CHENNAI: Catch rain, it’s free’ has been my slogan for almost 20 years. On an average, I get at least two to three phone calls a day regarding rainwater harvesting. I am glad that I’ve become a 24*7 mobile rain centre to address people’s queries. After all, that was what I struggled for.
Chennai is my comfort place. I never planned to move to the northern parts because I couldn’t speak Hindi and I didn’t want to learn either. Years have passed by. My son, who has a PhD in Chemistry, is working as a professor in Bengaluru. I live with my wife and we have a house in Besant Nagar. I’ve been residing here for 45 years. The best thing about the locality is the sea breeze and the fresh groundwater. It was on one such day when I tasted the water and found it to be salty. If the groundwater gets exploited then saline water would find its way through and lessen the quality. Despite heavy rains there was no ground water.
I decided to take this contradiction as a serious concern. What started out as a selfish motive became the sole purpose of my research. I have a PhD in Physics and I decided to make the best of it for the public.
The problem I decided to work on was simple. When rain falls on the soil, it percolates and gets saved as groundwater. Especially along the coastal belt like Adyar and Besant Nagar, this happened without human intervention.
The sandy beaches were an excellent medium for absorbing rainwater. Unfortunately, even literates failed to understand the basics. This was a rising issue in the 90s mainly in apartments. Shutting down of open wells was one of the main reasons. The parking lot was paved in a way that the rainwater would flow into the road and nothing would get saved as groundwater for the building. We needed to function as a community to find a solution.
I decided to take an initiative. Every Sunday I would earmark a street, take my bicycle and reach out to the owners of the apartments. The security guards used to think I was a salesman and often shooed me away. This happened for three years and getting an access was difficult. One day, with the help of a local newspaper I managed to spread the importance of rainwater harvesting and having an open well in the neighbourhood. Gradually people started reading and reaching out to me. I set up a team of plumbers, masons and most importantly, well diggers. People wanted it to be implemented in their buildings. I designed projects for apartments and completed them successfully. We also took up corporate social responsibilities and handled projects for many organisations and communities.
In June 2001, a rainwater harvesting committee was set up by the ruling government of the state and there would be meetings every Monday to discuss various advancements. During August 2002, a rain centre was set up at Foreshore estate. I started taking seminars for children, other state officials; we had discussions. I can confidently say that Tamil Nadu is the mother of rainwater harvesting in the country. Some kids would drop by for assistance in projects and dissertations. But, the inquisitiveness is very momentary. I am still looking out for people who would be willing to learn this on a long-term basis.
People and contractors across the city approach me for advice. Till date, I take an autorickshaw and visit the sites to monitor the progress of work. Currently, we’re sensitising people about open wells. To do it more scientifically we have chosen 88 wells. Our men will have to measure the level of water and total dissolved salts to test the quality as a part of our research. Meanwhile, I attend to clients at the rain centre if they drop by. I take a nap in the afternoon. In the evening, I go for a walk.
My second shift of work is from 9 pm - 12.30 am. This is when I respond to mails, design my schedule for next day, prepare proposal for new projects, quotations, submit my report, get them approved and execute the plan in respective communities. People have appreciated my sense of time and promptness in work. I am forgetful so I try to respond immediately so that work does not get piled up. I am a simple man. I rely on public transport and I don’t like wasting money or natural resources.
I love music. Margazhi season is one of my favourite times of the year. I spend the whole day at the music academy. Alongside, anything related to nature intrigues me like solid waste management and tree planting.
For queries regarding rainwater harvesting, call Sekhar Raghavan on 9677043869