Delhi was the hottest ever on 10th June, 2019 – parts of it was 48 degrees!!!
This will go down in history. In the 21st century, our generation has managed to make it to the global historical timeline with the most atrocious events, including the world heading towards a huge water scarcity. According to the UN:
“Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation…”
Where does that leave us in India?
Do notice in the photo above (taken in Sawai Madhupur in Rajasthan) those water containers are locked – from water thefts!
I have spent nearly all of my life in the desert states of Rajasthan and Gujarat where water was revered. Yes, actually treated like God. During years of drought, which was an annual regular, water battles were always fought. Those most badly affected were always the poor – urban or rural.
In Jaipur, the local government would switch off electricity when water would flow through the government pipelines to residential areas. This was to prevent richer people from using pumps to hoard more water than required. We all learnt very early in life to share resources.
But, the sight of chained and locked water containers was part of daily life. Wastage of a drop of water was criminal to us! We were experts at recycling water. Dirty water from used dishes, mopping and washing clothes would be used for the plants. In the Thar desert of Rajasthan, people still use ash to clean dishes. Why not?
I was horrified to read that two days back 15 monkeys died in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh of heatstroke. There is a possibility that they were prevented from drinking water by a larger group of monkeys. But last year, at the Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary, I had witnessed the respect different species showed each other when it came to drinking water from the nearly dried up waterholes created for them by the forest officials. All the animals and the peacocks had found their own spaces and quenched their thirst peacefully – it had been quite a sight!
The Guardian reports, “Global demand (for water) has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year…”
“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water.
How did we even reach here?
In the Indian subcontinent, where step wells were constructed centuries back by queens and kings in the extremely arid regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, it is not only sad but plain stupid that we let them go waste and filthy. Instead of understanding the value of these beautiful water harvesting and sustainable structures, we have reduced them to mere backdrops for tourists and photo ops!!!
A few months back, I revisited the step well at Adalaj, about 30 kms from Ahmedabad. It was made in 1498 by the queen Rudadevi in memory of her husband, Rana Veer Singh. This structure tapped on to the existing ground water level while helping accumulate water during the seasonal Monsoon. Its architecture and sculptures are a stunning amalgamation of both Hindu and Islamic motifs and styles.
The Chand Baori (local Rajasthani word for step well) at Abhaneri was built in the 8th and 9th centuries. Said to be one of the largest step wells in the world, it has over 3, 500 steps to reach the water, located at the lowest level. The official website declares that is 64 feet deep with 13 stories!
If you visit the Abhaneri step well complex, then do spend a lot of time to appreciate the amazing architectural feat at a time when there was hardly any of the technological advancements as of today. Without any design software, the architects and draftsmen had to create a perfect structure which had to serve a large population for years. The site is presently populated with exquisite sculptures from the Harshat Mata temple next to it.
To give us some reprieve in the burning India of today, let us look at peacocks. Symbolically, they have been heralding the advent of Monsoons over centuries 🙂
Have you noticed how the peacocks are everywhere – especially in our textiles and architecture? Below are some peacock inspired blocks for printing on textiles, and objects that cherish it. Did you know that in Rajasthan, peacock feathers are not allowed inside homes for the fear of spread of diseases as they are not renowned for taking regular baths and washing off the dirt 🙂 This belief has saved the peacocks from being killed for its feathers.