“For how long will you be in the shower. You’ll empty the overhead tank!” I shout, so that my son will hear me over the splash. We are not having water problems right now. Yet I can’t help being cautious, having lived through water scarcity at various points in life.
In the towns and cities of India, we have the local government draw water from reservoirs to supply citizens. Supplied at specific times, the water fills in an underground sump in each house and apartment. We pump it to an overhead tank atop the house for internal supply. Often this water is not sufficient; so we pump water from our own private bore wells.
Many small towns and villages still do not have a piped water supply. Needless to say how it would have been some 40 years ago. My father’s transferable job took us to hamlets at times. In one place men used to bring water in wheel barrows. One day the water was from a pond and there were a couple of small fish. In our excitement, my sisters and I ended up toppling the wheel barrow.
Everyone was cross, though we were secretly happy that we didn’t have to bathe in pond water. My mother asked how we could bathe, cook and clean. That was the first time I realised that we can not do anything without water.
Fast forward to the year 2000. My son was a few months old. There was absolutely no water in the bore wells in Chennai city where I settled and continue to live. There was no water in the reservoir. The government brought water in tankers, drawn from agricultural wells in peri urban villages, and distributed it at street corners. Each family was entitled to about 100 litres. Irrespective of our social status, everyone queued up for the water. I too did, leaving my crying infant son behind a wicket gate.
Some of us who could afford to spend money brought water in barrels, in cars and three-wheeled auto-rickshaws from distant sources. It was precious and we used it with utmost care, wasting not a single drop. We were happy that we got water at all – though it would have tints of green, red and brown depending on the source; always some shade. I could not control my tears when I saw sparkling water during a visit to my hometown. Such instances always bring home the truth – water is central to our life.
And precious. I for one, will never treat it as anything less.