The wait for water
Yesterday as we anticipated yet another stuffy sweaty night with the heat oppressively heaving down on us, we heard a rumbling, saw a flash of lightning and to our immense relief and delight, heard the pitter patter of the year’s first rain drops. Though it was late, all of us ran out into the street and held our faces up to the dark sky catching those soothing drops of respite on our faces and feeling the earthy fragrant joy that only rain can bring. In 10 minutes, it was raining so hard that all the heat from the past four months vanished and was replaced by a refreshing coolness, which made us ponder the need for pulling out light blankets.
Unable to contain my excitement, I sent a message to a friend in Madhya Pradesh. I also sent a message to another close friend in a city down south. The replies I got were in stark contrast, not only in their content but also their attitude.
My friend from Madhya Pradesh wrote: “That’s a relief to know! That means we will also see rain in a couple of weeks. Finally, there’ll be enough water for all. Everyone and everything have been parched for weeks. The villagers and farmers will cry with joy. Really good news. Thank heavens!”
My high-tech city slicker friend responded: “Ugh! We’ve had some rain too. Already it’s getting sticky and muddy. 3 months of mud, traffic and power cuts coming on.”
I don’t know if it’s my immeasurable love for rain or having spent all of May in the scorching hot jungle that made the city resident’s message sound so shallow. How much we city folk take everything for granted! We are pampered silly with unnecessary luxuries like a 24-hour water and electricity supply, dependable clean and safe transport, creatively and financially fulfilling jobs which don’t really make any huge difference to mankind as a whole – in fact, many of them are slowly and steadily eating away at our planet.
All of last month, as I travelled through jungles yet again, going about my assignment, enjoying occasional jungle safaris (with several tiger sightings!), relishing 3 square meals every day and savoring the bliss of an air conditioner as India melted under temperatures that matched Africa’s hottest spots, I noticed one thing vividly. The enormously overwhelming and alarming scarcity of water.
Where I worked, I was fortunate enough to not only have clean drinking water, but plenty of it. But as I travelled in air-conditioned comfort from jungle to jungle, lodge to lodge I passed villages and fields and everywhere, I was greeted with the same sight…
Farmers – the very people who give us every morsel we eat – struggling for enough water to quench their own thirst – leave alone water for the crops – and the simple comfort of a fan after a hard day’s toil under the 48-degree Celsius glare of the sun. (They face 18-hour power cuts.)
As our car passed through patches of hills, we were mesmerized by the lush beauty of the trees and rolling hills that surrounded us. Added to that view was the sight of women, balancing 3 pots on their heads and carrying 2 plastic cartons in each hand, walking up 3 hills and down to the “nearest” pump, so that their families could have enough water for cooking and drinking. Sometimes, these women were accompanied by small children, also carrying a carton in their tiny hands – hands which at that moment could have been (should have been) studiously writing in a notebook or happily juggling marbles or cowrie shells.
Once when I offered a bottle of water to a child in thanks for a bunch of berries, I was moved to tears as the kid ran through the hot dusty street clutching the bottle like a precious treasure. He ran to his friends and shared that water with everyone. It made me feel quite greedy to be carrying three bottles for myself alone.
That child will forever remain etched in my memory as a lesson in sharing. Why only that child? All the people from villages bordering national parks and reserves. We city folk grumble and whine at our water supply getting cut for one measly hour out of 24. Those villagers don’t even have a water supply in their homes; their ponds, lakes and wells have dried up and the new bore wells being dug only spew out dry dead soil. Despite having to walk several miles twice a day for the bare necessity of drinking water, those simple humble people have the magnanimity of heart to give up half their water so that the watering holes inside the jungles can be filled for the wild animals. It made me feel small and miserly.
Yes, one can sarcastically look at them and say, they’re giving up that water to ensure animal sightings because their village economy is dependent on tourism. (I actually heard a “supposedly educated” guest at the lodge saying that!) But if one were to look at this scenario from a purely human point of view, it makes us realize how much of our energy we waste in trying to accumulate material wealth which, when the time comes, won’t be able to buy us another breath.
Only water can do that. Water, which we in the city are taking for granted by harboring the arrogant notion that we will always have enough because we can buy it, but which defines the very life itself, not too far away from where we live.
Yesterday, as I went to bed listening to the lullaby of the gentle rain falling on leaves, a heartfelt thanks escaped my lips; thanks for water, for rain and for everything the rain brings with it – happiness, relief, reassurance for farmers, hope of abundance for villagers, life for all creatures and the fulfilled promise that Mother Earth continues to bless humanity with.
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