Bapu's homecoming

Published: Sunday 31 March 2002

Bapu's homecoming

-- (Credit: Preeti Singh / CSE)He shares his name with the father of the nation. But that's not where the similarity ends. If an incident in South Africa was to change Mahatma Gandhi's life forever, Gujarat's second Bapu's changed on the trip to the Netherlands in 1979. That's learning home truths in alien lands.

Sadhu Devi Prasad Maharaja or Bapu, chanced upon rainwater harvesting systems in the Netherlands and came back stimulated to Jamnagar, only to realise that India had its own rich traditions of harvesting water. He understood that water is a solution to all problems and water is also the genesis of all problems.

He knew what he had to do. So he decided to address water issues in totality, which included conservation and effective utilisation. But many questions, some from the people with whom he discussed, dogged his mind. After mulling over traditions and needs, he decided on recharging the groundwater. That was in 1982. "At that time, no one realised the worth of the activity. But now after 20 years, people have understood its importance and are following the same strategy to prevent water scarcity," he says, beaming with a sense of fulfilment. Today, his organisation, the 350-year-old Ananda Baba Ashram, has worked in 30 villages.

Here's a story, almost myth-like, that Bapu loves to recount. Suryapara village had ten tubewells in the village, which was installed by the state government. But that didn't solve their water problem. Year after year, the drought-like situation only worsened and led to migration. Then one day, an old man came to Bapu and requested him to be a part of their initiative at striking water at the earth's end. Bapu accompanied them but with his own ideas, that of groundwater recharge. Now there is water in abundance.

Bapu's work on lakes is also commendable. As compared to the urban initiative of de-silting of the Lakota lake taken up by the ashram along with the people of Jamnagar and other socio-religious groups in 2000, this year the organisation is focusing its activities in the rural areas. Preference is being given to villages where there is acute scarcity of water for drinking and irrigation purposes.

"People often give credit of the work to sants not knowing that the heroes are the people. It is basically the positive approach of people, which makes the difference," he says, adding, "Sadhus just provide the direction. People do the work." He knows Gandhi better than most people do.

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