Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Elixir of Life-Part II

How much water do I drink? Quite a lot. According to my sons I suffer from a unique medical condition called 'sonothirstitis'- I will ask them for a glass of water every time I see either of them, whether or not I am actually thirsty. (I doubt the veracity of this statement. Now that all the kids have flown the nest I still drink lots of water, and even manage to make myself a cup of tea in the afternoon).
When we were children, my sister and I would get a ticking-off from our(normally very mild mannered) father if he ever heard either of us ask the other for a glass of water. It was the height of indolence and utterly disgraceful to be so lazy that you couldn't get yourself a drink of water. So I guess my sonothirstitis is all my father's fault- my repressed childhood tendencies leading to present symptoms.
(According to my mother practically everything on the planet is my father's fault, including his falls and fractured hips, but I digress). I also happen to perspire copiously, so drinking lots of water is a survival strategy. I've also lived in places that are either very hot, and/or very humid, which is why I'm loving the long winter we had this year in Kolkata.
Water shortages are something I have personally rarely suffered from. But I am aware of the disruptions of normal life that such shortages create. And of the fact that millions of our countrymen have no access to clean drinking water. Water-borne diseases are rampant. Women spend a great deal of time carrying heavy pots of water to their homes for cooking and drinking use. Bathing and washing clothes is often done at a public facility. Clean toilets, or perhaps any toilets, are rare. These are issues we associate with people in rural areas and urban slum dwellers, with whom we do not really identify or empathise,as they are not part of the great middle class, or 'People Like Us'. In the last couple of decades, though, water shortages have seriously affected 'people like us'. Many citizens of Delhi and Chennai have suffered greatly from the insufficient supply of clean water. In Chennai, private water tankers were a common sight. The ubiquitous plastic 'matka' became part of the city scape. The non-potable water available was often so turgid that laundry would become discoloured, and it was quite unkind to skin and hair.
Conservation of any resource depends upon its availability. In earlier times, we would hear of people spending money like water. I don't think we can afford to spend water like water anymore. One of the most chilling scenarios of a global water shortage is envisaged in Ruchir Joshi's excellent first novel, "The Last Jet Engine Laugh" (Flamingo, HarperCollins India, 2001). In the not so distant future that Joshi writes about, water is so contaminated that one can neither bathe in it nor drink it. Elaborate gadgets take care of personal hygiene and water tablets control thirst. A cup of coffee is a huge triumph. Water tankers are held up at gunpoint, and riots over water are commonplace. Truly frightening. Yet for many people even today water is not the easiest of commodities to obtain. If you have have access to clean potable water and sufficient water for your other daily requirements, you are truly blessed. Future generations also need to be similarly blessed.
I heard a story about an old man in some very arid part of Rajasthan who would bathe with a small, measured quantity of water, whilst sitting in a shallow vessel so that not a drop was spilled. He would then wash his clothes in the water that he had bathed in, and then use the water he had washed his clothes in to water his plants. This may just be a story, but it certainly has a message for us all.
Water is a precious commodity, use it well.


Nat said...

Drank a lot of water while reading this post. Simply bcos it was in front of me and reading about it becoming a scarcity..... My water intake is shameful and scary/unhealthy, even though I love the taste.
I think a similiar story albeit it being a real one - where westerners in the olden days used to save water by re-using it led to the phrase - dont throw the baby out with the bathwater. Since the baby was the last to have a bath with the man of the house being the first and by the time it was the baby's turn, the water was gray and hence....yuck!

Unknown said...

my mom has this exact disease


we call her thadaagamoorthy.. a nickname we gave her.


Banno said...

I've seen the water scarcity first-hand in villages in Kutchch. Will post some video clips soon.

Anonymous said...

Tag done!

Anamika said...

Read some news article about a month ago on how Hrithik Roshan's tap was spurting out yellow water. Cannot find the link though.
Regarding water conservation, here in the U.S, I have a hard time explaining to my kids the value of water preservation because of the excesses everywhere. So now I have started showing her the water bill every month (she is 7) and everytime it is less than a certain amount...the acceptable ceiling so to say, I reward her by letting her choose the restaurant we go out the next time, whenever that is. It is working so far and shower times are averaging 10 minutes now, 7 would be perfect:)

Sukhaloka said...

My folks and I are totally paranoid about water. Even in Kolkata, the water from laundry gets recycled, leaving taps dripping results in a shouting match... I guess living in Delhi will make us allergic to water waste. I remember a day when we had guests, we couldn't even offer them tea, and had to buy Bisleri for them to drink!
Water is precious.

Anonymous said...

hahahah, my mom has this disease too! and my dad's exactly like your dad. and while the story about the man in rajasthan is no doubt very educational, it also grossed me out. and made me sad that our irrigation systems after 60 years are still so dismal.

dipali said...

@nat: the Japanese family would traditionally rinse off outside the tub and then soak, turn by turn, in the same tub of hot water, which would be less than hot by the time the least privileged family member got into it. Does sound yuck, but....
@sundar: nice to know I'm not alone!
@banno: it's a horrifying scenario(:
@lekhni: loved it:)
@anamika: Good work!
@suki: it's important to conserve resources.
@indiequill: my son's will be so pleased! Yes, it is a grossing out , extreme story, but the message comes through loud and clear! Let's not even start on the irrigation department.

Choxbox said...

one time there was awater shortage in hyd and we had water tankers too (albeit only for drinking water).

here in the UK so far folks have no clue abt what water shortages are. however interestingly its my daughter who cribs if i ever leave the tap running :)

Cee Kay said...

I grew up in Jodhpur, Rajasthan and remember clearly all those years when we would get drinking water supply on every third day. People actually planned their social calendars around water-supply days!! We stored water in two underground tanks and one overhead tank, my father rationed everyone's bathing water to two buckets a day plus one for washing our clothes and my mother recycled water like nobody's business. She would save every single drop of water used for washing vegetables, dal and rice etc. and the water used for "Pochha" and water her plants with that water. She even had the kitchen drain open into her kitchen garden. She had a flourishing flower garden AND a kitchen garden despite the water shortage! And I learnt to wash my clothes (an entire day's lot) in 3/4th bucket of water (a BIG bucket, though!)! If we needed only half a glass of water to drink, we filled only half a glass and so on. Taught me a lot about water conservation at an early age. Your post brought back all those memories :)

dipali said...

@Choxbox: Nice to know that your daughter is already aware of how precious water is. Keep it up, N3!
@gettingtherenow: Wonderful! On rare occasions one has had to bathe with half of a small bucket of water, which is definitely better than not bathing at all! I'm sure you would never waste water after those childhood experiences.