When a friend of mine asked me: Would you like to write for elephant journal? I thought: Why not? But what to write about?
I was alone with my mind and the couple of crows that usually adorn my balcony rail–a balcony overlooking the Arabian sea–when water sprung to my mind. It might have been the surroundings, it might as well have been the movie, Water for Elephants (and if you want my opinion, Robert Pattinson makes a much better looking vet than a vampire), but that was it:
I wanted to write about water.
There are many things that I took for granted as I grew up in a Western country: breathing the fresh, crisp air of the woods or coming back from school and opening the kitchen cupboard and finding my favorite biscuits.
Turning on the bath faucet in the evening, and then sinking into deliciously warm water was something I especially took for granted. I would stay there until the mirror had turned all foggy and my fingertips all wrinkled–what a pleasure.
Water was running, always clean, always at the desired temperature. Sometimes, I’d just turn on the tap and watch it flow freely, endlessly.
It was the 70’s, and some people in Rome had rung an alarm bell about the fact that earth resources would draw to an end, but I was happily playing in my room.
in 2005, I moved to India. There was a bathtub in one room, but the very first night I tried it, I realized the water heater would not heat enough water to fill the tub to even reach my stomach.
We then moved to another flat, and my landlord told me: “We’re actually not allowed to fit bathtubs in residential buildings in Mumbai, there is not enough water for everyone as it is.”
Slowly I learned than the BMC (the corporation that runs the city of Mumbai) only delivered two hours of water per day. In some areas, water would come from 6 to 8 a.m. Then the pipes would dry, and come alive in another place, from 8 to 10. And so on, and at the end of the day, all Mumbai pipes would have hopefully received their share. So how was it that my house never ran short of water? Don’t tell anyone, but we have installed extra-powerful pumps to pump the BMC water super fast and fill all of our tanks during these two hours. Illegal, but that’s what a lot of prestigious residential buildings do. During these two hours, they pump hard and fast to fill in water tanks installed on the roof, water tank that will then provide water all day long.
I was taking that for granted, but it was a luxury.
In many buildings, like the ones that have been redeveloped from slums, like in the chawls, the one-room flats that line up in the old industrial areas of the town, water comes for two hours, and that’s it. This means that one person of the household has to queue, buckets in hand, to take turn and fill in all kind of recipients at the single tap, usually located on each floor, at the far end of the corridor. They queue, they chat, they fill, they carry. They can’t hold a job because they have to be around at the time BMC delivers the water. I can only imagine that water in these households has to be used very sparingly.
Lastly, 50 percent of the Mumbai population lives in slums. These slums are sometimes made of brick houses, sometimes they are an ingenious–if not attractive–mix of all kind of material, from wood perch to plastic sheet. They never have any running water.
These people steal the water at some point on the pipe. The BMC claims that 30 percent of all the water it delivers to the city is thus stolen, or leaked. It raises some health concerns too. For example, the point they’ll get the water from is sometimes very close to garbage, the water inside the pipe gets contaminated. At least, that’s what the BMC says when another survey results in another finding that the city water is not drinkable.
Meanwhile, in some part of Maharashtra, some poor farmer will commit suicide because there was not enough water to irrigate his crop. The newspaper reports it, it briefly saddens us, the city folk, and we forget.
I wonder if the tourist and business travelers who stay at the 5-stars hotels in the city know that in the evening, after a long day, they turn on the tap and fill their huge, sometimes circular bath tub with warm water that seemingly flow freely, endlessly.
Edited by: Jill Barth & Brianna Bemel
Helene Lecuyer has been living in Asia all of her adult life, first in Singapore, then in South Korea and now in India since 2005. A graduate from Sciences-Po Paris (master in political studies), she lives with her husband and 3 kids in Mumbai. Through her associative work with Indus, she is involved in the cultural life in the city, organizing monthly conferences on art-related matters. On her free time, she blogs (in French) at http://helenelecuyer.unblog.fr. She has also published a book of short stories on the internet in 2002 (La nétivore, éditions le Manuscrit)