PATNA: Trained as an aerospace engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, 26-year-old Kolkata boy Siddharth Agarwal, is currently walking along the Ganga. He has covered 750 kms from Ganga Sagar to Patna. The lone walker Agarwal is deeply curious about the effects of human activities and policies on the river and on the lives of the people directly dependent on the river.”I want to know how the river affects people’s lives. Want to know the narrative of people who are worst affected by what we as a community and our government are doing to the river’, Agarwal told TOI before leaving from Patna for his onward journey on foot.
The idea behind the four-month, 3,000km-long Ganga: Moving Upstream expedition, Agarwal says, is to pick up and interpret stories from the immediate vicinity of the Ganga.
He started from the Sagar Island, also known as Gangasagar, at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, on June 6. Agarwal has been sticking as close as possible to the river, walking through embankments and muddy trails. The stranger in a hippie beard is often confronted with two questions by villagers: What are you selling, and which address are you looking for? He has his own set of questions, though.
Before leaving from Patna on Sunday morning, he says: “I am back on the road after a short break in Patna and the weather couldn’t have been better!”. Talking about Ganga in Patna he said, “new pillars are coming up for a “Marine Drive” that is supposed to bypass Patna. “Locals are excited, but housing construction on the flood plains is rampant. Sewer lines still open directly into the river, currently under water and hence not-visible”, he said.
“I’m hoping that this walk helps broadcast the voices of the people of the river to a larger audience, making them and their concerns audible and a party to the ongoing discussions about rivers in the country,” he said.
His plan is to go up to Tapovan, beyond Gangotri, in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, will eventually come together as a documentary film that can be viewed at festivals, private screenings, schools and colleges, the objective being “to create awareness about the Ganga.
“All old ideas/images of global warming and social-cultural issues took centre stage and in the company of one of my dear friends Ujjwal Chauhan, the decision to test ourselves and taste the waters of matters we would often discuss led to a 2500 km cycle ride across the country, Kolkata to Mumbai in 2014. I never looked back and this was followed by a 700 km walk across Rajasthan, learning about the local culture, especially Shekhawati architecture.
Talking about the mood of the onlookers, he said onlooking stranger often ask weird questions like – “Why would I be walking through these villages? Am I there to meet someone, if not, what am I selling? Is this a religious pilgrimage? Am I from the government? Am I from the army or the police? Am I a terrorist? And I’m definitely from the CID if you were to listen to what most kids have to say!”
Crowd-funded to keep out “corporate vested interests”, he has generated around Rs three lakhs through donations made by his friends and well wishers.
“In the past few years I have dabbled with various activities ranging from cultural to social to entrepreneurial, with these often taking me places and helping me learn in depth. Somewhere while participating in all these activities, my curiosity grew and the zeal to learn multiplied”, he told TOI.
Smiles disappear, conversations die out, huddles form and eyes widen with amazement, such is the welcome that i receive often. He only carries a ruck sack that weighs around 15 kg, two cameras, audio recorder and a handful of questions about the river and it’s people to sate my curiosity.