Thursday, July 5, 2012

The water cycle

Often, when I am absolutely bored, and I have nothing better to do, I flip through television channels. One after the other. A few days ago, I was doing just that, with just enough time spent in each channel for me to decide if I wanted to take my finger off the remote control.

And then, I came to one of the spiritual channels, which has a guru available every hour, dishing out every kind of philosophy that you can think of. On this one, I simply had to stop flipping. The guru had a piercing stare, and it seemed that he was looking straight at me through the screen. And then, in a deep voice that TV preachers learn to use once the cash starts flowing in, he told me, "..and so, what goes in, must come out..." That was all that I could catch before I caught a glimpse of an upside down sadhu on the next channel, trying to teach me that there are certain yogic positions one must not attempt -- after finishing a nice glass of scotch. 

I flipped through a few more channels that night. And then, I went straight to bed.

If you watch television commercials in India, you will see that currently, there are water wars going on. No, not the kind that are predicted to happen in a decade or so. These wars are between two movie stars from the seventies -- Hema Malini and Shabana Azmi -- who have strangely managed to look pretty through the decades that seem to have taken their toll on the rest of us. And these ladies, through their ads, are now trying to sell water filtration systems.The ads are nice, and I always head to our kitchen after seeing one, to pour myself a fresh glass of the life-giving stuff from our own water filter. I think we have one of the two that these ladies are trying to sell, not that it matters.

It seems rather strange that I tend to ignore this amazing liquid while I talk about Scotch and Lassi incessantly, with everyone I seem to talk to. So, a few days ago, when I had to go without a glass of water for a few hours, on a particularly hot afternoon, I realized how lucky I am, to have access to clean drinking water. Millions in India, are not so lucky, and every summer, in rural areas, things get really bad.

That night, I saw a documentary on the river Ganga, a river that flows very close to my heart. Sadly, it is one of the most polluted rivers in the world today. This majestic river starts in the Himalayas as a stream, straight out of a glacier, and ends up making an arm of what is probably the largest delta in the world. In the one and a half thousand miles of journey in between that this river makes, people wash their clothes and dump their sewage, toss the remains of their dead and wash their newborn in it, and sometimes, people take the water home in little plastic bottles to purify their homes, all around India. It hurts whenever I realize that we never think of  cleaning up the river itself.  Perhaps, to us Indians -- what is holy, does not need to be purified.

I was looking at a particularly gory part of the documentary, about an aspect of Kashi, that we all seem to ignore. Kashi is perhaps the only city in India which promises salvation to the dead, if they are cremated there.  Those that live, have to live with the burden of uncremated human remains in the water that they drink to live. I was beginning to get depressed, but then, I found something that cheered me up. Apparently, biologists are breeding a variety of flesh-eating turtles and releasing them into the Ganga, to clean it up using a sustainable method.

And then, the host of the show made a million-dollar comment,  "Don't you find it strange that the government is using turtles to help it do its work?!" I found that quite amusing in the Indian context, since we probably have the slowest bureaucracy the world.

But that got me thinking about what happens to all the water that does not flow out to the sea through the largest delta in the world. The water, that you and me seem to drink from our classy filtration systems, sold to us by evergreen movie stars from the seventies.

If you have ever been to a government office in India, and a few hours before that, you drank a lot of water bottled by a private company, you wouldn't want to take your privates to a government lavatory. To complete the water cycle that is.

Recently, I heard one of the not-so-rare bean counting stories that we keep hearing. Like Bill Clinton's $500 haircut, Dubya Bush's $600 Pizza, and yada, yada --  taxpayer's money being squandered by a repressive government that taxes us all to death. This one was about India's planning commission. The same organization, that plans our sewerage systems and river clean-up budgets, blew 35 lakh rupees (about $ 63,000) on renovating two toilets in a government building that it owns. Of course, like me, you are probably one of those angry taxpayers who just turned Libertarian. But then, I really had mixed feelings about the entire incident, as I had once attempted to take a leak in a government building in Delhi, in a restroom, that was obviously not renovated by the planning commission. Let me just say that the attempt was unsuccessful. 

So, what did I do to complete my own water cycle, when the repressive government refused to help me out? Let us not get into the details, but let us just say that it is amazing what one can do while breathing clean air, and surrounded by tall green trees in the open, paid for by the taxpayer.

If you ever have to face your own moment of crisis with the water cycle, you should try it. And, if you  feel too guilty and need some spiritual guidance in such situations, you can always remember what the spiritual guru with the piercing stare on TV told me.

I think he was right.

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