By Anushree Gupta:
It was 15 minutes since I had been in the washroom, waiting around a corner for the hot shower to turn cooler. In this north-central part of India (26.8467° N, 80.9462° E), the temperatures during the summer reach as high as 47 degrees centigrade and the water storage tank, which is placed over the roof contains almost boiling water all day and even at 2100 hours by the clock, it remains beyond bearable to the human skin. Anyhow, I had already switched on the motor fitted outside my house which pulls cool water from beneath and takes it up to the tank. After a prolonged wait, I put forward my bare hand and the water felt a little better.
It had been a tiring day. A lot of emails were sent and received. I happened to meet a few people and we had visitors over for evening tea. Finally, after a long day, this was the hour to relax and create a positive frame of mind to be able to work after dinner.
I had already dimmed the lights in my room and had adjusted the air conditioner at 24°C, so that after the shower, I did not have to feel the heat anymore. But, all of a sudden, I turned the tap, the shower subsided. There was a constant drip of water (when you do not tighten the knob enough and the drops of water fall just one at a time). Although my mind was concentrated on some thought, very specific and keen, I could hear it very clearly, every single drop. I rushed to my room, switched off the air conditioner and started writing on a new Word file.
It was a thought, an image of people standing in a queue, in the scorching sun, waiting for something, as if they were being given some money for free, all desperate faces, mostly women, all ages, with sweat dripping from their foreheads. And as the thought became clearer, I could see a hand pump at the other end of the line. It was not money, but water, that they seemed to be waiting for.
And I could relate to all the information I have been coming across in recent days, all the news about the drought, the famine, and the water crises. I could clearly see inside my mind, people waking up as early as four in the morning and travelling with their empty vessels to reach far off places to fetch water. They walk on their feet with their vessels in their hands (empty one way and filled up on the other if they are lucky, that is). I also thought about how sometimes people need to get down to some seriously dangerous water sources, where they might fall and drown or hurt themselves. But they cannot fail to make the attempt. After all, it’s about survival. They do not have options.
I began to think about the quality of water. It was just the previous week when this news report stated the number of fatalities due to unclean and unhygienic water consumption. It all made more sense as I looked up the internet and came across the Water Aid India page that read, “across India, women are wasting precious time collecting dirty water, children are dying from preventable diarrhoeal diseases.” Furthermore, by the estimates of the WHO and UNICEF joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation, around 1.8 billion people consume water which is ‘faecally contaminated’ and a larger number drinks water which is channelled without necessary protection against sanitary hazards.
However, the need to drink water is more urgent compared to passing judgements on the quality of it. It is here in the metros that we worry about the quality of water, while a thirsty throat, out in the sun, looks for water primarily, quality comes later. I understand, it’s all about priorities. First water, then clean water. First, water to drink, then water to fulfil other needs. First, water for family, then water for oneself.
I could easily relate to the idea often talked about by philosophers, ‘there is no right without duty’. If I were exercising my right without performing a corresponding duty, it would simply mean I am depriving someone somewhere. I was so awestruck, still thinking if I owed a duty to think before I spend as much water as I desire for my relaxing shower without worrying about those who yearn for just a little to drink. Will my little saving make the situation any better? And is there any surety that this saving will reach those who need it? Well, maybe I have been thinking too much, hedonism is not that bad an approach!
But, yes, some things are clearer to me. When the law Courts discuss the right to water, in the big cities, people do not really get the crux of it. I remember, some days back, the motor for the water system in my house had some trouble (just for about 36 hours). My mother, father and I were filling buckets and drums in the morning and evening when the water supply resumed. It was such a tedious job. One had to keep track of time, collect all the containers and carry them to the government supply tap and then carry the vessels back to the kitchen, washrooms, and the veranda and also to take care of every unit of water. One has to think if the face needs to be washed! Or, if taking a shower is a real necessity. Washing clothes was out of the question. What to cook? What to clean? And so on.
It is necessary that we understand that water is the essence of human survival. It is a priority beyond all priorities, not just for you or me but for each and every living soul. There are a number of programmes run by the government and other organisations that are eager to assist in providing water aid throughout the country, yet it is not enough. And there is no doubt that we need to participate at our individual level. Not everyone can rush to water-scarce regions to provide aid. Yet, everyone can keep the concern in mind and curb their own need; that part of their need which has overgrown and extended much beyond the basic.
It must not only be taken care of through government policies and schemes. Each and every individual who has water to drink and for all other purposes must think of those who might need it more. There is no surety if your saving water is helping someone somewhere. But, at least, we can play our part, so that when we drink a glass of clean water and breathe freely, we do not feel that we are not entitled to it.