Those who have no thirst have no business at the fountain
“What separates Rajendra from the rest is that he has yet another way of making money – a ‘side-business’. Over the land remaining from his inheritance, he has put up a small single room. This room is actually meant to hide a high capacity submersible pump. The idea is to sell groundwater – a booming business. Most factories in the area have a huge demand for water and Rajendra reaps the benefits” – writes Bhagwati Prasad
After eating, Rajendra puts aside his plate and reaches out to get a drink of water from the filter. This is no ordinary water but comes out of a filter on which are ethched the letters “RO”. The magical “RO” mechanism treats raw water to make it fit for consumption. Such water purification devices have become fairly popular in Rajendra’s locality, where the water invariably tastes salty. As a curious manifestation of the ‘generation gap’, the local elders have not developed a taste for this treated water. To them, salty water is the norm.
Rajendra drinks a glass of RO treated water and after a loud burp goes back to his usual seat.
A map is hung on the wall behind where Rajendra usually sits. It is a map of this locality and is marked by what seems like an array of multi-coloured pens; each mark indicated something different. To the outsider, the mystery of the map is solved only when he or she takes an upward glance at the shop sign – or, in other words, the name plate. It reads – ‘Chaudhary Properties’. This is a typical property dealing shop. The markings on the map help identify the status of different land properties – sold, vacant, leased, rented, municipal land, etc. The locality boasts of several property dealerships. They sprung up like mushrooms when the recent relocation of industry from the city to this area escalated land prices. Many young men then busied themselves in the business of property.
Rajendra is one of them. He stays with his parents and four elder brothers.
The family has a substantial amount of land- both cultivable and otherwise.
His father, who is quite old, always maintained that the family should continue farming. The sons, however, were not inclined to do so. With the sudden rise in property prices, the value of their land was determined by its selling-price rather than its fertility. After all, isn’t the worship of Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) becoming far more popular than that of Annapurna (Goddess of bounty)? And haven’t people begun to believe that worshipping Lakshmi will bring the best of both wealth and bounty? Naturally, there was a lot of fighting between Rajendra and his brothers over property claims. Their father chose to divide it equally amongst his sons. From what he got, Rajendra sold a major chunk to buy a house, shop, and car. And this is how his property business began. This is the case with most young men of this area – they too have been anxiously waiting to get their pound of flesh in the form of family property.
What separates Rajendra from the rest is that he has yet another way of making money – a ‘side-business’. Over the land remaining from his inheritance, he has put up a small single room. This room is actually meant to hide a high capacity submersible pump. The idea is to sell groundwater – a booming business. Most factories in the area have a huge demand for water and Rajendra reaps the benefits. To crack this idea, he says, he relied on his instincts and basic logic. Farming was going nowhere and industries were coming up – naturally, the demand for water would be high. The elders feel that this business venture is immoral. In their words – “Paani bech ke paisa banata hai!” And how! Every year, Rajendra’s submersible pump goes deeper into the ground to get the water that his business requires. They fear that if this continues unabated there will come a time when Rajendra’s submersible pump makes inroads into the Earth’s core and disturb the life of its resident Hindu deities. Already, his ‘business practices’, they feel, has attracted the ire of the water-Gods. The Gods feel powerless before his pump and, as a result, they have shrunk deeper inside the folds of the earth.
The elders have other fears too, that the old Gods will suffer at the hands of the new avtar – the Nal Devta – who has been brought here from afar by the municipal authorities, who provides water depending on the whims and fancies the new Brahma, the Authorities. And as the new God has prospered, so has the river turned old, pale and weak, fed against her wishes by domestic and factory wastes. Apart from blessings, she can hardly offer anything today. Some day, she too will die, as mere mortals do. The Authorities occasionally feel guilty and seek to bring her back home, to once again become intimate with her. They beautify her, dress up her banks in ‘green’ and police her shores from unwanted elements. As if aging and dead rivers can regain their youth through cosmetic surgery!
Translated from Hindi by Alankar and excerpted from The Water Cookbook (Sarai, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi 2011).