Monday, 15 September 2014

Freedom From Water Woes

"Freedom From Water Woes"
From paucity to plenty, a job well done!

A water story that will inspire you to conserve the precious resource

By A R Shivakumar

My earliest memories date back to a nameless lane of houses with courtyards, washed and cleaned with cow dung. When it came to big streets, there were none. There was only one road in the village of Ammanaghatta in Gubbi taluk, interior Karnataka. That is where I was raised. I vividly recall that my mother would fetch water from a nearby well.

At the crack of dawn, she would turn to her right, mumble a prayer, and reach out for two copper pots. She would paste some tamarind at the neck of the two pots, pull out the coil of rope made of coir that was hung on the wall of the granary, unlock the main door and walk to the well. That was amma and that was her unfailing routine.

There were three wells in the village: the common salt (hard) water well, the ‘Shettara bhavi’ (again, a salt water one) and a soft (drinking) water well outside the village. Much like the other women in the village, she would walk to the drinking water well, throw the rope around the wheel, and lower the smaller pot into the water. Then, she would deftly pull the rope to ensure that half a pot of water came up. After this, the bigger pot would be given a thorough scrubbing with the tamarind, and the water from the smaller pot. The remaining water would now be poured into the bigger one, and the smaller pot would be given a scrubbing.

Then she would sit by the well, awaiting her turn to draw water. She would carry the two pots - one on her waist, and another on her head - home.

After lowering the two pots next to the tiny shelf for the gods (devara goodu), she would worship the water, perform a ‘namaskara’ (bow down in obeisance) to the water and only then start her day.

Once dawn broke, my two sisters and I would wake up, pour the water from the two pots into a mud container and cover it. We would then walk to the salt water well. The stone well was 6-8 ft wide, and the water was at a depth of almost 15 ft. None of us had ever seen the bottom of this well. It was only when a pot slipped and fell into the well and Jayanna, who came to retrieve it, told us that it was 30 ft deep that we knew its depth. There was always enough water in the well for the whole village.

The neck of the well was about 3 ft from the ground. It had four stone slabs placed next to each other, and next to the slabs was a 6-8 ft-high stone pillar. Horizontally placed over the stone pillar was a wooden rafter. A wheel attached to rafter had been oiled several times, to keep it in good condition. My sisters and I took turns to draw water, go home and pour it into a big container. A mud stove was used to heat water. We would draw about five or six pots of water in the morning and after school, another five or six pots, with a ‘rotti’ and pickle to nibble at, of course! This was our ‘water supply team and scheme’.

In the village
There were two salt water wells and one drinking water well outside the village.  The ‘Gowdara bhavi’ (a salt water well) would take care of the water needs of the entire village. The ‘Shettara bhavi’ was a private one, and would cater to the water needs of a few families. The drinking water well was meant for all. Water was drawn from all these wells from dawn till 9 am, and again from 4 pm to 7 pm. I can’t remember any of these wells going dry at any point in my childhood or growing-up years.

But years later, the situation changed. Once I left the village to pursue my Engineering degree, and on my subsequent visits to the village, I realised that the water levels in the wells had dipped. People had started to fetch water from farm wells. Among the village’s more well-off men, Basavalinganna installed a pump-set to the well in his farm and with a single motor, ensured that he could run both a water pump and a flour mill to grind ragi and rice.

But once the water in the irrigation pump set (IP set) also dipped, Basavalinganna dug a new well inside the old one, and after two-three years, the water dipped again. Then came the village’s first bore well (1976). There was plenty of water and people were free to pump as much water as they wanted. No one objected.

I cannot clearly remember the sequence of events, but even as the years passed, and there was a water crisis in the village, people started to move out of their homes in the village, built new houses in the middle of their fields and started to use water from IP sets. Meanwhile, the panchayat installed a bore well and a hand pump on the lane behind the temple.

The pump was constantly used - for washing vessels and clothes, for cattle, for drinking water. There were frequent fights around the pump!

Today, all the hand pumps in the village are defunct. Bore wells are constantly installed and water is channelled into a tank, from where water is supplied to the village, whenever there is power, of course. Once the water supply begins, there are rows and rows of plastic pots lined up. Green, red, blue, yellow...

City lights
In Bangalore, I started working at the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology at the Indian Institute of Science. My sister and brother-in-law had built a house in Basaveshwaranagar. As there was no city water supply in this locality, they had to get a bore well dug. I lived on the first floor of their house with my friends. On the ground floor lived tenants. This three-road extension with a brave house here and there, slowly grew into a bustling, neighbourhood, with a bore well in each house.

Soon, we had trouble. One day, we had a house full of guests, and there was not a drop of water. Mustering great courage, I decided to close the valve on the ground floor so that we could get some water in our bathroom! But my peace of mind was short lived as the ground-floor tenant came thundering up in a rage! The incident left me shaken. Could there be a solution to such water woes?

‘Sourabha’ is born
Around the same time, I decided to buy a plot in Vijayanagar. It was a 40x60ft plot and it was here that the foundation for ‘Sourabha’ was laid. I began to experiment with rain water harvesting on this plot. My house, ‘Sourabha’, depends on harvested rain for all its water needs. Apart from the electricity charges required to pump water, there have been no other recurring expenses associated with rainwater harvesting. We use 80 units of electricity and this includes the power used to pump water. We’ve incorporated a lot of sustainable practices, and this ensures that power is conserved. We’ve also used technology that conserves energy.

Our country won independence long ago, but I wonder how many of us have won freedom from water woes? I can happily say that I have not looked anywhere else but at the rain to fulfil my water needs. Rainwater harvesting has brought my family great benefits. I hope it brings you the same too.

GONE! Every village in India had its ‘drinking water’ well that women trudged to for a pot or two of the precious liquid. Today, Borewells have replaced ‘baolis’ and step – wells.