August 20, 2006 16:53 PM
Mumbai's "Sweet" Sea Water Sparks Mass Hysteria
From Azman Ujang
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 (Bernama) -- It all began on Friday night when some
fishermen who washed their hands in the sea off Mumbai found that the water
Word began to spread like wild fire with thousands of people from near and
far flocking to the Mumbai seafront to witness what they believe is yet
another "miracle" in a country prone to such phenomena.
Within an hour, the television cameras had descended on the beach and by
midnight, according to some newspaper reports, there was mayhem.
TV newcasts showed people scooping up handfuls to drink the water on the
spot while others bathed apparently to wash away their sins.
The Sunday Times of India calls it "18 Hours of Mass Hysteria" as it was
only by Saturday morning that the human tide began to recede after word got
around that the water had become "less sweet".
But not before thousands have drunk the sea water despite pleas by the
health authorities that they refrain from doing so because the Mumbai
seafront is known to be one of the world's most polluted.
"The Gods have performed a miracle and we have come here to have the sweet
water and be blessed", was a typical comment by devotees.
During the height of the frenzy, mineral water bottles were the most sought
A bottle of mineral water was sold for as high as as Rs 50 (RM4.50).
People bought it just for the bottles which they emptied and filled them
with the "sweet" sea water.
People were so taken up by the "miracle" that many women were even seen
feeding their babies with the untreated sea water.
But scientists and experts quickly debunked the "miracle water" theory,
saying it was not a unique phenomenon.
According to them, dilution of salt content of sea water can occur where
there is continuous rainfall which the Mumbai area has been getting over
the past few days.
"During low tide when the water flows from the river to the sea, there is a
possibility that the waters may not mix well, forming a band of low saline
water," said M.D. Zingde, who heads the Mumbai office of the National
Institute of Oceanography.
He said the "miracle" could be washed away with the onset of high tide when
waters mixed more thoroughly.
The "sweet" sea water hysteria brings back memories of what happened 10
years ago when the entire India as well as many other countries with a
significant Indian population, were gripped by the milk-drinking God
On this occasion, a rumour started at a temple on the outskirts of Delhi
that idols of the God were drinking milk.
But scientists explained that empty trunks of the elephant-like idols could
have taken some milk because of a natural suction force.
There have been other cases of "divine interventions" occuring in India in
the 1980s and 1990's but the milk-drinking God episode has been billed as
the most well-known in the country's living past.
JoAnne "natural suction force" Schmitz
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