|The beach at Lake Superior|
I still remember the first time I was in awe of a lake. We had been driving around Upper Michigan for a few days back in 2014, cutting through vineyards, desolate pine-tree thick landscapes, icy, tumbling rivers, and of course, the Great Lakes. Up till then, for me, the Great Lakes earlier had simply been a famous cluster of distinctive blue shapes on a map and to imagine that we were travelling around - lakes - was difficult to grasp for they did not seem to me as much lakes as captive seas. And indeed, as we stood below a cirrus-streaked blue sky on the shores of Lake Superior, I realised that lakes too have beaches although they were not as distinct or prominent as those of the sea. I recall standing there, gazing into the hypnotic endless sea as it merged with that of the sky, realising that I would never again see lakes as I once used to do.
Bangalore, of course, is the city of lakes: beautiful lakes, ghost lakes, dying lakes, lakes on fire. What was once home to over two hundred eight lakes have now dangerously dwindled to only fifteen healthy ones, the remaining ones sewage fed. It made me think more about the idea behind healthy lakes, what is it that makes a lake healthy. If the lakes are being pushed beyond their limits, ravaged beyond description, local citizenship initiatives here are taking the mantle of restoring and rejuvenating lakes to promising results. Afroz Shah's incredible clean-up operation at Versova Beach, Mumbai and the subsequent arrival of the Olive Ridley turtles to nest after over a decade is a testament to the difference a noticeable change in the environment makes to its inhabitants and how they respond to it. Given the hugely important role that lakes play in Bangalore's heritage, water supply, and indeed its very character since its inception, it is so imperative that every effort be taken to preserve them. The apocalyptic sight of the Bellandur lake on fire, breathing ugly white foam should be enough of a frightening deterrent.
After moving here to Bangalore, I have visited Ulsoor Lake several times as well as paid a trip to Sankey Tank. Yesterday, though, it being a Sunday and having been in a lackluster mood all week, I wished to venture out a little further to Hebbal Lake Park, which fringes the Hebbal Lake. The park itself is not very big but it was crammed nevertheless with visitors, couples mostly, enjoying their quiet time as they sat on stone benches overlooking the rippled waters. Families played tag and badminton on a rectangle of lawn while there were several those walking around with a camera undoubtedly there to capture the lake at sunset, much like me. I was sorry to see though that the visitors had no qualms in scattering their rubbish all across the place as well as towards the lake edges too despite the presence of rubbish bins. The sight of washed up plastic bottles, chip packets, discarded paper cups, and more was an eye sore and more.
Yet such was the beauty of the lake and its surroundings that I found myself lost in contemplating it. The seemingly embroidered dense thicket of leaves fringing its edges, I could only gaze in delight at the still sleeping fuschia candle-buds of lotuses emerging from a city of lilypads in the middle of the lake. As we walked on the lake edge, hearing the lake and the birds, the copper-pods, gulmohur, jacaranda, and jarula showering bright yellow, red, purple, and pink blooms upon our heads, I was disappointed to reach the end. But there was a magical lush bougainvillea tunnel to console us, the paper bougainvillea carpet crunching below our soles. On the other side of the park, after navigating some ugly construction, we spotted a distant cluster of reed-covered shore and islands in which sat a pair of ducks.A shining black cormorant swam and hunted, briefly disappearing into the water before triumphantly emerging with its evening meal White egrets shimmied across the water and eventually into the sky only to join their brethren on a tree at some distance away; an elegantly long beaked bird emerged from the rushes and patiently waited on the shores, undoubtedly in hunt. Dragonflies looped in twos and threes over the thrumming water and I wondered which insect was making a buzzing, tinnitus-type sound while secreted away in the leaves. Suffice to say, I had come to be enchanted, to be spirited away from the world of urban chaos, noise, and drama - and I was well and truly enchanted.
Before we said goodbye, we made our way to the pier; a father and son were taking turns to pose against the sun which lay low in the sky along with one lone ragged scrap of a cloud. The lotuses were now beginning to open; as I bent down to take their picture, I noticed a fuchsia bougainvillea slumbering on the lily-pad, like a fairy, eliciting a gasp of delight. There was a man sitting there, fishing ever since we had arrived at the park; I watched him putting dough as bait and hauling silvery palm-sized fishes within minutes, depositing them in a plastic sack. I gazed at the water as long as I could, the jade-greenness of it all, trying to mentally crop out the eyesore of the buildings sprouting in the distance.
Would this lake survive? The presence of wildlife despite the rubbish and the construction despoiling the area provided a glimmer of hope. And then, as if to further placate me, a clever coconut husk masquerading as a boat began to float on the water, a nature's toy dancing of its own accord. It appeared lost in its own private world, a world which would always be there, if I allowed it to be, if I did my part too. I watched it for a long time and then turned away, mouthing a goodbye.