The Sewage Pond’s Memoir

We seem to know nature as something outside us, as a deep experience. The separation makes us know nature as an ‘other’, a duality. But we all also know nature through our myths and memories. Post enlightenment nature has been understood as a set of scientific laws and theories, as an absolute. But as Bruno Latour says, we as social beings co-create ideas of nature. Sadly though today we increasingly know nature as a ‘resource’ to be exploited and plundered. The film is a reflection of all these, as a personal myth about water turning to sewage in a forest I helped protect.

The forest of the Delhi Ridge marks the end of the Aravalli Range, the billion-and-a-half-year-old mountain chain that extends along the western coast of India.

For more than a thousand years, its water and cover have provided ecological security for the many cities of Delhi that have arisen. Although parts of the forest are now legally protected, it is constantly being degraded, as the exploding cities encroach ever closer, dumping sewage and garbage and erecting illegal constructions.

What is nature? In one way, nature is defined by atoms and molecules, and bound by their laws. In another, it is a concept that resonates with us in deep ways, a part of our individual and collective memories, our culture, poetry and mythology. Urban migration implies that we have left our traditional rural roots behind and moved into the grid of a new global modernity.

Here, ideas of nature are locked into the technology of resources, usage and functionality. Sewage is measured in liters and water quality. When sewage does not flow in its desired course, it overflows into the forest, which becomes a marker of a dysfunctional system rather than of belonging.

Ravi Agarwal