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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere, Amplified 12-2-10

11-20-10    Water, Water, Everywhere, revised and expanded (Excuse, there's some redundancy.)

          We tend to hold greater appreciation for things that come at a price.  And the price of food and service in India is rising at an alarming rate.  Due to continuing rains, and concomitant damage to near-harvest crops, Guntur area vegetable prices have risen by  twenty to over a hundred per cent in the last two weeks.  Less water would have been appreciated.
          But, 24/7 water non-supply leaves me thinking a rain barrel might have come in handy, instead.  For a four-adult household’s bathing, cleaning (floors are mopped daily), flushing (yes, we have toilets!), cooking, and laundry,  a roof-top tank of water, filled by our private pump from city water supplied at 4 a.m., should be enough for the day.  But, when the assigned person is asleep and/or away from the switch, everyone suffers.  A partial fill is better than no fill at all.  After an hour, the sound of water splashing onto the garden walkway signals a complete fill, reminding someone to turn off the switch on the verandah wall, lest water be wasted.
            So, when he oversleeps by an hour, or, like today, the pump fails, there’s a scramble to bring water in from outside.  Fortunately this is the age of cell phones, and a trio of young men plying rickshaws, each with a large, crusty metal water drum lying in its side behind the seat, soon processes, single file, through our gate.  Red and white paint proclaim the tanks’ contents and their owners’ communist political affiliation from one end of the drums, upon each of which a pair of rectangular tin boxes are set, like modern sculptures of a ponderous animal,.  One cyclist’s radio broadcasts a pleasant cinema tune as the man leads the other two in filling their 5 – 10? Gallon tins, which they carry, one on each shoulder, up the double-angled stairway to the roof.  I can hear their brisk but heavy footsteps through the concrete ceiling of the house.. ---to be continued –
          Prior to the pump, there was a well, from which water was lifted for the family of ten, only two of whom still reside here, year ‘round.  We are thankful for the tank, and four different taps allowing running water inside the house!  But we have no water heater, so bath water vies with the obligatory morning tea and breakfast for heating over one of two gas burners in the kitchen,  before it gets carried to the bathroom.  Who does what, and in which order falls into a regular protocol, the only variations of which are a) get up early enough to circumvent it, or b) wait until everybody else’s everything is covered, and be late for the rest of the day. 
          Cold water shower and hot water mix in a plastic bucket, and are poured over the body, one part at a time, as you soap and rinse.  The pouring vessel is an oversized plastic mug, called ‘chembu,’ after small brass or aluminum pots of days gone by.  I learn this year that one can forestall morning perspiration somewhat by taking a cooler, rather than a warmer bath.  I fudge the question by sloshing my back in fairly hot water, continuing my bath in cooler water.  It works for me, although I am perspiring by noon, regardless.  And the curious thing is, my body doesn’t seem to register the need to drink frequently. 
          Keeping hydrated is a constant concern throughout the day, perhaps more so since having suffered severe dehydration on a couple of occasions.  (Proximity to a ‘western’ toilet, which we, and an increasing number of places, now have, is another.)  Drink a lot, first thing in the morning, and plan accordingly.  Check yourself to see whether a pinch of flesh between one thumb and the pointer finger spring back effortlessly into place:  It takes a conscious effort; I need to remind myself to drink regularly, carry drinking water when away from the house for an hour or more. 
            With tummies more accustomed to the widespread cleanliness of food and environment in America, we choose to drink only ‘packaged water,’ conveniently available in plastic bottles of from  one half- to twenty one-liter capacity.  A common brands are bottled under the auspices of the area Coca Cola or Pepsi companies.  We refill liter bottles from our three or four gallon spigot-fitted reservoir, upon which a larger bottle of water is inverted every few days by the waterman, who delivers the same from his auto-rickshaw-micro truck, for thirty rupees. (75c)  The household is attuned to the sound of the delivery vehicle.   Modern restaurants and relatives use electronic or gravity water filters, when we say we’ll stick to our bottled water, our waiters just segue to the next question:  cooled or plain?.  For travel to a village, we need to carry bottles of our own water along, just in case.  And plain will do, thank you.
           Standard stop for a drink along the road, in town and out, is the coconut stand, coconut water being pure, almost tasteless, and good for most everything that ails you.  Ten or twenty rupees gets you a long cool drink through a narrow straw which, unless you bring your own, you have to accept on the rationale that ‘It’s all relative.”  (Contamination is measured in parts-per-x quantity, right?!)
         And then there are the puddles in the street; standing water anywhere is breeding ground mosquitoes.  The neighborhood and yards are sprayed periodically by a worker who walks around with a fire-extinguisher-like tank on his back, which tank is fitted with a hose and wand for the spraying..  We pay a little extra for him to spray our yard and garden weekly.   Every month or six weeks, a truck ambles along the street, without warning, spraying a dense fog of mosquito repellent in every direction.  I do my best to retreat to the back of the house, or, better, to the small quarters at the back of the compound, until it disperses.A garden of course must be watered, now that the fall monsoon seems to be over.  A thin hose, with no nozzle or sprayer, is carried around three sides of the house  for the purpose, ironically,  in late afternoon, just when we think we’ve fooled the mosquitoes into thinking there’s no humidity around to entertain them…
