The Helpful Harappan Explains How Ancient Indus Valley Technology Could Solve Many of Today’s Problems
What was life like in the Indus Valley Civilization? How could someone who lived so long ago teach us anything about how we should manage our lives today? The following is a historical fiction exploring how a person living 5,000 years ago may have seen their world and inspired change in ours. Ancient Indus Valley technology could solve many modern problems.
One day in 2018 Anno Domini, the Lord, summoned a mortal who had lived in the Harappan Civilization, also known as the Indus Valley Civilization, of the 3rd millennium BC.
The man, whose name was Siwa Saqra, sported a well-trimmed gray beard and wore a long piece of cotton cloth which flowed up from his waist to his left shoulder and then down his back. Big indigo trefoils printed on it matched with the intricate design of golden bands on his arms. Holding a golden diadem in his hands, he bowed respectfully.
“Siwa Saqra”. ©Vasant Davé
"Siwa," said the Lord with a smile, "in appreciation of the work that you have been doing in Heaven, I reward you with a trip around Planet Earth. Collect your cell phone and credit card from my secretary. She'll show you how to use them."
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Siwa the Harappan Returns to Earth
On his first day on Earth, Siwa the Harappan contacted an international travel agency and got a special home-to-back-home tour package designed for a visit to the ancient Indus Valley archaeological sites of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in Pakistan, and Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Dholavira and Lothal in India. It included visa fees, air-fares, day-long taxi service, hotel accommodations, meals, site visits, and the services of professional tourist guides.
“I'm transferring to your account a round figure roughly amounting to two persons' tour cost,” he told the friendly agent who was to handle his account. “I'll be sending you the contact details of my guests, and replenishing the advance amount periodically. You will consult each of them and plan his or her tour as per the individual's convenience!”
Harappa ruins. (Hassan Nasir/CC BY SA 3.0)
Ancient Indus Valley Drainage Facilities Avoided Floods
Next, Siwa landed in Shantou city in Southern China. As his taxi crept through knee-deep water inundating the roads, the engine spluttered and died. He had no option but to wade through the water to reach the mayor's office. The balding bespectacled administrator was courteous enough to meet him despite the crisis on his hands.
Soaked to the skin, Siwa sneezed violently. “Comrade, your drainage lines have overflowed, and will bring in its wake fatal diseases endangering citizens. Four and a half millennium ago, our Indus Valley Civilization had built cities with drainage facilities that effectively addressed such floods.”
A drain at Lothal. (Raveesh Vyas/CC BY SA 2.0)
“Indeed, you did!” said the Chinese mayor, “We were taught at school that your civilization disappeared due to widespread floods.”
“Could we discuss that later?” The Harappan said, sounding peeved. “Nevertheless, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro for instance, would show you that houses were constructed with a water-chute that drained the roofs from the foot of a vertical channel embedded in the thickness of the wall. Every house had one or more such apertures in its walls through which waste water ran out into the street drain. Every lane and street had one or two water channels with brick or stone covers that could be lifted to remove obstructing slag. These drains, as a rule, were situated below the surface of the street.”
Excavation of the city revealed very tall wells (left), which it seems were continually built up as flooding and rebuilding raised the elevation of street level. (Usman/CC BY SA 3.0)
“That's all fine,” said Zheng, wringing his hands, “but the current problem of Shantou is created by a huge influx of water due to unusually heavy rains.”
“I'm coming to that,” the Harappan said serenely. “We constructed main channels leading out of the city with corbelled roofs, high enough for a man to walk through. While the space above enabled workmen sufficient room to clean out the channel during normal times, it also provided adequate passage for carrying off flood-water during an emergency such as yours.”
Archaeological Ruins at Mohenjo-Daro (Pakistan). (Junhi Han/CC BY SA 3.0)
Siwa glanced at the visiting card that he had given the mayor. “I invite you to avail of a complimentary visit to Mohenjo-daro and a few other sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. My travel agent will contact you shortly.”
The Chinese flashed a disarming smile, and, as he bowed, his hands politely pointed towards the door.
Indus Valley Technology to Solve a San Francisco Sanitation Crisis
Hearing strident cawing all around downtown San Francisco, Siwa wondered why all the crows nesting in a nearby park had descended on the streets. He recalled his early childhood, when he played the game of hopscotch with his sisters, for he had to perform a similar feat now in order to avoid stepping on human feces littering the streets.
