A few days ago, newspapers in Bangalore carried a rather shocking news report – Bellandur lake, the city’s largest water body, caught fire. The lake has also been Bangalore’s largest dumping place for sewage. Methane that built up over months on the lake burnt spontaneously, the reports said. To me, it was cremation of a dead lake.
To Bangalore’s citizens like me, dying lakes are not news. But it was only four years ago, when I actually went searching for lakes, that I realized how bad the situation was. It was my first year of PhD, and I was going to do a small project on the aquatic carnivorous plant, Utricularia, commonly known as bladderwort. Small insects that happen to brush past this tiny plant are pulled in with a jet of water, and swallowed up. The insects are duly digested, and nitrogen from their bodies sustains the plant. Now, generating the force needed to pull in and break down an insect would come at a tremendous cost to the plant, and if the substrate on which the plant is growing happens to be nutrient rich already, the plant would save energy and stop eating insects, I reasoned. To test this, I had to hunt for bladderwort to experiment with, which meant I had to hunt for lakes. I went to Bannerghatta, where I was told there are a number of lakes. I found a few (which didn’t have bladderwort, by the way), but most were covered over by water hyacinth. The taxi driver I had hired to take me around was very helpful, and offered to take me to a few more places which had lakes. But of about ten lakes we visited that day, eight were hopelessly taken over by weeds. Bangalore has more than 250 lakes and tanks, some estimates say. It certainly has a score places with names ending in bhaavi, or kere or eri, all words indicating the presence of a water body in the area*. But where are they?
On my way back to Bangalore from Ooty a few days ago, we had to cross Kengeri. The infamous Kengeri stench greeted us as we entered the city. I saw a large hoarding advertising new flats; ‘Lake view homes right here’ it said. The lake itself came into view as we drove further; it was green… like death.
* Maybe places ending with ghatta or katte can also be added to the list. In addition, there are many lakes in places whose names do not carry a suffix suggesting the presence of one, like in Agara and Ulsoor. Much money and effort is put into restoration of these lakes, but a few years later, weeds take over the lakes again.