Necessity is the mother of invention

As I was flicking through my repertoire of photographs that I had earmarked as “one-of-kind”,  my gaze lingered a few moments longer on this particular snapshot. The frame captures a rural woman squatting on the parapet of a temple tank very ingeniously drawing water. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the concept of a temple tank, I quote from wiki “Temple tanks are wells or reservoirs built as part of the temple complex in Indian temples. Bathing in the sacred waters of these tanks is thought to cure disease and maladies.” I was always led to believe that the main purpose of these tanks were to carry out the ritualistic tasks of “cleansing”. However, I’m glad to note that the life giving water that is stored in these reservoirs actually serve a higher purpose than merely taking a dip to “wash away” sins and maladies. The picture was taken in January 2009 while I was visiting a small non-descript rural town in Western India. I titled it ‘Necessity is the mother of Invention’ for more reasons than one. Read on.

Say what you want about “Indian shining” and the rapid ascendancy of the sub-continent, but unfortunately the country still grapples with a water scarcity crisis. A crisis that every Indian has lived with at some point in his life. Unfortunately, the problem still hangs around and is more acute in rural India than the bustling metros.  I tagged this picture as ‘one-of-a-kind’ as it triggered off my memories about how we used to tackle the problem of water shortage. It all boils down to how far one would go for that much coveted bucketful.

It begins with lining up plastic buckets, cylindrical drums, and steel vessels under every tap of the house where water is expected to spurt or trickle, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Then you resort to drilling a bore well in your premises. When that doesn’t work, you start buying water every alternate day by the truckload. You also drop everything your doing as soon as you hear the rumble of the water lorry in your lane and scoot up and down with bucketfuls of water in each hand trying to get as much as you can. Finally, in times of desperation you start clutching at straws, abandon all apprehensions and do what we did. Smuggle. There, I said it. Yes smuggle…water.

It was a harsh summer. The city was called Madras then. We used to live in a house in  Abhiramapuram.  Our neighbor who also happened to be our tightfisted landlady had a well in her backyard. There was a gate in the common wall between her house and ours. It was a warm sultry night. At around 11 pm when the lights went out in the neighborhood, we (Mum, Aunt, sis and me) tip toed out of the back door of our house and silently made our way to Mrs. Sampath’s well next door. I used to playfully draw water from the well and help the maids with their washing during the day. But this time it was serious. I was shushed and told to remain as quiet as a mouse. I obeyed and watched as Mum, Aunt and sis tried to noiselessly lower the brass kodam into the inner depths of the receding water levels of the well and smuggle those precious bucketfuls of water. My heart was beating furiously and we were gripped with the fear of being caught. But this was something we simply had to do. Luckily for us, either Mrs. Sampath was so sound asleep that night that she didn’t hear us or she just believed that she was imagining noises in her sleep. Which one it was I would never know.

In retrospect, I find the whole water maaroing episode quite funny but the reason I recounted it is to underscore the problem, which still exists. Had Mrs. Sampath been kind enough to let us borrow some water from her well when we pleaded with her, that eventful night might never have happened. Better still, if we had better water management solutions in place, I probably wouldn’t be recounting this to you. But I guess when all else fails, necessity becomes the mother of invention.

When the well is dry, they know the worth of water – Benjamin Franklin


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