            Today’s project for a hired, ad hoc, gardener, has been to trim and re-pot and re-place green and flowering plants around the campus.  Sulochana sends over several new plants in pots.  The gardener sets them in a semi-circle, on an apron of stone slab he has just set into sand, on the site of the old well.  (Many bore wells dug decades ago dried up by the time city water was commonly available.  Wells remain, both  used and unused.  It is not uncommon to read in the paper about a child who’s drowned after falling into a well.)  By now the gardener’s swept the walk and the driveway clean, stored his crude tools (adze, clippers, solid metal pole for digging!) and departed for the day
         Maybe you will wonder, along with the housekeeper/cook/laundress, why I don’t give her my delicate clothing to wash; but a glance at my blog entry, “How Manjula Washes Clothes,” may clear your doubts! ….Most of us are no longer able to experience gracious but bygone Indian gesture of hospitable-foot-washing.  (If there is a well, you stand near it, else wherever you are directed to stand, on a wooden stool of negligible height, while your host or hostess pours water over your (usually) hot and dusty feet.)  But I have revived an adapted version of the custom in the form of a clothes washing method, learned years ago from an inventive  Peace Corps friend, vis, the foot powered washer.  I soap the garments with a bit of shampoo and/or a bar of RIN bluing soap, and a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice (a lemon tree is conveniently located outside our kitchen window, its thorns testimony to the lemon tree song that asserts ‘The fruit of the lemon is most difficult to eat.”) as water softener, tossed into the bucket for good measure.
          Drying clothes is a mixed experience here.  On sunny days, when the laundry is hung early enough, it’s wonderfully dry by teatime.  In the order of priority, laundry is not a ‘first thing;’ slight dampness can be dried up on clothes hung and draped around our rooms under the fan, especially in the bathroom, where hot noontime sun on a clear day heats the concrete ceiling into a gentle dryer.  If it rains when things are on the line---unexpectedly, as today, or persistently throughout the monsoon, imperfectly rinsed laundry unable to fully dry develops a sour odor of its own.
         Needless to say, humidity can be a problem.  Even on a dry, sunny, cool-season day, there’s a lull in the afternoon when everyone perspires.  Drinking multiple cups of tea throughout the day is customary:  until this year I’ve resisted, but, this trip, I decide to try it for myself, and see whether the natives, who don’t seem to mind the hot or perspiration as much as I do (I’m amazed and a bit envious of the gals clad in six yards of saree, always neat and  unruffled while I drip and remind myself to 'relax, this is the way-it-is!'), know something I don’t. (Gross understatement.  Of course they do.  Lots.  And lots I have still to learn besides the language, sufficient as it is to describe desi life.)
        Between the paucity of bathrooms (more on that another day) and pentitude of perspiration, one needs to monitor one’s liquid intake and the likelihood of nearby bathrooms closely.  A brotherinlaw advocates drinking much, first thing in the morning, then not at all, or much, during the day.  I plan my moves, remind myself to drink when common sense says to, and not just when I ‘feel’ like it.  Having at least twice suffered from sunstroke (once on the last day of an India stay, granting me an insider’s look at the Frankfurt Airport hospital facility!), I am prone to rapid dehydration.  A quick test is a pinch of the skin covering the joint between thumb and forefinger:  if it snaps instantly back into shape, hydration is ok.  If not, the rate of return somewhat indicates the level of dehydration.  A lifesaver on many a foray away from the conveniences of the house is a long, very mild drink of coconut water through a straw, served handily at the curbside cart of a vendor who lops off and carves a hole in one end of  a large, green coconut, held in his or her hand, with a few deft strokes of a small machete.                      
          No wonder that rivers are subject of veneration in this land, or that large temples traditionally boast man-made ponds.  Indeed, man-made water cachements are making a comeback as people begin to re-learn the benefits of water harvesting:  saving rain water for the dry times.  Witness, the iconic, scenic Hussain Sagar, a man-made lake in Hyderabad, the scheme of a former maharajah, as well as site of boating launches, partner paddle boats, local rowing teams, and annual immersions of representations of a certain Hindu deity.
       Being a peninsula, India is home to long stretches of beach on the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, some of which is still pristine, other parts of which are graying, littered with the leavings of seaside tourists, picnickers, fisher folk, shell hunters, and concession hawkers.  Long stretches of the eastern coast received severe tidal lashings from the December 26, 2007 Tsunami. Yet tourists continue to flock to river and Oceanside spots for fun, relaxation, or perhaps a holy dip, on a night deemed auspicious by the Hindu calendar, phase of the moon, and tradition.

1 comment:

  1. Just listened to a program on NPR about excessive rains and flooding in Columbia this year--a dam near Bogota had broken and the fetid, polluted water of the river had inundated flower farms and other farms just outside Bogota. The subject of the interview, a farmer, had managed to save most of his animals; he was returning to the farm that had been in his family for a century to survey the damage and see about his 14 cats.