A little bit of India on the banks of the
residents have Raj Kapoor in their heart, world’s biggest
dam on drawing board
CHONGQING, SEPTEMBER 6: RAJ Kapoor will never know
it, but he has something in common with Arundhati Roy. The
actor-director-producer and the script-writer-turned-author
meet faraway from their country of origin, in a land of Kapoor
fans and big dams. In Chongqing city in south-west China,
it’s a bit tough to believe that Hindi-Chini bhai bhai
was the first casualty of the 1962 Indo-China war.
Awara hoon wafts through the smoky air of Chongqing’s
hippest karaoke club. Chongqing TV’s biggest news broadcaster,
Zhou Xiaohui, is holding stage. As People’s Liberation Army
officers and foreigners from England and the United States
look on, she flawlessly sings what she says is her favourite
number, the ‘‘best I have ever heard’’. ‘‘It’s a wonderful
tune, and Raj Kapoor and Nargis are the most beautiful couple,’’
Zhou is joined by Wan Xian, who can sing his favourite, Mausam
Beeta Jaye from Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen. He even tells
you why it is his favourite: ‘‘During the Cultural Revolution,
I was purged for my liberal views and I had no friends for
many years. But I had this one song for company.’’
Another fan Lin Hai is deeply hurt when he learns that the
showman died years ago. Hai was part of the Red Guard in 1967,
and as he travelled through China’s countryside to spread
Chairman Mao’s message, he had Awara Hoon for company.
Hindi film ditties aren’t the only reason the residents of
Chongqing, south-west China’s most developed and most populated
city (a 31 million population), are interested in India. Chongqing
is where the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric
project, is located. The Chinese may have devoured Arundhati
Roy’s novel God of Small Things, but they are putting several
miles between her views on big dams and theirs.
Massive in scale, ambitious in imagination, the Three Gorges
Dam is ‘‘just like the Narmada dam is for you’’, says
journalist Liu Qingyu. It is projected to generate 18,200
megawatts of power for provinces in south, east and central
China. When completed, it will stretch across nearly a mile
and tower 575 feet over the Yangtze, the world’s third longest
Construction for the dam began in 1994 and is scheduled to
end in 2009, at a cost of over $24 billion. Its reservoir
would stretch over 350 miles upstream. And, force the displacement
of close to 1.2 million people. Sounds familiar?
When the dam gets built, over 13 cities, 140 towns, more than
1,600 villages and 300 factories will be submerged. Though
Chongqing wants the dam, since its largest stretch, nearly
600 km, runs through the city, there are several opponents
lined up on the other side of the banks.
The displaced are being housed in neighbouring areas, but
the land they have received is less fertile than the Gorges
area. Then, there is the age-old issue of sentiment. ‘‘People
tell you they are willing to give up their land, but not their
homeland,’’ says Liu.
Displacement has also resulted in a rise in crime in the region,
say journalists: recently, a Buddha carving was stolen from
the 900-year-old Dazu grottos near Chongqing. Though nearly
two billion yuan ($250 million) was kept aside for excavation
and preservation of artefacts in the region, the amount was
slashed to 300 million ($37.5 million). Only a fraction of
that sum has been distributed to local authorities since government
officials have been unable to decide which agency should handle
International criticism against the project has mounted, but
the pro-dam lobby in Chongqing is suitably inspired by its
pro-Narmada counterpart. This, says Mu Feng Jing of the Chongqing
Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, is a sign that India
and China as developing countries must cooperate. The world’s
last big dams will be built in Asia’s two fastest developing
economies, says Jing.
He has but one regret: India, unlike France or other western
countries, hasn’t lent a hand to the Three Gorges project.
But he is more sympathetic when he learns about India’s problems
in completing its own dam. He thinks his government is more
successful in ‘‘arranging’’ these matters of development.
Just today, in fact, the official Xinhua news agency reported
from Chongqing that over 100,000 people from south-west China
were resettled to build the dam.