two separate exits, one for each. Interestingly in case of reptiles and birds there is only one single exit. The difference is on account of mammals expelling urea in their urine while reptiles and birds expel uric acid.
An Eco-san toilet ensures that natural processes in humans are respected and the two namely urine and stool are gainfully collected separately. We had procured a few readymade eco-san toilet seats and offered them to willing participants with a promise to defray part of the construction cost of the toilet too. Munna Lal was one such volunteer.
Soon we got busy with other project related activities but Munna Lal had not forgotten. He was amongst the first to seek the subsidy that we had promised.
So, when time came for us to make a site visit to Pachnada we were specially implored by Munna Lal to not miss his hut.
And what we found there was nothing short of a revelation. Munna Lal had not only constructed an Eco-san toilet that rivaled anything that an expert could have raised but had already started recycling the urine into nearby flower bed and was looking forward to using the dried stool as an organic fertilizer in his farm. And the surprise of surprises, he had on purpose located the toilet along a fairly used road for the education of passersby who had started to show great interest in his unusual toilet.
We soon took Munna Lal on as an expert for advising other people desirous of raising these toilets.
Now for some home truths!
Any idea, how much you as a healthy individual with normal food and around 2 liters of drinking water produce per day as stool and urine? Well, let me help you if you are not sure.
It is around 130 gm of stool and approximately 1 liter of urine which amongst other things has 15 gm of utilizable urea. If we could ignore the disagreeable gases (hydrogen sulfide in particular) and a psychological aversion to our own excreta, both urine and stool make for useful enhancer of agricultural produce.
Conservatively speaking we as a nation of 1 billion (discounting kids, old and sick in estimated 1.30 billion) are producing some 130 billion gm (130,000 tonnes) of stool and 15 billion gm (15,000 tonnes) of urea per day. Instead of utilizing it we are letting it all go down the drain as untreated or partially treated sewage into our rivers and water bodies polluting them no end. In addition, we spend a fortune in importing inorganic urea and in laying sewerage systems and constructing STPs which more often than not fail to deliver as desired.
Are we ready to pay attention to Munna Lal’s simple but profound act of earthy wisdom?
Photo of the Maha Kaleswar temple – Dr Sitaram Taigor
Photos: Manoj Misra
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