Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talab or Ponds are still relevant is a rare gem, a scripture written in our time and age.
The book takes you through the ponds and step wells built around the country. First of all, the sheer numbers that existed and even the ones that continue to exist astound you. I can tell you from my travels in small-town India, we were the people of ponds. Our lives potentially revolved around making sure no water is wasted, each drop is respected and used wisely.
Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talab takes you through so many aspects of the ponds that you wonder why did we allow this common practice to lose. At the end of the book, I wanted everyone in the PWD department and every town planner to read this book. If I could, I would read it as mandatory reading in schools and colleges. Till that happens, please pick up this book and read. It is copyright free and you can download it for free here.
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Let me give you a glimpse of the kaleidoscope of dimensions that this small book captures.
It talks about the stars and auspicious times when the whole village will gather to start the work of building a pond. The rituals described may seem irrelevant in the beginning. But by the end of the book, you sense their relevance.
Book talks about the people who built the ponds. How the culture or the dharma told people to build ponds wherever they went, whenever there was a celebration or even when there was a tragedy. Building ponds was done to commemorate anything in life. It was the biggest Punya you could gather.
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Introduction to the different parts of the pond, including the channels that direct water to the ponds is eye-opening. Most of us tend to think pond is just a depression in the land, where water simply gathered. Well, not really. There is a whole lot of engineering involved. The beautiful part is how the experienced builders could measure everything just by looking at the land. They even knew how deep the water is in a place.
Anupam Mishra then takes you the various terminologies associated with ponds. How the people working on ponds were called. You will be surprised to know how many surnames you now know have their roots in pond building. The author even traces the communities of pond builders in older parts of many cities. There were traveling tribes who went from place to place building ponds.
From conceiving a pond to maintaining it was a community responsibility. The contributions mostly came from the village itself. Although sometimes the kings funded it. Each responsibility was divided, including the one to keep the area clean. There were clear guidelines for who would get how much water and in what priority. Everyone contributed to maintaining. On Purnima and Amavas i.e. Full Moon Day and No Moon Day, people worked on the pond. It is after reading this book I understood the sculptures of places like Rani ki Vav. They potentially played a role in keeping the water clean.
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The names of the ponds themselves have as many stories as there are ponds. There are generic names for ponds like Talab, Bawdi, Kere, Cheruvu or Kund in every region. Each pond has a name and with it a story of its own. Bigger ponds were called Sagars. The lake in Bhopal which seems pretty big even today is a shrunken form of the original lake where places like Mandidwip were islands. Parts of Chhattisgarh had villages with 126 ponds in a village.
Ponds had their own language. Some kind of sculpture or pillar erected used to tell the water levels. Usually, some deity would be carved on it. If the water touches the feet of the deity, it means you will not have a water problem that year. If the deity goes below water, it meant a potential flood. Or if water stayed below a level, a potential drought meaning using the water even more sensibly.
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The book is full of stories of ponds. For example, a pond with the depth equivalent to the amount of rope that a donkey can carry gets the name Gadhya Talab. The one with a depth equivalent to the height of an elephant is Hathi Talab. You hear stories from across the country. You feel sad about the fact that these ponds have been filled to build real estate.
Please read this book. It is an education you will get nowhere else. It is an important book but it is extremely important when we are facing water woes.
Go, read it now.