Infamous as one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, the Yamuna starts as a Himalayan glacial stream, pure and full of promise.
By the time it reaches Delhi, India’s teeming capital city, it becomes a foul sewage drain, a toxic soup of human and household waste, agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and the deadly chemical effluent from commercial and industrial activity.
Dissolved oxygen levels are zero. The water is biologically dead and pathologically lethal.Those are facts, but in the face of faith, they don’t matter. The Yamuna is also one of the holiest rivers in India, and so ingrained in the tradition of hope and worship, that people bathe, anoint and imbibe this deadly stew of effluents.
Daily life around this river follows a circadian rhythm of prayer, ritual and cleansing even as effluents and noxious substances flow into it. But come winter, when even the air of Delhi turn poisonous, the metropolis chokes with smog, and wears a blanket of grey, religion, faith and tradition come together on the Yamuna, imparting to it a startling brightness and life.
Dead though it might be, every year, this river becomes a cradle of life for thousands upon thousands of migratory gulls. Drawn by the a fidelity to this location, the birds knowing full well that while the river won’t provide, the believers will. And so they fatten up on offerings from people meant the gods. For believers this is a means to stock up on good karma.
Although the presence of these bird colonies does little to compensate for the huge ecosystem losses suffered by the Yamuna, this explosion of life, when viewed with a lazy shutter presents a metaphor as much of hope as the resilience of life amid hardships. The nub of what our existence as individuals boils down to. And even in its death, the river remains central to this performance. Helping hope float and life fly.
About Sankar Sridhar
Sankar Sridhar is a photographer specializing in documenting the lives of eternal movement and the environments they call home. He is best known for his sensitive and moving portrayals of the pastoral communities of India.
His images have won prestigious awards including at the Siena International Photo Awards, IPA (landscape and deeper perspectives), the Banff Mountain photography Award, International Mountain Summit (Italy). Humanity Photo Awards. His works have also been published in Magazines including CNN Travel, , Geographical, Daily Mail, Le Courrier France, Outlook Traveller, National Geographic Traveller India, Discover India, Mint.
He has also been featured on LensBlog (New York Times), on the calendars of Nikon Global and WWF India, and as Part of IPA Best of Show, displayed in the C40 Climate Change Summit in Mexico. [Official Website]