On a muddy road with clouds of dust in the air with every passing vehicle, I was standing still like a rock, a passerby in the roots of remote Tamil Nadu, close to Point Calimere. As I adjusted my eyes to look through the raising dust curtain, I saw a woman carrying a trolley with five to six colourful plastic water pots. I assumed she was going to some water source to fetch water and thought, “Oh! How difficult it would be to carry that trolley back with the pots filled with brimming water.” As I looked around, I realized that one person from each house was carrying a trolley of pots and moving in the same direction, towards their only destination (water). In five more minutes, the road became busy with all the water representatives uniting to fetch water; they strolled through the dusty roads with an increasing chatter and laughter. The sound of their flapping slip-ons only added to this cacophony. People waved at each other as they passed by. They smiled at some genuinely, with some they faked a smile, some clearly showed their dislike by turning away their faces and a few halted their journey to chat with their friends. I was standing still in the midst of the multitude of emotions travelling across the dusty road and sketched an image of the white waters surfing through the rocks, singing the bubbling song of life, as the little pebbles on the stream bed rolled once in a while.
The loud honk of a car shook me up from my imagination of the beautiful stream that I was yet to see. With the thoughts of water evoking a tingling sense of anticipation, I could not resist standing still anymore. I decided it was high time to grant a feast to my eyes and wished to gently touch the moving exilir that bottles up life in every creature on earth. It was eventful to watch the cheerful community activity of fetching water as it united the entire village to a common ground. I followed their footsteps silently and finally they halted and so did I, wiping the salt sweat droplets that were studded on my reflecting forehead in the mid-day scorching sun. I looked in the direction of the sound of water and loudly yelling people. I was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted me; the body of water that I had imagined now shown as a brown, muddy, polluted stream flowing in the middle of the village. I gaped at the so called stream in astonishment till I almost accidently was about to swallow a fly. “Is this the water that the people here use for drinking and other purposes too?” I swallowed the thought down my throat before it could surface on my face and a villager recognized it. A difficult thought to digest!
I saw buffaloes bathing, kids diving, bird calls competing with people yells, water representatives of each house giggling, quarrelling, and filling the brown, muddy water into their colourful pots. Heaving the pots on to the trolley, they embarked on their return journey, the trolleys moving slowly as the wheels disobeyed their owner, screaming under the weight in a scratchy voice. The plastic pots appeared as colourful lanterns reflecting the sunlight gleaming on the water contained within; the water droplets spilling all along the path trailing the footsteps of their owner. In spite of my bad memory, I could remember the names of many water-borne diseases and the micro-organisms that I had studied during my graduation and wondered what mechanism these poor chaps had to filter this water before they consumed it. I prayed that they should in some way filter at least the drinking water because no water purifier in the market, however highly rated could purify this water, instead the purifying agents would get dyed with brown mud and stop working in a day.
Suddenly, I went back in time, recalling the stories my grandmother narrated about the sores on her head that were the painful gifts of carrying litres of water kilometres away. I also remembered the expression on my dad’s face upon recalling his school days when his cycle tyres carried more the weight of water than any humans. My grandmother used to tell “Water decides the schedule of the day.” They had to travel far to fetch water from a municipal tap not only for drinking but also to fill up a cement water tank for daily usage. There were no water pipes or a tap in the house; the only carrier of the almighty water was either my grandmother’s head or my father’s cycle. The time taken to walk or cycle to the place, the wait in the queue, the trips to be covered, the stories heard and fights witnessed while waiting, the irritation and the increased blood pressure in case they had to defend themselves in an untoward quarrel if required, their numerous emotions and experiences, all sounded nothing less than a war story. I know nothing about their struggle except for the fact that they struggled. Their efforts under the scorching sun, the boils and sores on their bodies, their aching limbs after dozens of trips and the great struggle to fetch water were lunchtime stories that my grandmother narrated to me carving her experiences in my memories. Her narrative held me spellbound and never have I ever seen a better story-teller than her till today. I ate my food to listen to her stories and she narrated her stories for me to eat. Though our motives were different we would fulfill our targets by the end of my lunch break.
Waking up from my childhood memories to the present, I looked at these villagers with a heavy heart. They spend so much effort and time, just to collect and carry this unclean water which can create many health issues that they are unaware of. Even if they were aware it wouldn’t make any difference as they did not have an option of another source of water. This is only my narrative of their every-day routine. I am not sure if my fears are as real to them as they are to me. For all that I know, the whole event of fetching water might not be as painful a task for them as it seems to me. Some may complain, for some it may be an escape from their dreary conditions at home. Who knows? Unaware of the truth, I wondered how differently I might be thinking from them.
Finally, the time came when I had to say bye to the village. I got into the vehicle and fell deep asleep. I woke up as I reached my house. In a half-awakened state, I went straight to the bathroom and turned on the tap to wash my feet and the sound of running water under the tap woke me up completely this time, taking me back to the village, their lives and association with water. It was a wake up call to my ignorance of taking things for granted, to the realization that more often then not we are provided for even before we ask for anything and that is the reason we undermine their value. There are people whose entire lives revolve around gaining access to resources and there are the privileged to whom the resources are readily available but who use it thoughtlessly, not knowing how precious they are. To realise what it is be privileged, to respect and help those who are not is a habit to be cultivated. Thankful for the lessons I learnt while travelling. Observation is the key to understanding the underlying truth and observing other beings, of same kind or different has taught me to be grateful in life.
“Water is the most beautiful element on earth that gives life to all living creatures. The level of pollution we are creating, the amount of waste we are dumping into this lifeline is harming voiceless lives of many creatures and silent victims of our own kind that rely on natural water resources. It is water that sustains our mother earth. How can we poison our mother so ruthlessly? Should we let a drop of water go waste in the drain due to our careless attitude of not closing the tap properly? For every millisecond that is passing by, someone is thirsty. Are we not in our carelessness responsible for depriving them of their rightful need? Every drop of water has life to it and brings life to many. If our privileges today are making us ignorant, there will be a tomorrow when we will no longer be privileged. Small gestures make big differences. Every drop counts, so does every human act.”
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