Storm Water drains are important lifelines in the city and built with a fantastic vision for the city’s  water sufficiency. But today it has become a public space for dumping garbage resulting in flooding during the rain in a metro city , the silicon city Bengaluru.`As the drain goes’, is a collaborative photo project that looks at the Koramangala Valley pathway in Bangalore ( from Majestic to Belandur lake), making sense of relationship with garbage and drains.

Storm water drains, for me, were just a fixture  in the background. While it was an essential part of our urban infrastructure, it remained invisible. I did not view storm water drains as a city  infrastructure and I did not know their relationship to the city.  I often just referred to it as “the drain”, in conversations. Sometimes, I also agreed with the commonly used language around the stormwater drains, as ‘mori or gutter’. They were filthy, dirty and murky.  But one day it all changed.  I was driving past the (in) famous Ejipura Drain. That  route was on my daily commute to work and back. The plastic filled bed called out to me. And one day I hesitantly made my way, to stop and stare at the drain. The image continued to haunt me, I knew that the storm water drain was holding up a mirror to our relationship with garbage. And that seeded the idea of “As the Drain Goes”.

I stood, transfixed…
At the sight of the drain,
Choking in the things we discard

I stood, immobile, 
At the sight of the drain,
Experiencing the view,
Discomforting, disconcerting
I questioned, like everyone else
Who is to blame?
Were we to assume that our 
Crime scene and spilled secrets,
Will wash away with the rain?

I stood, wondering
Were we an unsuspecting accessory?
Were we delusional, in thinking 
Nothing is wrong!
But  are the encroachments the only fault?
Why is there no respite, from urban flooding?
Why the purposeful avoidance?
What are we unseeing?

I stood, transfixed
At the sight of the drain
Desolate and deary,
The stink of the garbage
The coloured waters,
Lying scorched,
Yet, taken for granted,
Absorbed into the drain of nothingness…

I stood, transfixed
At the sight of the drain
At the sight of the greens, in the middle 
Of the rubbish,
An oddity, but one of hope
Of free flowing waters…

I stood, transfixed
At the sight of the drain,
Yet there is story to be told,
That moves past grim newspaper reports,
Blame games and frothing lakes…
There is a story to be told,
That moves past the act of cleaning and beautifying,
The moves past man-made constructions,

I stood, transfixed
At the sight of the drain,
Yet there is a story to be told…
-Pinky Chandran

My visits to the K100 drain (Bengaluru’s oldest drain network, from Majestic to Bellandur)  did not follow a set pattern. As with following trucks carrying recyclables, I set out on my own following drains. I started with Shantinagar immediately after the second wave of the pandemic. Prior to that I began tracking newspaper reports, books, academic and legal reports of both lakes and drains. I also scheduled interviews with people working in the space. This series of poems and photographs began then:The poems don’t have a set pattern, but have been woven from the snippets of conversations with local communities and observations There is something about  mindless wandering around the drains- about discovering, a kind of excitement that can be transformative. 

Pinky Chandran : Picture Credit: Harsha

The process of visiting storm water drains has also been deeply therapeutic. Because over a period of time, instead of viewing them as dark, smelly and dirty, I was able to experience the beauty. The process of  photographing, also became an ode to the drains. And I am conscious that I don’t want this to be just another linear gallery on instagram, or a one time display for public viewing. And this was particularly in response to a question I read in a photography magazine in November 2018, “Do we photograph because we care? Or do we photograph because we can?”. Paying attention to the immediate surroundings and experiencing  the sights, sounds, smell, of the drains,  the language of the poems are meant to merge seamlessly, breaking through the complexities that exist in reality. 

As the Drain Goes,
Is a desire to follow ( an illusion) dare I say
As the Drain Goes
Is an yearning to explore the extent of the drains
At times, I watch it pass,
At times I watch it stuffed
At times I watch it swamped
At times I watch it choked,
Breathless with the buildings engulfing it
At times I watch it parched
With life drifting away,
At times, I see it vanish,
I walk above, up and won
Straining to see
Did I hear the drain weeping
Trapped, underground
How do I set it free?
And then suddenly, magically it appears
Dark and dirty
Yet beautiful,
The expanse, the stretch
Hanging like an invisible screen,
Hiding the realms of beauty
And the spell is broken
Come join me in this journey…

‘As the drain goes’, is a joint project by Pinky Chandran, Nalini Shekar, and Citizen Matters, and is supported by the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum (BSF) Small Grants Programme

Advertisement