"How to Steal a River"

"To feed an enormous building boom, India’s relentless sand miners have devastated the waterways that make life there possible."

"Several years ago, I took a journey with my wife and baby daughter to my mother-in-law’s childhood home, a forest village in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. As any Keralite will tell you, Kerala is the lushest, most watery corner of India, a skinny coastal strip where hundreds of tributaries merge into broad, winding rivers before finally flowing into the Arabian Sea. My mother-in-law’s village is named Manimala, for the river that provides its reason for being.

My wife spent her childhood summers in Manimala, and all her stories seemed to center on the river: the old stone steps that villagers descended to board a ferry or take a bath; the neighbors fishing or washing elephants; the flotillas of flowers that drifted downstream after monsoon gales. I’d been cultivating a fantasy that our own daughter would spend her summers on these banks. But when we arrived in Manimala, I was shocked: The great river had become a trickle. In a few places it had pooled into puddles big enough for people to wash their clothes. Otherwise it was barren, the stone steps now leading to a gouged-out ravine of pale boulders baking in the sun.

“What happened to the river?” I asked.

“Sand mafia,” my wife’s cousin Thambichan answered."

Rollo Romig reports for the New York Times March 1, 2017.

Source: NY Times, 03/02/2017