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When the taps ran dry

When the taps ran dry

KR Bharti

Water scarcity looms large over many parts of the country every summer. But the early onset of summer this year is especially worrisome. The problem is acute in Shimla as water sources start dwindling amid a rise in the tourist footfall. Localities have to await their turn to get water.

I am reminded of an episode when water supply to our Housing Board Colony at Sanjauli remained disrupted for days. Residents cast aspersions on the functioning of the keyman, the fellow who turns on the valves that control the water distribution network. It was rumoured that some areas got regular supply for reasons best known to the keyman. The authorities, however, said water pipes had got damaged at some place and the fault would be rectified soon.

Desperate residents made a beeline for the bowli, a small traditional water body. It was about a furlong away and lay abandoned. Drivers used this water source for washing cars. Also, migrant labourers washed clothes there. But no one used its water for drinking. ‘Unsafe for drinking’ was the warning displayed there, but even then people began to draw water from it after removing plastic garbage. Ironically, it was during this emergency that residents realised the necessity of reviving traditional water bodies!

We kept our taps on during the night lest we missed the water supply. But it did not help. No drop trickled from the taps till the morning. I enquired from a neighbour, who surprised me by saying that the supply had been restored for an hour or so during the night.

Hurriedly, I went to the key control chamber and found the supply key to our house turned off. Someone had made mischief in the night to augment his or her supply. I complained to the Executive Engineer, who said the keyman had no means to prevent such mischief.

‘But when do we get the supply again?’ I enquired. ‘By next day, most probably,’ he said. I knocked at the door of a neighbour, who had better provision for water storage. He was generous enough to spare some buckets and asked me to approach him again at night, if need be.

As advised, I landed at his place at night. He told me that his immediate neighbour had left for his native place in Punjab and we could draw water from his storage tank on the sly. We tiptoed to the place with a rubber pipe and started sucking water from the tank. It was not easy. Our lungs had got exhausted before the water made its way through the pipe. Somehow, the neighbours got wind of our plan and assembled at the spot to claim their pound of flesh.

Hardly had I reached home with a bucket when the taps began to whistle. Soon, as water poured out from the taps, we frantically began filling every available container in the house; be it a tub, tumbler, bucket or bowl.

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