Exploring lost sanctity of Yamuna

Exploring lost sanctity of Yamuna

Lens sight

A lot has been said and written about the degradation of Yamuna, which has almost become a dump yard for the City’s waste now. But Chitvan Gill’s documentary Take me to the river talks about the plight of the Yamuna and some of the gravest violations against it by the people who consider it sacred, who once saw it as pristine and whose lives and livelihoods are intimately tied to it, even now.

Recently screened at the IIC, the one-hour long film focuses on 22 km stretch of the river between Wazirabad and Okhla and is a personal exploration and encounter of the director with Yamuna, by chance but carried forward by design.

“I was working on a project on the Old City where its residents would speak about the beauty of Shahjahanabad, built on the river bank. During this course, I walked down the historic Nigambodh Ghat and encountered the poor state of the river and people living on its bank. There is no river between Wazirabad and Okhla. What flows is pure sewage. I was in a state of shock. It is not longer a river – its a large nullah! That’s when I put the Old City project on hold and decided to make this film,” she tells Metrolife.

Rather than the authoritative voices, the film depicts the plight of one of India’s most revered rivers, through what the filmmaker experienced, and those who have seen it over the years. It has Old Delhi’s elderly residents narrating interesting tales related to the river, and poets, reciting great words penned about it. 

Chitvan, a writer and a filmmaker, says, “I have been living in this City for around 25 years. But in Delhi you don’t feel the urge to go to the bank of the river. My, by chance visit made me aware of the state of the river. We have all been hearing about the pollution of the Yamuna but you have to see it to believe it.”

The disconnect of Delhiites with the river has been subtly projected and the focus
remains on how Yamuna, the name of which has been invoked in the country’s national anthem, and which was a repository of deep spirital faith once, has lost its pristine character today.

“I grew up in the Northeast, along the banks of the Brahmaputra. I have experienced beautiful, pristine lakes and water bodies. People are still connected to their rivers there. I had envisaged Yamuna to be the same. But I was wrong,” says Chitvan, whose On the Wings of Science was screened at a joint session in Parliament on the occasion of 50 years of India’s independence.

She chose to narrate the story through the eyes of the common people rather than authorities to highlight the issue differently. “We all know the court’s directive on the issue and how after so many years and so much money being spent, the river continues to be filthy. We know about the mismanagement and incompetency with which it is being dealt. But I was like ‘let’s see if we can tell the story in a different way’,” she adds.