Immediately, he called on the Mayoress of San Francisco. Her abundant black hair reminded him of his beautiful daughter, Velli. He had commissioned a master craftsman in Mohenjo-daro to cast Velli's likeness in a bronze statuette. To the fond father's exasperation, the foreign archaeologist who discovered that work of art in the 20th century named it 'the Dancing Girl' with his preconceived perception of South Asian culture.
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Replica of 'Dancing Girl' of Mohenjo-daro at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, India. (Joe Ravi/CC BY SA 3.0)
“Whether you like it or not, young lady,” he told the American mayoress, “our ancient Indus Valley Civilization was more developed than this most developed nation of yours in the 21st century.”
“Really?” she asked, leaning back in her chair and loosely locking her hands, “How?”
“We Harappans built houses containing a washing platform and a dedicated waste disposal hole. Waste could be flushed through a clay pipe into a common brick drain that led to a cesspit. While the solid matter was regularly removed from the cesspits for use as manure, the waste water was directed to covered drains, which lined major streets. I invite you to visit Harappa to see it for yourself.”
Archaeological Site of Harappa. (Amir Islam/CC BY SA 4.0)
Back at the hotel, as Siwa e-mailed the mayoress' contact details to the travel agency, he wondered why the American lady had smiled rather knowingly and asked, “Sir, I suppose you're talking about the lands which are now called India and Pakistan?”
Proposing Ancient Water Conservation Technology in Brazil
Strolling around Brasilia in South America, Siwa entered a small restaurant for lunch. As the owner served him cooked rice and beans, wrinkles on her temple made him ask whether anything was worrying her.
“Senhor, our area Ceilandia won't get any water today,” she sighed, looking at him helplessly. “As soon as my stock runs out, I'll have to pull down the shutters.”
The Harappan decided to meet the president of Federal District water authority, Caesb. “I understand that the world's largest water forum is currently meeting in Brasilia,” he said when he met the administrator. “However, isn't it ironic that Brazil, the richest country in fresh water reserves on earth, is facing a drought?”
The grey-haired man dressed in a dark suit adjusted his glasses and glared at Siwa. “Our focus is on canalizing the water from distant rivers to urban clusters,” he said. “The results are showing, as we have already got over the severe draught situation in San Paolo that existed there a few years ago.”
Siwa nodded, and said, “I have a suggestion. Please visit the Indus Valley sites of Dholavira and Rakhigarhi in India.”
Dholavira is an archaeological site in Kutch district, India. It is one of the five largest Harappan sites and most prominent archaeological sites in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization. The site was occupied from c.2650 BC, declining slowly after about 2100 BC. It was briefly abandoned then reoccupied until c.1450 BC. (Rahul Zota/CC BY SA 4.0)
The Brazilian bureaucrat emanated a grunt. “Por que?”
“To learn how you could harvest and conserve rain water. Dholavira is located in the Rann of Kutch, which gets a miniscule fraction of the rainfall that your beautiful country receives.”
The Harappan saw the man shoving his laptop aside, and eagerly looking into his eyes. With a smile, he continued, “You'd see in Dholavira a network of channels and as many as sixteen reservoirs made completely of stone. Made for storing rain water, as well as the water diverted from two nearby rivulets, they were built along the periphery of the city. In addition, several dams were constructed across a seasonal stream which ran near the site. In fact, Dholavira has the earliest known water conservation system in the world.”
One of the water reservoirs, with steps, at Dholavira. (Rama’s Arrow/CC BY SA 3.0)
Later, while awaiting his next flight, Siwa quickly typed away on his cell phone to send one more e-mail to the travel agency.
Siwa Goes to South Africa
Visiting Mohokare in South Africa, Siwa heard fierce barking, and was terrified to see a hairy black boar blindly rushing straight at him as street dogs chased it. In a reflex action, he leapt, spreading his legs wide apart, and avoided the portly beast just in time. The stench and the sight of sewage flowing on the streets made him spit time and again, forgetting that it was not civil to do so. He had to meet the Mayoress of Mohokare urgently, so he did.
The buxom lady was dressed in a leaf-green frock with a yellow flower design and a matching head-dress, which reminded the Harappan of the wide variety of exotic head-dresses that the women of Indus Valley sported in his time.
