A DIARY OF MODERN-DAY WATER SHORTAGE
NEGLIGENCE: It was criminal negligence on the part of the contractor Venka Rao of the
National Highway expansion programme which led to the landslide. The contractor should
have protected the pipes by shifting them to the other side of the road
By Tara Narayan
NO water at home can be a terrifying, educative experience for urban citizens. No water on tap at home. Who is guilty? All of us are in it together in making life on earth heaven or hell sometimes as a premonition of what is in store for us if we continue like this…making life hell for one another at aam aadmi level and khaas aadmi level.
This last week in waterless smart capital city Panaji is going to be unforgettable. Here is my water shortage saga of seven days for whatever it is worth…
First Day, Friday, Aug 16: News of the water pipelines breaking at Curti-Khandepar arrives. That means no water. The PWD water didn’t arrive last night. Fine. Will manage on some stored tap water in the bathrooms, bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes…hope they repair the broken pipelines quickly, but it is raining heavily, poor guys! Not easy to do their jobs.
Second Day, Saturday, Aug 17: Still living in denial. Why no water even today? My Nepali maid arrives, no water, no work? What nonsense! No water — don’t drink, don’t work, don’t eat, don’t shit, don’t go out….da, da, da. Please sweetie, there is some stored up water, please use it judiciously and thank you in advance. It starts raining outside, put out the buckets and the buckets fill up in moments magically, beautifully, I breathe a sigh of gratitude. Thank you Mother Earth and Father Sky for the gift of rain pouring down from the skies!
In the evening the water witch hunt really begins. Everyone was running around from store to store for the 20-litre and 5-litre and two and one litre bottles of water for drinking and cooking purposes at least. At Jack of All store nearby Tonca Junction, Shymjee tells me sorry, no more 5-litre Bisleri water (Bailey is what I like but can’t find for money or love), take the 1-litre ones. I take five of them wondering how long they would last for drinking and cooking purposes. All the stored water in the two bathrooms was over… Second day onwards there is no water left to clean up kitchen, toilets and in my stupidity I’d put the clothes to wash in the washing machine and now they are trapped inside…but there’s no water to finish the job. I will have to take them out, squeeze out soap and put them to dry under the fan. The maid departed jhat phat. Thank whoever there be because the power is still around! Luckily, we managed to get a tanker water supplier to send us 4,000 litres at `600 by late evening and we get some water. Tomorrow is another day.
Third Day, Sunday, Aug 18: The sun shines. Oh good, the guys will finish their waterworks repairs today I’m sure. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has promised water third day evening restored on tap. I make tea with Milk Maid condensed milk for there is no fresh pasteurized Goa Dairy cow’s milk sachets available at Shymjee’s shop, where I bought a couple of tins of condensed milk, preferring it to the dairy powders. No tea for me, not even my haldi-ginger mug of milk which I’ve started drinking.
Near lunchtime the hubby says you’re cooking or shall I order a masala dosa for myself? Order, I say. The water is going, there’s little water left now for washing up and what if the PWD water doesn’t come to the tank as CM’s promise? We’ll be in trouble again.
Fourth Day, Monday, Aug 19: Woke up. No, the promised water didn’t come. Call Marilyn who is supplying us with tanker water off and on and beg her for a tanker as soon as possible, please. It’s absurd. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is saying everything is under control and everybody is getting tanker water, but who is getting it? Government royalty who need not pay for water or anything for that matter and khaas aadmi willing to pay for anything? Only Panaji MLA Atanasio Monseratte (who ditched Congress for BJP) is supplying free water to his favourite voters at Dempobhat and elsewhere in Caranzalem, Miramar, St Inez, etc, and they’re all singing hosannas of praise to him!
Fifth Day, Tuesday, Aug 20: Ditto situation. Instead of working in office I drop by at local MLA Babush Monserrate office at Miramar and Edgar Gaspar here tells me give him my name and address, as soon as they get their tankers of water he will send one to me at Tonca-Dempobhat. This is at 9 am in the morning. How many tankers have you got? First it was two, then it became one, he scowled, “See I’ve got 200 people noted on my pad here who are waiting for water and this is all courtesy our MLA Mr Monserrate…you should go to the government and ask questions, go to the PWD.”
How many tankers does the PWD have? Why don’t you borrow some tankers from them? That’s like asking for the moon but he promises to send me some tanker water at Dempobhat later, much later. But don’t bank on it! Give my salaam to Mr Monserrate when he arrives, I say, wave to the folk waiting in the office for him patiently and leave.
Wander around town on my Blue Angel without wearing my helmet. Pick up a dozen 1-litre pack of some new unfamiliar branded water, I haven’t read the fine print on the bottles yet but the water’s bottled somewhere in Ponda. The shop man told me take it or leave it, and don’t come back later for they won’t be there. Chastised I pay `110 and lug the 12-pack bottled water on to my bike’s footpad and gingerly get on with my life.
Next stop, PWD office. It’s almost lunchtime and a rather sweet Gaurav here tells me sorry but Assistant Engineer Prashant G Gaude has gone out for lunch maybe, come later. But when I register for a tanker of water he tells me 580 names have already been registered and I’m going to be No. 581, “The tanker water is now coming from Mapusa, Porvorim, and even Ponda…and even some of them are not giving. May be when it comes from Ponda later in the evening you may get some water at Dempobhat, but not everybody is getting full tanker.”
