Last week all of us went for our family vacation to our village in Himachal Pradesh – a village called Chachian in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. My father – in- law, now 76 years old, lives there alone.The village is beautiful – and our home – even more so. Our home – a small cottage on the mountain slope, is on the fringe of a forest of pines through which you can see the snow capped mountains. All sorts of animals, birds and insects stroll in at all times – scorpions, large spiders, chameleons, moths of a hundred types, beautiful birds, grasshoppers in green, blue, red and yellow, ladybirds, mongoose, snakes even wild boars and panthers! (Do check out some pics here…)
But even in this idyllic hamlet, the spectre of Water Scarcity did not leave us. Piped water supply in the village has always been poor, but, to my horror, we did not get a drop of water for 5 continuous days in my holiday week! We needed water for drinking, cooking, cleaning of vessels, home, bathing, washing clothes and toilet – I just didn’t know how we’d manage!
….But I did manage…by practicing the Water Wisdom that I talk about so much….
Unlike here in Delhi, where one type of water serves all needs, I realized I could reduce the effort required to fulfill all water needs by using different types of water for different needs.
So I started grading the water sources. Grade A was clean potable water (at least visually!) There were only two sources for that – branded bottled water from the shops and water from a ‘bawadi’ (a miniature step well where groundwater percolates up to the surface and then flows as a stream) about 1 km from home. Grade B was clean water, but its potability was doubtful. This was rainwater from the rooftop or water from a ‘khudd’ -mountain stream flowing nearby or from another bawadi closer to home where the water was slightly muddy (the bawadi was drying up). Grade C was water from a ‘Kul’ (Click here to watch a ‘kul’ in action!) flowing in our backyard (a smaller rainwater channel that carries rainwater quietly down the mountain slope and finally empties into the ‘khudd’. (The ‘kul’ water is usually used for irrigation. Till last year this Kul’s water would have been grade B but its quality has deteriorated now). Also water that had been used once – like for washing clothes, washing vegetables – was Grade C water
For each of these 5 days, we got bottled water for drinking ( Am ashamed – we behaved like NRIs! The rest of the village drank water from the bawadi). We drank straight from the bottles to avoid leaving ‘undrunk’ water in tumblers. And to save water needed for washing tumblers. For all cooking, washing of vegetables etc, my husband huffed and puffed and brought back 1 bucket of water a day from the Bawadi about a km away. For washing of vessels, bathing etc he brought 2-4 buckets a day from the mountain stream or the bawadi that was nearer home.
(There used to be a handpump giving saline water near the house but it had dried up because the village upstream had installed a motor in their handpump. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to hate motors !) I learnt how to bathe in 1 quarter of a bucket and my husband in half. My daughter junked the idea of bathing all together and I learnt to live with oily, unwashed hair for four days! (My vanity didn’t suffer too much because my hair was always covered with my dupatta anyway!) I also learnt the virtues of being prompt – if you washed vessels immediately after having food, you needed very little water and absolutely no detergent to clean them. Washing of clothes was postponed – if water supply was not restored, we decided that like professional dhobis, we’d tie clothes in a bundle and take them to the stream for washing. Grade C water from the kul – that was most conveniently located – was used for flushing the toilet. So, thankfully, going to the loo was a luxury we did not have to surrender! The same water was also used for mopping the floor.
It was serious deprivation but it also gave us great moments of fun and…. beauty tips. One day while washing a milk vessel, I remembered reading that milk was a skin cleanser. The next few minutes were a riot – with me chasing my terrified daughter and husband with that milky water trying to get them to do a Cleopatra bathing act! Also, after 5 days of soap free bathing (if any!), our skins were all shining bright like the morning star!
The best was when it rained on the 5th day. By that time we had learnt our Water Wisdom lessons and had felt the pain of the ‘Walk for Water’ of the rural women. Counting every drop of water is an exhausting task!
So when it rained, we went berserk! First we pulled out every spare bucket and vessel and placed them strategically at the points where water from the rooftop was falling – Rainwater Harvesting for direct usage
Then, in a flash of brilliance, I realized I could wash Daddy’s clothes in the rain! So my daughter became the umbrella holder, my husband the cheer leader and I the chief washer woman. Every once in a while my father in law would peep out, look worriedly at all of us like we were a bunch of deranged monkeys and rush back in when he could not bear the sight any more! I wet the clothes in a pool of rainwater, my daughter soaped them, I scrubbed them and then we just hung them on the clothesline and let the rain rinse them automatically! In the process I also washed my hair and got a natural pedicure / manicure!
…But the flip side of the story ….a beautiful village with an ugly water shortage ; the inhabitants of the Himalayas that give India its rain – living without water….
The scarcity I lived with, taught me Water Wisdom.
But power blinded cities like Delhi, that suck in water from the mighty mountains and villages with tubewells, that suck out water from the depths of the earth – how will they learn? Do we need to impose Water Scarcity on them or should we just wait for the eventuality when our foolishness brings it on ourselves?