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Water – The Elixir of Life

Water – The Elixir of Life


Man has through the ages sought in vain for an imaginary elixir of life, the divine Amrita, a draught of which was thought to confer immortality. But the true 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 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 flowing down to the Mediterranean from its sources a couple of thousands of miles away. Geologists tell us that the entire soil of the Nile valley is the creation of the river itself, brought down as the finest silt in its flood waters, from the highlands of Abyssinia and from remote Central Africa, and laid down through the ages in the trough through which the Nile flows into the sea. Egypt, in fact, was made by its river. Its ancient civilization was created and is sustained by the life-giving waters which come down year after year with unfailing regularity.


I give this example and could give many others to emphasis that 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 role of vast significance in shaping the course of the earth’s history and continues to play the leading role in the drama of life on the surface of our planet.


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 of an evening. The rainfed tanks that are so common in South India – Alas! often so sadly neglected in their maintenance – 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 throws the light back, and the bottom does not therefore show up. These tanks play a vital role in South Indian agriculture. Some of these tanks are surprisingly large and it is a beautiful sight to see the sun rise or set over one of them. Water in a landscape may be compared to the eyes in a human face. It reflects the mood of the hour, being bright and gay when the sun shines, turning to dark and gloomy when the sky is overcast.


One of the most remarkable facts about water is its power to carry silt or finely divided soil in suspension. This is the origin of the characteristic colour of the water in rainfed 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 floating within the liquid in spite of their greater density and are carried to great distances. Such particles are, of course, extremely small, but their number is also great and incredibly large amounts of solid matter can be transported in this way.


When silt-laden water mixes with the salt water of the sea, there is 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. That great tracts of land have been formed by silt thus deposited is evident on an examination of the soil in alluvial areas. Such land, consisting as it does of finely divided matter, is usually very fertile.


The flow of water has undoubtedly played a great part and a beneficent one in the geological processes by which the soil on the earth’s surface has been formed from the rocks of its crust. The same agency, however, under appropriate conditions, can also play a destructive part and wash away the soil which is the foundation of all agriculture, and if allowed to proceed unchecked can have the most disastrous effect on the life of the country. The problem of soil erosion is one of serious import in various countries and especially in many parts of India. The conditions under which it occurs and the measures by which it can be checked are deserving of the closest study.


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. Contributory causes are the slope 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. Incredibly large quantities of precious soil can be washed away if such conditions exist, as is too often the case.


The menace which soil erosion presents to the continuance of successful agriculture is an alarming one in many parts of India, calling urgently for attention and preventive action. The terracing of land, construction of bunds to check the flow of water, the practice of contour cultivation and the planting of appropriate types of vegetation are amongst the measure that have been suggested. It is obvious that the aim should be to check the flow of water at the earliest possible stage before it has acquired any appreciable momentum and correspondingly large destructive power.


Water is the basis of all life. Every animal or plant contains a substantial proportion of free or combined water in its body, and no kind of physiological activity is possible in which the fluid does not play an essential part. 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 though the quantity necessary varies enormously with the species. The conservation and utilization 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 and is therefore very sensitive to any failure or irregularity of the same. 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, in other words, on and in the soil, and such techniques therefore serve a double purpose.


It is evident, however, that in a country having only a seasonal rainfall, an immense quantity of rain-water must necessarily run off the ground. The collection and utilization of this 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 on national lines. Vast areas of land which at present are mere scrub jungle could be turned into fertile and prosperous country by courageous and well-planned action.


Closely connected with the conservation of water supplies is the problem of afforestation. The systematic planting of suitable trees in every possible or even in impossible areas, and the development of what one can call civilized forests, as distinguished from wild and untamed jungle, is 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, and would provide the necessary supplies of cheap fuel, and thus render unnecessary the wasteful conversion of farmyard manure into a form of fuel.


The measures necessary to control the movement of water and conserve the supplies of it can also serve subsidiary purposes of value to the life of the countryside. By far the cheapest form of internal transport in a country is by boats and barges through canals and rivers. We hear much about programmes of rails and road construction, but far too little about the development of internal waterways in India. Then, again the harnessing of water supplies usually also makes possible the development of hydro-electric power. The availability of electric power would make a tremendous difference to the life of the countryside and enable rural economy to be improved in various directions.


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 of maintaining 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.


About the Author:

Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman(7 November 1888 – 21 November 1970) was an Indian physicist born in Tiruchirappalli. He carried out ground-breaking work in the field of light scattering, which earned him the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physics. He discovered that when light traverses a transparent material, some of the deflected light changes wavelength. This phenomenon, subsequently known as Raman scattering, results from the Raman effect and to commemorate it, February-28 is celebrated as National Science Day. In 1954, India honoured him with its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.


Do You Know:


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

* It is the world’s largest collection of floating trash.

* It is in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California and is often described as “larger than Texas”

* Approximately 7 million tons of plastic and other debris up to 9 feet deep are floating.

* By estimation 80% of the plastic originates from land; floating in rivers to the ocean and the remaining 20% of the plastic originates from oil platforms and ships

* These trash piles are the biggest threat to the sea animals.


Glossary

elixir (n) - a hypothetical substance believed to maintain life indefinitely/ a substance believed to cure all ills

billowing (adj.) - characterized by great swelling waves or surges

teeming (adj.) - abundantly filled especially with living things

trickling (v) - to flow slowly and with out force

precipitate (v) - a solid substance that is produced from a liquid during a chemical process

crust (n) - a hard outer covering of something

catchment (n) - a structure, such as a basin or a reservoir, used for collecting or draining water

barges (n) - a long boat with a flat bottom, used for carrying freight on rivers


Prose Questions:


1. What is the imaginary elixir of life?

Ans: The divine Amrita is the imaginary elixir of life.


