Friday, June 13, 2008

From the road it seems that the sea has gone further down. No one can easily approach the sea

Ode to the Sea and Beach of Pondicherry By Aju Mukhopadhyay

How young were you younger when we were
Attracted to your shore and the wavy water!
Enough had you given us to love you daily
To swim and bathe in you merrily;
Brajkishore dived and crawled deep into your body
School children, local boys swam regularly
Flapping their wings Anita, Swapna and Sushan did share
Dolphin’s snouting and seraphin’s song wafting in the air.
On your beach calm and quiet we walked, O Sea!
Collecting varied shells became unforgettable memory
Witness to umpteen maritime stories
The golden beach told us the tale of fisheries.
There was a pier on the bay ancient
Half a mile long with wide space at the end
Sitting on the benches on sides or surrounding the space
Gave them a sense of living in the sea, a wonderful solace;
Peeping out of its watery grave it reminds us
About the great who had been over it, history to focus;
Sri Aurobindo with disciples enjoyed the moonlit sea and beach
Shyam Sundar reminisced that the Mother with Pranab graced each.
Dredging and shifting and littoral drifting
Gradually narrowed the beach, a precious thing
Stormy and raging sea was the result of terrible Tsunami
Destroying many coastal towns it brought in life utter misery.
After the rise of the sea it receded in depth
Baring the animals which soon returned to health.
Saved by Nature’s tricks, legendary French-Wall and Her grace
Pondicherry finally lost the shore, its sandy gold face;
No scope remained for collecting the shells
No more walking or building the sandy castles.
To save the town, beautify it out of fear and greed
To receive the tourist they became the real spendthrift
They built a parallel road alongside the old promenade
A makeshift toy-beach, grandiloquent fa├žade
With broken, pulverized hills lifted and carried
By modern Hanuman, the techno-giant;
Roads are high up, sea has gone deep down
So that the Tsunami can no more touch the town.
Sea is groaning under camouflaged sandy road
‘Do not swim’- warns the board at the first road
‘Unfathomable Sea!’ and ‘Treacherous in calm’
The ‘Ocean of Time’- Shelly found as it had become.
O Pondy Sea, you too have become the killer of men
Who might have been deceived by the Siren.
Pondy is attractive mainly for you, the Sea!
And for you the Beach! - washed by the waves constantly
Few are the things and sites attractive which are man-made
Alas! The slim and golden beach is at last dead.
The only hope remains that the Nature is protean
And the Time to reckon is eternal.
* * * * * *

From In Celebration of Nature by Aju Mukhopadhyay (c), 2007 Email:


The Coastline Aju Mukhopadhyay

Bay of Bengal, the sea, creating a 22 km coastal border has perennial existence on the eastern fringe of Pondicherry. Sea brought the Romans, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. Sea invites the tourists and other visitors. Sea is the vast nature, the source of cultural intercourse and commerce.

Union Territory of Pondicherry is not a natural, contiguous territory. It is a historic reality due to French rule. Even far-flung Chandannagar could remain a part of it, had it not merged with West Bengal.

An unusual thickness of the alluvium near Pondicherry indicates, it is said, that it was once an extensive lagoon, silted and uplifted. Beds of peat, at various places below the surface, prove that there has been subsidence. The Pondicherry area is the northern limit of the sediments laid down during the great Cenomanian marine transgression along the east coast of South India as recorded The Gazetteer of India for the Union Territory, referring to an article published in the Geological Society of India in 1965. Several changes took place in the past including changes in the course of the rivers and in the sea shoreline, which has become straight. The coast was flat and sandy.

The old jetty on the sea near the present secretariat, of which the remnants may still be seen peeping through the water like dying masts of a sinking ship, was destroyed by cyclone. This was the port where Sri Aurobindo disembarked from the ship Dupleix on 4 April 1910. After Pondicherry’s merger with India in 1954, a new pier was constructed, which may still be seen standing in-tact. But its structural deterioration was noticed in the course of time. Hence a new sheltered port was taken up for construction on the Ariyankuppam river mouth, which was completed in 1997. It is known as Ariyankuppam Port with more facilities than before, with a new fishing harbour.

But Ariyankuppam remained silted at the mouth. It did not flow into the sea. So an approach channel had to be dug to facilitate movement of burgers and other vessels. It may be partly for this and partly for the whim of the sea that erosion took place for some years denuding the seashore throughout the entire length of the beach beyond the eastern wall of the town. We do not find any perceptible beach even from Light House to the New Port where a beach recreational project like the Maldives Beach was proposed. There is no trace of any project fructifying here like many other projects which do not see the light of the day.

