In his TED talk, Shekhar Kapur said, “We are the stories we tell ourselves.” It seems like this statement has a resounding ring of truth. Louder, perhaps, than any other philosophy I have read. And so, this week, with the Red Hills Reservoir running completely dry, and water tankers finding their way back on to the roads of Chennai, we are telling ourselves three tales of water.
- I heard this story on a hot day, with the sun burning my back. It was told to me during a casual conversation in the middle of a chore, and handed out like a freebie –These are the tools you need to finish your task, and while you are at it, here is a story to keep you company.
One of Mohandas Gandhi’s guiding principles (in addition to ahimsa) was non-possession. He believed that people are not owners, but guardians – both for the materials in their home, as well as the resources of the earth. As a manifestation of this, he used a small container to carry water for his morning ablutions. One morning, distracted by conversation, he used up all the water in his container and needed some more to wash his face. The story goes that he was distraught by his carelessness. I think of this story nearly every morning when I open the tap to brush my teeth.
- Summers in Chennai in the 90’s meant a few things – mangoes (that weren’t artificially ripened!), heat, and crippling water shortage. We used to help our parents lug buckets of water from the temperamental water pump near our house. As a treat, an extra copy ofTinklearrived at home. I read this story as an adolescent, minutes after I had lugged about four buckets of water.
A young girl’s parents are insisting on her getting married. One evening, as they are expecting a prospective groom, the girl decides to sabotage the process, and converts their entire front yard into a slushy marsh. When the boy arrives, his feet sink into the soft earth, muddying them. At the doorstep, she gives him a small tumbler of water and invites him to clean his legs before entering the house for a meal. He tears a piece of cloth from his clothes, uses one end to remove the clay, wets the other end and wipes away the dust, and uses the remaining water to wash up.
I can’t remember the ending, but perhaps, she did marry him after all?
- The third, and perhaps the most evocative, was one that I experienced during my days as a teacher.
On October 2nd each year, the students of a young school near Tirukazhukundram create a novel spin on the term ‘dry day’. They harvest compost from the water-less toilets on their campus. In 2013, the Indian Standard Code of Basic Requirements for Water Supply estimated that modern sanitation usually takes up about 30 liters of water a day, per person. In a community of 300 people, this quickly adds up to 1000 liters a day. That is a lot of water, simply to flush away wastes – wastes that could, in fact, be transformed to nourish the soil. The management of this residential school was particular that the students and staff must not place an extra burden on the resources of this water-starved region. All the toilets on campus are water-less and there are small pamphlets stuck inside the doors to help people use these modified commodes. Every six months, the compost is collected and used to improve the soil and nourish growing seedlings.
So tell us, what are the stories you are telling yourself about water today?