In summer, Delhi’s fancy turns grimly to thoughts of thirst.
How can a mega-city provide a safe and sustainable supply of water to its 24 million residents? How has it done so in the past? What do we lose when we turn our backs on a river, turn our streams into sewers and lay concrete over our ponds?
In this conversation, Sohail Hashmi summons the Delhi of history, and the Delhi of his childhood through recollections of the Yamuna, ponds, streams, and the Urdu Bazaar where everyone had a favourite well from where they drew their daily sustenance.
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Guest post by RAJENDRAN NARAYANAN. Boyalagudem – The name sounds like one of those nondescript railway stations in south India that an express train whizzes by in utter condescension of its portly status. Except that in this case it is much worse. There are no railway tracks in a 50 kilometre radius of this village, tucked away in a corner of Mahabubnagar district in Andhra Pradesh. The landscape here is various hues of brown with not even a pretension of greenery anywhere, barring a few adamant shrubs as if standing up for their fraternity.
A not so covetous claim to fame of this region is its proneness to drought. People here spend each year in the hope that weather cannot play a prank every year. Prayers are offered each year in the second week of June to please the rain gods so that the chosen gods can have mercy this time around. But, the gods in turn haven’t been too pleased with the prayers so offered for the past few years.
To cut to the chase, water is scarce in this region and so is electricity. Most villages in this part of the district have a central water pump connected to a storage tank that gets water when the State takes pity and provides electricity. Thus, no electricity implies no water. Electricity comes and goes at random times of the day and consequently there is no fixed schedule regarding the availability of water. Some desperate villager wakes up at 4 AM and rushes to the water pump in the hope of getting water. Another sleepy villager walking out to take a leak at that hour observes an active man with four colourful pots running to get water and rushes back to his house to join the early riser in the daily water fetching ritual. News of water availability spreads and within 30 minutes one can see majority of the villagers, from 6 year olds to70 year olds, wiping their sleep off their face, walking, running or cycling, each with four to six bright colourful plastic pots to the solitary water pump. Multicoloured fluorescent pots form a long and winding queue to usher in the day. The chaotic queue naturally lends itself to quarrels and verbal skirmishes about who came first and why somebody has come with eight pots to hoard water.
On 15 August, our favourite newspaper, the Indian Express, carried a lead article on the edit page by its editor, Shekhar Gupta. The learned editor tells his readers, in case they are feeling depressed with the drought scenario, to drive down to Punjab – to Shimla, Chandigarh or Amritsar. ‘Just drive out’ he says… don’t fly’.
For then you will like Ali Baba be able to enter the magic cave and lo and behold! you will see ‘Totally lush, bounteous fields of paddy stretch endlessly into the horizon on both sides of the highway.’ And he goes on: ‘So where is the drought? Where are the caked, cracked and dried mud-flats with withered saplings that characterise drought? And mind you, Punjab and Haryana are among the worst hit states this year, notching up a rainfall deficit of 50 to 70 percent…’
Lord’s Own Voice, speaking through its prophet, tells us that why this is so: