“I am Yamuna. I left my home very young, looking for my life’s purpose.
I froze to the ground when the mountains turned white like a ghost
And slid through the rocky mountains when the sun shone bright.
I reached the valley but continued to run forward.
I crossed many villages and made many friends, but I always kept moving forward.
Always looking for my life’s purpose.
But one day I couldn’t move any longer.
My hands and feet were chained by the remaining of friends I made long ago.
What they couldn’t use, they threw at me. Now, I can no longer move. I am drowning and gasping for air.
I travelled for years, over thousand sunsets and sunrises,
Was this my life’s purpose? To drown in your trash and call it my calling.”
Every night as the moon peeps through the polluted sky, Yamuna sheds tears. She looks miserable and sick.
Word of Yamuna’s ill-health spread over water boundaries and fell into the ears of Han–one of the longest rivers in South Korea. Everyone talked of Han's beauty and came to appreciate her with their families and friends. Hearing about Yamuna’s health, Han decided to meet her and try to cheer her up. Han
extended one of her arms and began travelling in Yamuna’s direction. She had to be careful not to disrupt her flow as it could cause harm to many cities and villages. She crawled under the soil and after a month reached the foam-filled stinky waters of the Yamuna.
“Dear Yamuna, you look so upset? What is the matter?”
“I am so happy to see you Han! You indeed look so beautiful and healthy!”
Han smiled and hugged Yamuna. For a moment, Yamuna forgot the toxic filled surrounding she lived in. Yamuna lowered her eyes and began opening up to Han. “Look where I live Han. I cannot breathe; move my arms or even my feet. Every day, the drains add more filth into the river and the people of the city for whom I travel from so far, do not even throw a glance at me. For them, I am a stinky black drain.”
“This is very unfortunate, Yamuna. And I completely understand you. Like you, even I flow through the Seoul city and after the Korean War (1950-53) I became the dumping ground of all polluted things. Much like you, Yamuna, even I saw my city rise and become into an industrial hub and that led to bad times. They began throwing all the urban waste into me and then the worse thing happened. They covered up my stream, Cheonggyecheon, by constructing an elevated highway,” said Han with a sigh.
“Then how did you survive it, Han?” asked Yamuna, widening her eyes with interest.
“I didn’t do it all by myself. I had a friend who helped me get better. It was the year 2003, and I was sitting all by myself, in pain and horror of what my life had become. And then I saw somebody by the river side looking equally sad.”
“Who was it, Han?”
“It was my saviour. My friend, whose efforts changed my life and my city’s life. His name was Lee Myeong-Bak. He was the mayor of the Seoul city at that time. Bak decided to remove the highway and restore the stream. It was one person’s vision that transformed Seoul.”
“That is really inspiring to hear, Han. I too sometimes overhear officials who come to see me from a distance, covering their noses and talking about the money assigned to clean all this toxic filth around me, but I do not see them coming back.
I read it in the newspapers thrown into the river that more than `5,000 crore was sanctioned to clean me. But who knows, what happened to that! And moreover, who would make them realise that along with cleaning me, they also need to treat the waste water that comes and joins me from different drains.”
“I understand what you are saying, Yamuna. In the beginning when Lee Myeong- Bak proposed this idea, many people protested, especially the traders. But, it was his strong will that took the restoration to completion. It took two years and US$ 281 million, but today, every penny seems worth it.”
“How is that Han?”
“See, when I was dirty and stinky, nobody wanted to come see me. They thought I was a drain where they could dump all their waste. Once I was restored, and cleaned up, they saw how beautiful I was and what a wonderful addition I was to their city. They began coming back and visited the parks and restaurants built on my banks. This improved the finances of the city and made it into one of the country's most famous tourist spots!
And when the Cheonggyechan stream was restored, it transformed into the most amazing hub to exhibit artworks and graffiti on the walls along the side of the stream. Now, there are open-air gyms and walkways, perfect spots for picnics, and most importantly, a place for fish, birds and the insects to breed.”
“Wow! That sounds mesmerising, Han. You are very lucky. I wish my people could see beyond their greed and make some changes for the good of the city.”
“I wish and pray the same for you, dear Yamuna. I am hopeful someday they will realise how charming you are and recall the wonderful times they spent along your side, before turning you into a stinky drain.”
“We can always learn from each other and I will hang onto my trust on my people. The festival season is right around the corner. I hope this time they would be more careful and won’t dump more waste onto me. You should stay for a few more days, Han, and watch my beautiful city light up.”
“I would have loved to stay, Yamuna, but I need to go back to my people. I wish your people look at you with the same love and respect with which you look at them. And talking about festivals, every year, Seoul hosts a lantern festival alongside my Cheonggyechan stream. I hope you recover soon and come see me there!”
“I have to get better, Han. And I would not give up on my people.”