My grandfather was born in Kolkata, then Calcutta, in the undivided British India and spent most of his early age in the eastern part of the country. So, when he got a lucrative assignment in the state of Mewar in the Rajputana area of Western India, he was not very sure that he would take it.
Rajputana, which was later renamed Rajasthan after Indian independence, was perceived to be an arid drought prone area and the thought of going there was taken with a pinch of salt by my grandpa. He undertook his journey with the intention of just getting a feel of the place and to return home pretty soon.
But when he landed in Udaipur, the capital of Mewar, nearly 70 years back, he was pleasantly surprised as the quaint little city not only had very friendly people and greenery all around (a far cry from the drought prone perception) but was dotted with lakes and was aptly called the Venice of the East.
The rest, as they say, was history. He spent the rest of his life in Udaipur itself, his beloved home, a far cry from the crowded and cosmopolitan Kolkata, to which he had initially planned to return soon.
Since then, much water has flowed through the lakes of Udaipur and immense “developments” have taken place in this City of Lakes. To describe the changes as “immense” would be an understatement.
The changes have been phenomenal actually and Udaipur is fast transforming itself into a swanky modern city. New townships are being developed throughout the length and breadth of the city; new glitzy malls have come up with the ever evolving mall culture, the latest of cars and bikes jostle for your attention on the roads and even culturally, we have started aping the West and the metros (blame it on cable TV and Internet, if you might).
But alas, the cost of these developments too is immense, where the word “immense” remains an understatement. New townships and building projects have wiped out greenery and today, all Udaipur can boast of is rapidly dwindling forest cover.
The greed of Mankind has made a mockery of the benevolence of Mother Nature. Small ponds, lakes and even river areas have been encroached upon, thereby disturbing the age old natural catchment areas of the jewels of Udaipur, its lakes.
Effluents from the industries, another benchmark of development, have created havoc to the fragile ecosystem of the lakes, rendering the water unfit not only for human consumption but also for the animals. The water table is being rapidly depleted at many locations in the city because of the innate exploitation of potable water.
The problem has been compounded further by the pollution of the lakes by the common Udaipurite and the many hotels and guest houses mushrooming because of the booming tourism industry of the city through improper sewage disposal, the practice of disposing garbage into the lakes or otherwise. The lesser said the better.
Glitzy malls and big retail shoppes are, on the other hand, creating crass commercialism. People are buying more things, things for which they seldom have any need. Granted, buying is a process which is essential for the robustness of the economy, but should not buying benefit more the local producers and vendors rather than the big cash rich companies?
The glitzy lifestyle creates a huge psychological impact amongst the city’s residents as well and widens the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. The “have nots”, in their quest to be seen as “haves”, indulge in pretty about anything. This has led to an alarming rise in the occurrence of petty crime in the city. Be it burglary or chain snatching, the law and order of the city is fast deteriorating.
The legion of the latest cars and bikes, though a sign of prosperity and development have made the roads narrower, the environment more polluted and disturbed the serenity of the bliss that Udaipur was.
Reckless driving claim many a life every year in the city and parking problems are rampant. A drive through Ashok Nagar, Durga Nursery Road, Udiapole or Suraj Pol, especially in the evening, is a nerve wracking, patience testing experience, which one would usually associate with the traffic jams of the metro cities. A sure sign of development again, it seems??
A dip in the moral values, again a sign of development perhaps, is gradually becoming all pervasive in the culture of modern Udaipur. Illicit relations, harassments and the like are on the rise. In a blind run to embrace a so called “happening” culture, people have become oblivious to values and principles that even a generation ago, would have been deemed unshakable.
Development is an unstoppable process and a necessary one at that. So do we have to bear with the evils that piggy back along with it? I think the answer would be yes.
But let us hope that in our quest for development, we don’t destroy the little things that have been cherished in the past by our elders, like a quiet little walk by the shimmering waters of pristine lakes with the family, enjoying the lush greenery all around, inhaling pure fresh air without ever bothering about miscreants who might be waiting to snatch and rob. Because some things in life are really irreparable, and the cost of losing them immeasurable.