How many PWD tankers are there? He shrugs, dunno. But a more knowledgeable Siddesh Gunaji tells me the PWD has 22 water tankers. He too tells me more or less that I may live in hope of getting water by tanker maybe by midnight…I return home in the hope that water will come, clutching my precious cache of drinking water pet plastic bottles and cursing the plastic waste the empty bottles will cause somewhere! Why should precious water go into bottles? If I were the prime minister for a day, the first thing I would do is ban water going into plastic bottles.
You know what? I’m learning that the water crisis in Panaji is actually being rescued by those who have wells and they are rejoicing. It is well water which is saving them from commercial water tanker shenanigans. If you have a well on your premises you need not worry as much as those who do not have access to well water. Mercifully, many complexes do have their own wells cleaned up and in use when required. Those who didn’t have wells suffer more during a water crisis as they are doing currently. There is a badly maintained well at Dempobhat and for the first time in four years of living here I tell my maid to go get some pails of water and she does. She’s a good sport and I’m grateful for her.
Still, unwashed clothes are piling up again and I’m not putting them in the machine again, not until real water arrives. Never mind all the minor irritants when there’s not enough water at home to bathe and flush the toilet. I tell the hubby instead of drinking tetra-packed pineapple and cranberry juice, from now onwards he may drink water and water alone! Like he is going to listen to me. But all melodrama is only till tap water returns and is up to WHO standard.
Is the PWD water we get in Panaji up to WHO standard? Boiled water is said to be more alkaline than bottled water! But then see how huge a racket bottled water is. Shyamjee at Jack of All cracked a joke, “Paani nahi hai toh kya hua? Sherbat leke jao, daru ki bottle leke jao…dekho cold drinks aur daru bahut hai, mein aapko discount dega!” I go home and tell the hubby all my attempts to get a tanker water public or private have been in vain. Forget water. But if he likes I can get him a crate of sugar-doped soft drink bottles and liquor bottles…
Also, as soon as I make enough money, I’m leaving this country of successive failed governments! But until then I’m getting so disoriented like I’m living in a cloud which refuses to turn to water, pure water to quench the soul’s thirst as also the thirst of body beautiful. Seriously, if it starts raining again just put your pails out to collect water, rain water is cool, clean, healing. It’s magical how a bucket of water fills up so gloriously when it is pouring from the skies.
Sixth Day, Wednesday, Aug 21: Ditto situation more or less. Denial has now dawned to reality. Funny, no groups of Ponjekars have yet united to go up to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s palatial residence to protest the lack of transparency and accountability in public life or even cry “Hai, hai, Pramod Sawant! Shame, shame!” Truly, it’s a dog’s life.
Called my water tanker supplier and tell her we need another tanker of water please. It’s absurd. If Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is saying everybody is given tanker water, who is getting it? Government royalty who need not pay for water or anything for that matter and khaas aadmi willing to pay for anything?
It’s crazy. At 7 am this morning I called at the heritage spring of water called Boca de Vaca Spring Tunnel which during the monsoon months is a forceful gush of water and it is all running away 24×7. Blessed, wonderful Altinho drained water, sit awhile on a bench here and some folk living in the area come in early to fill up their pails and colourful plastic “bartan” to collect water. It is the traditional and heritage spring wells which are the heroines of the hour and saving the first such serious crisis of water in smart capital city Panaji and of course, we don’t look after them or look after them least of all, like they are ugly family or community retainers…the less said about us as human beings the better.
On route home a stopover at the PWD water registration counter yields little cheerful news. A Sanjay here tells me now the list stands at No. 683 and “Arre baba, we are only the small guys, how can I tell you how many have already got their water! Come after 9.30 am if you want to meet the boss, Assistant Engineer Prashant Gaude. As of now all I can tell you is that our list has 683 people registered for water….”
The queuing up for registration for water for the day has already starting… and a very hassled Mrs Rajesh Desai here tells me, “We stay up at Altinho next to the Chief Secretary Parimal Rai and a tanker of water comes and delivers water to him everyday. We are willing to buy water but can’t find a tanker to come up to Altinho…I haven’t bathed for seven days, but we have been collecting rain water and it kind of helped here and there. I have come to the PWD today to beg for a tanker of water, if they can supply Chief Secretary why not to other people living up at Altinho…don’t they need water?”
And the Chief Minister of Goa Pramod Sawant thinks everyone is getting tanker water and all is hunky dory in his Goa! The private tanker water suppliers are of course having a field day as those retailing branded bottled water for drinking, cooking and whatever else other purpose. One water supplier supplying tanker water to a family at Dempobhat courtesy Babush Monserrate replied to a query, “Call me and I will give you 4,000 litres of water for `1,500. Take it or leave it.”’
The thing to do is find out how many traditional wells, bore wells, there are in Panaji and its vicinity suburbs and what is their status? Can anyone dig a deep, deep bore well to de-stabilize the water table in the short or long run depending on the load of water drawn? By the end of the sixth day it’s really the pits, thinking of water and how much it is going to cost to keep on buying tanker water and that too if it is available not just to the highest bidder but also the not so rich and poor …as of now it’s anybody’s guess when the water shortage crisis in Panaji will be over.
Seventh Day, Thursday, Aug 22: Woke up at 5 am with water on my mind and went out to check the water tank, by tapping on it, I can tell how much water is left in it. My tapping immediately tells me that the tank is full of water right up to the brim and it makes me smile, finally, hurrah! PWD water has been restored. This means the pipelines have been repaired. They must have restored the supply late last night or early this morning. I breathe a sigh of relief for water today. The one-week nightmare of no water at home on tap is over.