Sue Lennox and Catherine Porter both spoke at a conference at BHU university today- along side many esteemed professionals. Sue and Catherine spoke about the future of Varanasi and of course, the Ganga.
Before heading off to the university, we went to get pizza at a lovely little cafe on Assi Ghat. As we began to walk home, with me holding the left-overs in a pizza box, a young girl (possibly only 7 or 8) holding a very small baby approached me and began to follow. While I had no idea of what she was saying, it was blindingly obvious that she and the child needed food. Turning to face her I saw people all around, looking at me- a skinny elderly man stretched his arm out to me, begging. a young boy bounced around me, repeating the same sort of thing as the young girl.
The pizza cost me $4, I wasn't hungry anymore and I could very easily buy another tomorrow- or get food elsewhere. Despite this I froze, distressed. I had never seen desperation like this. Poverty was all around me and all I had was one small pizza.
After distributing the pizza, I realised that not only were these people hungry, they too, like millions of others, relied on the water of the river to survive. I am a wealthy westerner in comparison and surely there is more than a $4 pizza that I have to give. Feeling emotionally deflated, and yet impassioned, I promised myself that I would dedicate all of my being to getting the sewage out of Ganga.
It's fascinating the way that India can tear you apart, and then put you back together again.
While most of the conference was in Hindi, and therefore I understood absolutely none of it, I was able to observe the reactions of the audience, or the people on the panels. The passionate hand gestures, the raised voices accompanied by a round of applause from the audience, the head movements, the ushered words of approval.
The cleaning of the Ganga, the introduction of more sustainable ways of living, improved sewage and waste management- a clean, happy, healthy future for Varanasi. This is what everyone wants.
So why is it not happening?
There is a simple solution, with 101 complications.
As human beings, we have faced challenges 100 times more complicated than this before however.
If India can send a rocket to Mars, then India- and the rest of the world leaders for that matter- get the sewage out of Ganga!