Though not very wide, people enjoyed the beach, bathing in the morning, sitting or walking in the evening, till some15/20 years before. The vastness of the calm sea denoting infinity, glued many on lookers and regular visitors to their seats, dipping them into their philosophic depth. Not that it is no more possible at all; the revival of the beach by nature, but the beach-less-ness, undue crowd and all sorts of hullabaloo on the promenade disturb the calmness of nature, sores the heart of a nature lover. The polluting distillery at the northern end was removed by court order. If it is true that a new entertainment package in the shape of hotel-wine-dance is going to take its place, then not only the surrounding of a natural sea coast but the deeper water below it will be heinously polluted.

A little more commercialism may spoil the game. Seashore may seem to be theatrical hall or market place for which enough spaces are available in other civilized parts of the world. The promenade has been free of vehicular traffic for all the evenings for people to enjoy the seashore. It is good up to that but with many eating options through hawker’s stalls and restaurants lined on both sides of the road and with entertainers on the stage, sweepers with broomsticks around, it is disturbing for those few who know how to drink nature by merging into it, who come simply for walk or to do other things for health, for regaining vigour. It is the duty of the nature lovers to stop the onslaught on nature.

Another disturbing phenomenon is the observation by the Coastal Ocean Monitoring And Prediction System (COMAPS) of the Ministry of Earth Science that the discharge of huge quantities of untreated sewage into the sea in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry has been regularly polluting it. Reduced level of dissolved oxygen, different bacteria, nitrate, nitrite and phosphate are damaging the marine life, fishes in particular.

Nature has its own symphony, rhythm and cycle. For about eight months, from March to September, littoral drifts carry sands toward the north, as the deeper waves and for about four months the process is partly reversed, partly stalled due to the influence of monsoon. Dredging of sands from the mouth of Ariyankuppam river and sending them through pipelines by the port authority continue for their own purpose, as in many other ports. It may give some health to the beach but nothing is assured. It is said that due to dredging for the port activity some years ago the beach to the north of the port area was lost as the sea erosion became prominent. Coastal erosion due to wind and littoral drifting is a normal affair which regularly happens here as well as at Karaikal. And there are other reasons; global warming has induced the rising of the sea. If it comes closer the erosion of the town would set in.

It may be said that the town was completely saved, barring a little bruise towards the northern end of it, during the last devastating Tsunami in 2004. One of the reasons was the existence of the legendary French brick wall bordering the eastern end of the town and the other one was the divine grace. But there were damages to agricultural land and life and property to some extent towards further north. To save the town and to make up for the lost beech, authorities have constructed giant boulder walls with sand spread over them. A parallel road to the existing promenade has come up for people to walk. But it cannot be substitute for any natural beach. From the road it seems that the sea has gone further down. No one can easily approach the sea. Swimming has been prohibited as some have been drowned. We do not know what will be the reaction of nature in due course for this force-pushing the sea which has a tendency to rise. It may with double vigour enter into other unprotected part of the coastal area.

Restricting any permanent construction within 500 metres of the high-tide line, Coastal Zone Regulation notification was issued in 1991 under the Environment Protection Act of 1986 by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. But due to pressure from various vested interest groups, particularly industries, the rule was amended many times, finally to be renamed by the M.S. Swaminathan Committee in February 2005, as Coastal Management Zone. The committee expanded the coastal zone up to 12 nautical miles into the sea, ignoring the rights of the fishing and other coastal communities and the usual norms of conservation of nature. Sea is the greatest of heritage in coastal areas, not so much the two hundred or less years’ old houses. The onslaught of a proposed newer port with direct berthing facility may create more devastating sea erosion to the northern areas of the port, flashing the fishermen and their dwellings, inundating portions of the town. Fisherman communities, their state organization and other conscientious people have been strongly protesting against such a move.

To conclude, we must add that whatever has happened or happens, if one goes to the end of the last pier it will seem as if the open sea is level with him. The vastness is indeed enjoyable. Some sand also is visible in nearby areas. And the opposite side with back water, curved landscape, island and boats has its own beauty. It may be said that it is the best sea front of Pondicherry. From Pondicherry Environment by (c)Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2007

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