Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thoughts of a Water POTS

We are reeling in the throes of a very severe crisis of water.
“We” as in all of Karnataka, the thumb rule being, the poorer you are, the more “wrong-side-of-the-Cauvery” your address and the smaller your town, the less water you get.
Yesterday, the front page morning news said that 3000 villages in the state have “severe shortage” of drinking water. That means we won’t even talk about how much water they get to bathe, cook and ablute…
Naturally, the Chief Minister, always sensitive to such situations, immediately sanctioned 50 crores of rupees to “tackle the problem”. I know that I should have been impressed but since I am a foolish, uninformed, naïve “Person On The Street” (POTS ), I can’t help wondering about a few things.
So, here’s my Naïve, Foolish Question No 1:
If there is no water, how do you “tackle” the problem of water shortage?
Maybe we could take a leaf out of Marie Antoinette’s book and give people…let me see, now….if she suggested cake as substitute for bread then could it be cola for water? And how many villages can be cola-fied for 50 crores? (I’m told that Hrithik Roshan’s current fee is 10 crores per film. So, how many “Sabka Thanda” films would Aamir do for 50 crores?)

More importantly, the Chief Minister also “endorsed the idea” of opening 24/7 (no relative of the TV news channel) control rooms to repair water pumps and such like things.

Naïve, Foolish Question No. 2 : Why weren’t the pumps repaired earlier – like say before the onset of summer?

Naïve, Foolish Question No. 3 – If there is no water, what are they going to pump?
Cola, maybe?
Or better still, Eau De Cologne? Which, if you think about it, will be great because it will cool you down AND tackle the stink of unwashed bodies, stagnant drains and toilet cooking in 35 + degrees heat. And it will also put Karnataka on the global map because “Eau” is water in French…
(Though I’m not sure of the Eau’s properties as a thirst quencher even though it means water in French.)

Now, fortunately for me, I don’t live in one of those 3000 villages but in Mysore - a city that is flanked by not one but two rivers – the Cauvery and the Kabini.
So, obviously we don’t have a water problem, right.
Let me answer your question like this.
As of this Saturday, we get water once in every 2 days. And we live in one of the “righter” side of the Cauvery areas – not posh, but getting there. Now, the critical word in that statement is “day” - which can be a tad misleading because most POTS will assume that “day” means what is also called “waking hours”, stretching from about 6.30 am to 11.30 pm. (Those were my waking hours.)
For the Water department of MCC (which does not stand for the Marleyborne Cricket Club but the Mysore Municipal Corporation), “day” begins roughly around 3 am and ends at around 6.30 am. I know. You’re thinking that’s only 4 hours. Well, these are difficult times you know and everything is rationed. Water. Daylight hours.
So now, I have turned into a water POTS, sleeping deeply by “day” and napping fitfully at night, leaping up at the faintest sound of drip-gurgle-goosh-drip-gurgle-goosh-goosh-goosh (the sweetest sound in the world), so that I can hunt water in the stealth of the dark, trap a few bottles to drink, prowl and prey on a few buckets to cook and bathe with.

And so, my day begins at 3.30 am…
But only on alternate days, I must add and marvel at the thoughtfulness of the MCC. Because on the days when there is no water, I get to slumber on, nary a care in the world, not a drip-gurgle-goosh-drip-gurgle-goosh-goosh-goosh to disturb my sleep.

Now if this sounds like I am cribbing, I’m not. I am just counting my blessings, because you see, we are the very, very fortunate ones. There are places not so far away from here where water comes only once a week, maybe even once in ten days….And places where they may not even know when the water will come and all they can do is call the 24/7 control room to repair the water pump to pump the water that isn’t really there…

I have devised ingenious methods of conserving water – nothing that will fill the KRS, mind you, but gargle 3 times after brushing my teeth instead of the usual 6 and have perfected the art of bathing with ¾ of a bucket of water. (Not that difficult if you concentrate and pour right) We choose the lunch menu based on what takes the least amount of water to cook with and clean up later and we aren’t encouraging guests.
Don’t laugh. If shutting off a tap that drips 10 drops of water in a minute can save 270 gallons a year, my cutting my morning gargle by 50% should amount to something, is it not?

And in the 2 inches of brackish water that sloshes around in my water-deprived brain, more Naïve Foolish Questions bob around like so much jetsam…
• Last night, I was reading William Dalrymple’s book, “The Age of the Kali”. Pages 165 to 173 are devoted to Bangalore and I quote: “ The government of Karnataka, which has proved itself adept at attracting foreign investment, soon showed itself to be wholly unable to cope with the massive expansion that it was able to generate. Suddenly there was never enough electricity….it was the same with water, which was usually available in taps for less than an hour a day…” The book was written in 1998. Nine years later, the morning news says “40% of Bangalore are getting water once in 3 days”. When will we ever learn?
• What is it like to have a 2 month old baby, not be able to afford disposable diapers and manage to have clean nappies using water that arrives once in 3 days for 4 hours?
• Why is it that we always wake up to a water crisis when the “water level in the KRS is 12 feet lower than it was at the same time last year”? Shouldn’t alarm bells start ringing much earlier? When the water is 3 feet lower, maybe?
• Don’t the Municipal authorities know how to do simple math? I mean, how difficult is it to match the amount of water needed by a city with the amount of water available in the reservoir? By how many feet does the level of water in the KRS have to be lower than it was last year before this happens?
• Why is water – or any other civic issue for that matter – always only a problem for the authorities to solve? How come in all the caterwauling and screaming about the incompetence of the authorities to manage the “water situation”, there is not a single drop of a suggestion from “concerned citizens’ groups” about we can do to help? For example, in Mysore, most people live in independent houses and wash their compounds every single morning, often with the tap running constantly. How come we aren’t rallying together to tell the MCC that we will was our compounds only once every 3 days until the water problem abates?
• All over Mysore – and I am sure it is the same in Bangalore – buildings of all kinds are continuously under construction. If there is such a water crisis, where are these builders getting their water from? Or are they simply using cola (or Eau de Cologne) to mix the cement...
• How many gallons of water would you need to run a hotel with 200 rooms, 4 fancy restaurants and clientele who are paying upwards of 5000 rupees a night as tariff? Of the millions of gallons of water being pumped out to a city every day, a fair number must be going to hotels. So how about the hotel industry in Bangalore chipping in and announcing that for one day of the week for the next two months, the hotels remain closed in order to do their bit for water conservation?

And here is my final Naïve Foolish Question….

What if the monsoons fail this year?

Picture :


Anonymous said...

Good take Ratna. I can't blame you for the rants. In the gulf (And I'm talking Dubai, not Daman), there are no "fresh water" resources (read rivers). So what do we do? Desalinate sea water & use it! Of the millions of billions of gazzillions of ruppees spent to fight court cases over river water allotment, can't a fraction be given over for a desalination plant in SOME coastal areas to pump water to the interiors as well? Too much to ask, though, I guess, what with there not being proper resources to pump even the water that is already there, huh?

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Have gone through such times when I lived in India - my salam and salute to my people who go through this and still hum a lively Bollywood song as life passes them by...