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.