Water ~ The Elixir of Life


     Humankind has always searched in vain for an imaginary elixir of life, the divine Amrita, a draught of which was thought to confer immortality. But the elixir of life lies near our hands. For it is the commonest of all liquids, plain water ! I remember one day standing on the line which separates the Libyan Desert from the Valley of the Nile in Egypt.

       On one side was visible a sea of billowing sand without a speck of green or a single living thing anywhere visible on it. On the other side lay one of the greatest, most fertile and densely populated areas to be found anywhere on the earth, teeming with life and vegetation.

           What made this wonderful difference ? Why, it is the water of the river Nile. Geologists tell us that the entire soil of the Nile valley is the creation of the river itself. Egypt, in fact, was made by its river. Its ancient civilisation was created and is sustained by the life – giving waters of the Nile.

        This common substance which we take for granted in our everyday life is the most potent and the most wonderful thing on the face of our earth. It has played a very significant role in shaping the course of the earth’s history and continues to play the leading role in the drama of life on earth. There is nothing which adds so much to the beauty of the countryside as water, be it just a little stream trickling over the rocks or a little pond by the wayside where the cattle quench their thirst.

Water karv247
Water is life

         The rain – fed tanks that are so common in South India are a cheering sight when they are full. They are, of course, shallow, but this is less evident since the water is silt – laden and the bottom does not therefore show up. These tanks play a vital role in South Indian agriculture. In Mysore, for example, much of the rice is grown under them. Some of these tanks are surprisingly large and it is a beautiful sight to see the sun rise or set over one of them.

       One of the most remarkable facts about water is its power to carry silt in suspension. This is the origin of the characteristic colour of the water in rain – fed tanks. This colour varies with the nature of the earth in the catchment area and is most vivid immediately after a fresh inflow following rain.

         Swiftly flowing water can carry fairly large and heavy particles. The finest particles, however, remain 6 + floating within the liquid in spite of their greater density and are carried to great distances. When slit – laden water mixes with the salt water of the sea, there is a rapid precipitation of the suspended matter. This can be readily seen when one travels by steamer down a great river to the deep sea.

       The colour of the water changes successively from the muddy red or brown of silt through varying shades of yellow and green finally to the blue of the deep sea. Great tracts of land have been formed by slit thus deposited. Such land, consisting as it does of finely divided matter, is usually very fertile. The flow of water has undoubtedly played a great part in geological processes.

   The same agency, however, under appropriate conditions, can also play a destructive part and wash away the soil. The problem of soil erosion is of major significance in various countries and especially in many parts of India. Soil erosion occurs in successive steps, the earliest of which may easily pass unnoticed.

         In the later stages, the cutting up and washing away of the earth is only too painfully apparent in the formation of deep gullies and ravines which make all agriculture impossible. Sudden bursts of excessively heavy rain resulting in a large run of surplus water are the principal factors in causing soil erosion.

        The slop of the land, removal of the natural protective coat of vegetation, the existence of ruts along which the water can flow with rapidly gathering momentum, and the absence of any checks of such flow are also causes for soil erosion. Soil erosion is dangerous to agriculture. The terracing of the land, construction of bunds to check the flow of water, the practice of contour cultivation and the planting of appropriate types of vegetation are the measures that can be used to check soil erosion.

       Water is the basis of all life. Every animal and every plant contains a substantial proportion of free or combined water in its body, and no kind of physiological activity is possible without water.

       Water is, of course, necessary for animal life, while moisture in the soil is equally imperative for the life and growth of plants and trees. The conservation and utilisation of water is thus fundamental for human welfare.

          Apart from artesian water the ultimate source in all cases is rain or snowfall. Much of Indian agriculture depends on seasonal rainfall. The problems of soil erosion and of inadequate or irregular rainfall are closely connected with each other. It is clear that the adoption of techniques preventing soil erosion would also help to conserve and keep the water where it is wanted.

         Collection and utilisation of rain water is, therefore, of vital importance. Much of it flows down into the streams and rivers and ultimately finds its way to the sea. Incredibly large quantities of the precious fluid are thus lost to the country.

         The harnessing of our rivers, the waters of which now mostly run to waste, is a great national problem which must be considered and dealt with. Vast areas of land could be turned into fertile and prosperous country by courageous and well – planned action.

       The systematic planting of suitable trees in every possible place in one of the most urgent needs of India. Such plantation would directly and indirectly prove a source of untold wealth to the country. They would check soil erosion and conserve the rainfall of the country from flowing away to waste.

       In one sense, water is the commonest of liquids. In another sense, it is the most uncommon of liquids with amazing properties which are responsible for its unique power to maintain animal and plant life.

        The investigation of the nature and properties of water is therefore, of the highest scientific interest and is far from an exhausted field of research. 

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