“Beeldskone dame,” Siwa said, to the African lady's utter delight, “I have just been to Refengkhotso and Phomolong, and I suggest that you visit the ruins of Harappa, Rakhigarhi, and some other ancient cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. They'd show you how the world's earliest sanitation system was managed effectively.”
The bathroom-toilet structure of houses in Lothal, India. (Bernard Gagnon/CC BY SA 3.0)
Seeing utmost interest on the mayoress' expressive face, he continued. “Individual drains from household latrines and bathing areas were connected to larger underground sewage channels running along the streets. They were built with kiln-fired bricks to prevent the seepage of dirty water into the ground. Some sections had removable brick paving or dressed stones on top to enable regular cleaning. Sump pits were built along the drains, allowing solid waste to collect at the bottom, and were cleaned regularly to avoid blockages.”
Seeing her smiling politely, the Harappan added, “In more recent times, an archaeologist named John Marshall thought that a remarkable feature of Mohenjo-daro was the very elaborate drainage system that existed even in the poorest quarters of the city.”
Drain from Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro. (Hemanshu Kumar/CC BY NC ND 2.0)
The meeting had to be cut short as delegates of the South African Human Rights Commission had arrived to meet the Mayoress of Mohokare.
How Did the Harappans Avoid Potholes?
After landing in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, Siwa was passing the crossroads of Varvarskaya and Volodarskaya streets when two brawny young men in red and white checkered shirts attracted his attention. One was holding a leather ball roughly the size of a water melon under his arm. They were squatting in a deep cramped pothole in the midst of an otherwise smooth road, happily posing for a selfie.
He tapped on the driver's shoulder. “Change the route. Take me to the Kremlin.”
No sooner was the Harappan ushered in the presence of the Mayor of Nizhny Novgorod, a young man with close-cropped greying hair, when he said, “Please visit the Indus Valley Civilization sites of Kalibangan and Rakhigarhi. Four and a half millenniums ago, their roads were paved with kiln-fired bricks to facilitate a smooth flow of heavily loaded ox carts moving on wooden wheels. Despite the heavy traffic, you won't spot one pothole in them even today.”
The passage to the graveyard found in Kalibanga. (Public Domain)
Later, back at his hotel, Siwa packed his bags to commence the second stage of his tour, in which he planned to visit all the old places in the Indus Valley Civilization that he knew during his time.
Just as the pilot commenced the descent in New Delhi, Siwa looked out the window and had a glimpse of the Red Fort built by the Mughal rulers during mid-17th century. However, it could not hold his attention for long, as he soon saw the adjoining area. A teenaged turbaned boy sitting beside him identified it as ‘Chandni Chowk.’ “All those meandering streets!” the Harappan mumbled. “Have our descendants forgotten how to plan their towns in a grid-pattern as we did? How can they build efficient sewage and drainage systems in such a haphazard layout?”
Regularity of streets and buildings suggests the influence of ancient urban planning in Mohenjo-daro's construction. (Gaffer772/CC BY SA 4.0)
Upon landing, Siwa found that the connecting flight to Chandigarh en-route to his first stop at the ancient Indus Valley site of Rakhigarhi was delayed due to stormy weather. Awaiting the announcement for departure, Siwa ‘googled’ the news of India and Pakistan on his cell phone, and squirmed in his seat as he glanced over the articles which announced:
- Why the Indian Capital faces Waterlogging Crisis year after year
- 569 million People in India still defecate Outdoors
- Will Pakistan have no Water in 2025?
- Rural Community at Receiving End of Hindu Temple Town's Sewage
- 3,500 Deaths & 8,700 Injuries in 2017 due to Pothole accidents in Indian cities
- Art Relics Shed Light on Mysterious Ancient Civilization
- Discovery of Three Chariots in India Suggests Warrior Class of Ancient Civilization
The Harappan looked up from the small screen. Disgust and pain were etched on his face. He felt humiliated as never before because now he knew why all those professionals to whom he had bragged about the Indus Valley technology carried a sarcastic smile.
Just as the boarding announcement for the Chandigarh flight came over the public address system, uniformed security men were seen running all over, searching for a bearded man dressed in white flowing clothes printed with indigo trefoils. He had mysteriously disappeared from the CCTV screens monitoring the area.
Top Image: Indus priest/king statue found at Mohenjo–Daro, Pakistan. Some ancient Indus Valley technology could solve practical problems in today’s world. Source: Soban/CC BY SA 3.0
By Vasant Davé
Vasant Davé is the author of ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’.
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