2. What according to the writer is the real elixir of life?

Ans: Water


3. What is the ‘wonderful difference’ the writer talks about in the passage?

Ans: On one side, was the visible sea of billowing sand without a speck of green or a single living thing anywhere 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. This is the ‘wonderful difference’ that the writer talks about in the passage.


4. What is the ‘cheering sight’ mentioned in the paragraph?

Ans: The rain fed tanks which are full is the ‘cheering sight’ mentioned in this paragraph.


5. What does the writer compare water in a landscape to?

Ans: The writer compares the water in a landscape to the eyes in a human face.


6. How does the water in rainfed tanks get its colour?

Ans: Water carries silt or finely divided soil in suspension. From these, the rainfed tanks get its colours.


7. What is the main cause of soil erosion?

Ans: The sudden burst of excessively heavy rain resulting in a large run of surplus water is the main cause of soil erosion.


8. What other factors add to the erosion of precious soil?

Ans: The other factors which add to the erosion of precious soil are the slope of the land, removal of the natural protective coat of vegetation, the existence of ruts along which the water can flow with rapidly gathering moments and the absence of any checks of such flow.


9. How can soil erosion be prevented?

Ans: The terracing of 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 prevent soil 

erosion.


10. How does prevention of soil erosion serve a double purpose?

Ans: The adoption of soil erosion helps to conserve water and also to keep it in the soil, where it is wnter. Thus helps in double purpose.


11. What are the two sources of water?

Ans: The two sources of water are Artesian and Rain or Snow fall.


12. What happens to the rain water?

Ans: The rain water flows down into the streams and rivers and ultimately finds its way to the sea.


13. What is the idea of civilized forest?

Ans: The civilized forests 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 and would provide the necessary supplies of cheap fuel, and thus render unnecessary the wasteful conversion of farmyard manure into a form of fuel.


14. How can you check soil erosion?

Ans: The creation of civilized forests planting trees at all places would check soil erosion.


15. What is the cheapest means of transport?

Ans: The cheapest means of transport is by boats and barges through canals and rivers.


16. How can you make a difference in the countryside?

Ans: The availability of electric power would make a tremendous difference to the life of the country side and enable rural economy to be improved in various directions.


Answer the following questions briefly in one or two sentences.


1. What makes water one of the most powerful and wonderful things on earth?

Ans: Water played a role of vast significance in shaping the course of the earth’s history and continues to play the leading role in the drama of life on the surface of our planet.


2. How does water help in the formation of fertile lands?

Ans: Water carries silt or finely divided soil in suspension. The land which is formed by silt is proved to be fertile.


3. How does soil erosion happen and what are its main causes?

Ans: The flow of water under certain conditions causes soil erosion. Sudden bursts of excessively heavy rain resulting in large run of surplus water are the principal factors in causing soil erosion.


4. What are some measures that are used to prevent soil erosion?

Ans: The terracing of the land, the construction of bunds to check the flow of water, the practice of contour cultivation and planting of appropriate types of vegetation are the measures used to prevent the flow water and the soil erosion.


5. How, according to Sir C. V. Raman, can rainwater as well as the water of rivers be prevented from going to waste?

Ans: The systematic planting of suitable trees can prevent rainwater from going to waste.


Additional Questions:


1. River Nile is in

Ans: Egypt


2. River Nile flows down to the

Ans: Mediterranean Sea


3. The entire soil of the Nile valley is the creation of the river itself, brought down as the finest silt in its flood waters, from the highlands of

Ans: Abyssinia and from remote Central Africa


4. The rainfed tanks are so common in

Ans: South India


5. Consider the following Assertion and Reasons


Assertion (A): The water in rainfed tanks shows colours.

Reason (R): The water carries silt or finely divided soil in suspension which makes these characteristic colours.


Choose the correct option:

a) Both A and R are correct, and R is the correct explanation of A.

b) Both A and R are correct, and R is not the correct explanation of A.

c) A is correct but R is wrong

d) A is wrong but R is correct

Ans: a) Both A and R are correct, and R is the correct explanation of A.


6. When silt-laden water mixes with the salt water of the sea, there is rapid _______ of the suspended matter.

Ans: precipitation


7. 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

Ans: blue of the deep sea.


8. Which of the following soil deposited by silt is mainly used for agriculture?

a) Alluvial  b) Red

c) Black  d) Laterite

Ans: a) Alluvial


9. The flow of water has undoubtedly played a great part and a beneficent one in the geological processes by which the soil on the earth’s surface has been formed from the rocks of its _____

Ans: Crust


10. Soil erosion in the later stages, the cutting up and washing away of the earth is only too painfully apparent in the formation of _____ and ____ which make all agriculture impossible.

Ans: deep gullies and ravines


11. Consider the following Assertion and Reasons


Assertion (A): No kind of physiological activity is possible in plants and animals which does not contains water.

Reason (R): Every animal or plant contains a substantial proportion of free or combined water in its body.


Choose the correct option:

a) Both A and R are correct, and R is the correct explanation of A.

b) Both A and R are correct, and R is not the correct explanation of A.

c) A is correct but R is wrong

d) A is wrong but R is correct

Ans: a) Both A and R are correct, and R is the correct explanation of A.


12. Closely connected with the conservation of water supplies is the problem of

Ans: afforestation


13. Which is the most common and uncommon of liquids?

Ans: Water


14. “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 of maintaining animal and plant life.”

Mention the figure of speech in the above statement.

Ans: Oxymoron


15. The world’s largest collection of floating trash is known as

Ans: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch


16. Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in the year 1930 for

Ans: Light scattering known as Raman effect


17. Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was awarded Bharat Ratna in the year

Ans: 1954

 

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