The wasted land

THE mythic origins of Jodhpur's water crisis go back to the time when the Rao Jodha clan laid claim to the rocky outcrop that was to be the-Mehrangarh fort about 500 years ago. But to do so, they first had to dislodge the forts only inhabitant Chidiya Nathji1 a savant beloved by the birds of the hill. N athji left1 but a curse fell upon the city: drought1 and not once1 but every three years.

Amar Kanwar's Maru- bhumi recounts the legend, but suggests a more recent and credible explanation for Jodhpur's growing water scarcity, mainly due to the decline of the tradition of water harvesting in Jodhpur.

Once, rain falling on the rock-face of the surrounding hillsides was dire" cted through a network of canals into the city's lakes, which in turn repl~nished the tanks and bavdjs {tradi- tionalwells). An inch of rain could lead to an increase of as much as 10 ft in Jodhpur's waterbodies.

Today, the channels need repair and the bavdis have fallen into disuse, while Jodhpur's residents wait for the recently laid pipelines to provide them the luxury of getting water at home, Predictably, the collapse of the system has been accompanied by a rapid colonisation of neighbouring water resources ~ and the growing resentinent of farm- ers, And all this is attributed to insensitivity and lack of vision that has been a hallc mark of the 'PWD' culture in India. This is the story that Marubhumi systematically unravels.

The series of helicopter shots showing $tone quarries that eat into the catchment area and excavated hillsides, highlights the picture of thoughtlessness and neglect. The drought that struck Marwar in 1920, and persist- ed for 10 years; emerges through the monochrome grittiness of the film.

We see emaciated bodies, cattle on the move, the inevitable tragic bustle of 'famine works'. Now and then, there are surprise~: European men in $uits and solar topis appear along a canal bank, signaling the arrival of the panoply of the public works department. Dilip Varma's controlled camerawork provides a cori- text for the story. A high point conies at a formal meeting,where bureaucrats discuss encroachment by mining interests.

The bizarre celebrati~ of bureaucracy portrayed in the film is proQably the denouement of Amar Kanwar's film, locating the real problem of Jodhpur's water scarcity. The diffused nostalgic tone about the past could have received a better treatment, say, from the use of music, whether it is the sonorous longing of thenad, or the yearning that is eter- n~lly embedded in Langa folk ballads.