There is an unusual book. It has a name but not a writer. Aaj Bhi Khare hai talab (Lakes are still relevant) is well into its 40th edition of print, translated into more than 10 languages and sold more than a staggering 200,000 copies. The book has inspired scores of people to revive more than 5,000 lakes and ponds all over India. The book was written by Anupam Mishra, a Gandhian, author, journalist, environmentalist, and water conservationist who worked on promoting water conservation, water management, and traditional rainwater harvesting techniques.
India has 16% of the world population with only 4% of its freshwater. This mismatch has in the last two decades precipitated into a water crisis with unsafe drinking water, waterborne diseases claiming millions every year, three-quarter of them children and half the nation facing acute water scarcity. The fast depleting groundwater reserves, inefficient and ineffective use of water in agriculture, pollution in river bodies, reduction in traditional groundwater recharging areas due to incessant construction flouting all norms, lack of timely de-silting operations and lack of efficient water management and investment in technology have together precipitated a crisis of unmanageable proportions.
But Mishra believed otherwise. He reiterated that throughout our long history water scarcity was a problem we never faced. Thus he insisted upon reviving the ancient and traditional methods of water conservation which had fallen into disuse. Sometimes teaching the people a lesson in their own history and traditions, Mishra traveled all across India describing the value of time-tested systems of water harvesting.
You don’t need money to protect environment; but you need to tell people about their tradition and they have to live up to it.
He always used to look at things with his own unique perspective and used simple language to get to his listeners, who usually lived in the remotest parts of the country where even the state with all its resources had the problem getting to. But not for Mishra. He pursued his aim of water conservation with utmost sagacity and determination.
Anupam Mishra led a life of ideology and principles. “Throughout his life, his lifestyle reflected the commitment to Gandhian principles. In one word, he was truly Anupam (unique/incomparable in Hindi). I never saw him getting angry. Even when his views were being strongly opposed, he used to sweetly register his protest, and became ironical when he was sad,” said Ravi Chopra, Director, People’s Science Institute, Dehradun. He was close to the Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan, organizing a secret meeting with him in the days of the emergency. His contribution was significant in bringing the surrender of dacoits of Chambal, which he instrumented with the help of JP. His book Chambal mein Atmasamarpan(Surrender in Chambal) throws light on his and JP’s contribution to the cause. He was pivotal in scripting India’s first State of Environment report in 1980.
An extremely humble person, an effective communicator and a vivacious listener, Mishra was considered the authority on the state of water resources and rivers in India. He worked in India’s villages traveling long distances meeting all sorts of people, discussing and alleviating their problems. “He was our guide and guru. Pehle woh insaan taiyyar karte thhey, phir dharti (First he readied people, then the land) says Lakshman Singh, a resident of Latodia close to Jaipur where Mishra helped in the construction of two ponds.
A recipient of Jamnalal Bajaj Award and Amar Shaheed Chandrashekhar Azad National Award, Mishra was the editor of the bi-monthly ‘Gandhi Marg,’ published by the Gandhi Peace Foundation. He also gave a TED Talk called “The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting” which is a lesson for water conservation seeped in our own history which we have gravely overlook.
Anupam Mishra is no longer with us. He succumbed to cancer on 19 December 2016 at the age of 68. “It’s a great loss to India and to the cause of water conservation. He made an immense contribution through his work, writing, and guidance, and was a great human being” says Amla Ruia of Aakar Charitable Trust. But he lives in the hearts of thousands he helped come out of their deprivation. He remains immortal for the exemplary and selfless life he leads, he lives through his book.