“We are having a power cut” said hubby dearest “It should be back in about half an hour.”
“What do you mean when you say ‘power cut’?” asked the man and had a hearty laugh when he was told that even a city like Bangalore (considered to be the IT hub of India) has to go without electricity for a few hours each day, especially in summer.
I, for one, couldn’t believe that the man didn’t know that this happens in almost every city in India. Even though I had spent most of my life abroad, I was well aware of what a power cut is! Maybe it was the fact that the man in question is of Sri Lankan decent and maybe they don’t have power cuts in Sri Lanka. We didn’t bother telling him that smaller towns and villages go up to 16 to 18 hours without electricity, EVERYDAY!
I wondered how the man would react if he knew that, sometimes, we even have WATER cuts! It would probably also surprise him that we don’t have 24/7 water supplied by the government. The government pipes carry water for a few hours every alternate day in my area, once every two days in other parts of the city that fall closer to suburban areas. Most apartments tackle this problem by having massive underground storage tanks that hold enough water to last from one supply to another. Everyone in Bangalore (and other cities) does not live in apartments though. A whole lot of people live in small homes without water storage tanks. Move a level lower down the societal class and people live in slums. This lower section of society has to make great efforts to manage their water supplies.
When the government water pipes run, they walk to the local tap (there are usually several such taps located on the streets of a given area) with vessels or pots called matka, each having a capacity of about 8 to 10 liters. These vessels are then filled at the taps and hauled back home to be emptied into larger vessels or plastic barrels. One has to make several trips between the tap and home to get enough water to meet the family’s water requirements for the next 48 hours. This task is mostly carried out by the women of the household who carry 2 to 3 matkas per trip. On ‘water days’, one can see many sari clad women bustling around taps gushing water, carrying colorful plastic matkas filled to the brim. Sometimes they are accompanied by their children, carrying smaller versions of the vessel. It is a part of life though and you won’t find anyone complaining about it.
However, things get bad when the scheduled supply of water does not materialise! One time, we were informed by the morning paper that there would be no water for five days as pipelines were being repaired. While the news of the government finally carrying out repairs was refreshing, the prospect of doing without water for five days was not. Moreover, the short notice had ensured that we could not take precautionary measures. So, we conserved and waited our storage tank to inevitably run dry.
On the second day, two women from the near by slum knocked at our door. They had run out water and requested to be given two matkas from our supplies. We obliged, on the condition that more people wouldn’t show up with the same request! On the third day, no one showed up at our door step. Everyone had gone to the garage located right by our building. Why go to a garage you might ask. The garage has a mid-sized well right at its centre. The mechanics use water from this well to bathe themselves as well as wash cars!
People from slums formed a bee-line towards the well while the mechanics helped them fill matka after matka with water. The people laughed and chatted, all the while drawing water for them and others. Children ran about chasing each other, stealing peeks into cars at the garage. The atmosphere actually seemed quite festive and jovial. The people didn’t look like they were there to cope with the lack of a basic necessity of life – water. Very rarely have I found a sight so endearing and, as though on cue, it began to rain. The children danced, the women giggled and the men drew water with renewed zest and I thought to myself, ‘THIS is India’.
We may not have state of the art infrastructure and what we DO have is in dire straits. Our government and ministries may be corrupt and heavily laden with red tape. Our day to day quality of life does get affected by these conditions and we do feel the crunch, sometimes. Yet, at the end of the day, we face this harsh reality with a never say die spirit and a smile on our face. This is the nature of soul of this nation. Water or no water, the river of our spirit never runs dry!