While we relished eating the fish, we were up late at night thinking about a shocking sight - a stream, the colour of red wine, flowing through the land and straight into the river from where the fish was caught. No, this article is not entering the realm of science fiction but is taking a sobering turn into the seemingly conflicted realities of industry and the environment.
Curious to know more, we tried to find the source of this stream. As we walked along purple waters, we met a family of cowherds who told us that the stream gets activated by the monsoons. This seasonal stream purifies the earth by leaching substances dumped on the ground during the dry months. But what was this purple stuff and where was it coming from? After speaking to a few more locals, we discovered that this came from a factory that makes Kattha - the solidified extract made from boiling the wood of Khair or Acacia - a main ingredient in Paan (chewing tobacco). The residual water is the colour of wine and is allowed to leach into the soil. Paan not only stains roads and public places but also streambeds and rivers.
The Kattha industry is an ancient one and has continued into the present almost unaltered. The conflicts with the environment arise mainly as a function of scale. The last decades have seen the scaling up of this cottage industry without any attention paid to the treatment of its’ byproducts resulting in non-human consumers of kattha - the fish are just one example. Kattha byproducts contaminate water not only by imparting a purple colour to it, but the organic matter in it decomposes reducing the availability of dissolved oxygen which makes it tough for aquatic life to thrive.