Friday, June 18, 2010

Water War

9 April 2005

Vicious wars shall be fought over water soon.

In this part of the world, it will start from homes and neighbourhoods of Darjeeling. Already, the domestic scene resembles a strife torn republic. Battle lines have been drawn as a result of frayed nerves. Even in the same family there are warring factions of those who help and those who don’t help in collecting water, something that entails waking up at 4 am, or even midnight!

The varied ways in which water can be divined and tapped in the urban area is indeed an art. The art may be of patience or of bandicoots, when it requires one to drill a hole in the pipe of the neighbour. The bigger rats get it straight from the reservoir, or the fire hydrant. Patience also involves suffering reprimands for reaching offices and schools late (because water arrives just when one is leaving home).

As people wait for water, their faces are reminiscent of the ancient forefathers who feared failure of rain and consequently a famine. In modern times it is stinking toilets, smelly piles of dirty linen, festering stacks of dirty dishes and odorous self and family members that one is left to deal with. This is the latest form of humiliation at the hands of political punks.

Indeed at the administrative and political level it is feat to have sustained the water problem for so many years now. It is an extraordinary achievement whereby, they might think of patenting and selling it to some governments, their formula to be called, “sustainable water problem in high rainfall areas.”

The King in our neighbourhood is a potential customer. The technique is quite simple. Add a new “lake” after a couple of parched generations has passed away, but which leaks in the first use. A novelty arrived at by siphoning the cement to build new patios in the homes of all the officers of the department, one is inclined to think. The other thing is to keep patching those leaky supply pipes, incurring a total cost that would have laid new distribution network ten times over.

The old rusty pipes must have been kept in deference to the hill people’s current fad for everything of heritage value. (Interestingly, the other day a well-known hotelier was prospecting in town for a place to build a heritage hotel!)

Down at the Choke Bazaar...oops! sorry, Chowk Bazaar - it is hard to say if the place is bustling or festering - drunken men swear they are on hooch because they cannot find water. Yuksom Breweries may soon decide to use a slogan like “Drink Beer, Save Water.”

Returning to the formula for sustainable water problem, one should not forget the power of suggestion. Hill people belong to a martial race (which again might be a heritage, given the amount we shake in our boots these days) and are given to be herded. If the General holds up a stone and declares that it is a cake, the troops not only yell “Yes Sir!” but sincerely believe it is so.

Our Supremo last year declared water scarcity to be a “minor problem” (this year he added tourism and tea). Empty tumblers in hand, we salute, with a “Yessir!” This - power of suggestion - forms an indispensable part of the strategy to sustain the water problem. (The King is already learning. He declares his Emergency is to restore democracy.)

The situation has also conjoined us with the upper league of development bracket where water is privatised. No matter the breast beating by NGOs, a handful of people have set up shops next to jhoras in the outskirts of the town. The going rate is Rs 15 for 100 ltr, which is expected to inflate as demand goes up. Who says our people lack business zeal? Fortunately for them and our leaders of the thirsty fiefdom, the water problem will continue. Until battle breaks out.

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