It is rare to find good Samaritans who have been persistent in their endeavour to help those in need. Alag Natarajan, who received the title of the ‘Matka Man’ from his daughter on one of his birthdays, is one of the very few who lends a helping hand to others. The Panchsheel Park-resident wakes up at five in the morning every day to fill anywhere between 70 and 80 matkas (earthen pots) at various parts of South Delhi. This number can increase to 100 during the peak summer months.
Apart from providing water to the thirsty, Natarajan, a cancer survivor, also feeds a special, healthy salad to around 400 people every week. This 72-year old, a force to be reckoned with, works with a paid assistant who also receives sponsored medical insurance. Even though the Delhi Jal Board has now given him access to potable water, Natarajan is a “fiercely independent man” who refuses to be called an NGO or seek help from the Government. “It has taken a lot of time for people to accept my matkas. In the beginning, they thought it was the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign. Later, they said I was looking to become an MLA or a councillor,” he mentions. Pooling his pension, life-savings and occasional donations from Delhi residents, Natarajan says that his venture is a way of giving back to society.
Rebel with a cause
Even the pandemic could not sway Natarajan’s fervent zeal. While in conversation with us, he humorously recounts how he caused an uproar at home, one that made his wife almost leave him. Thinking of the numerous people in the city who must have been cut off from regular food and water supply during the lockdown, Natarajan decided to stay diligent to his cause. “Social work always creates conflict, even if you look back at history. Going back to Mahatma Gandhi; even he had to go through a lot of personal difficulties in what he did,” Natarajan iterates.
However, to a large extent, Natarajan’s success can be credited to how supportive his family is. Although he doesn’t know if anyone from his family can carry on this tradition, he is sure that, with the system he has, his assistant can easily take over after him. A former engineer, he single-handedly fabricates the pot holders and has installed a number of cycle pumps near his matkas for rickshaw-wallahs. Natarajan has also revamped his new water tanker, a Bolero that can store 2,000 litres of water. This vehicle helps him carry sweet water from a nearby school and another kind gentleman fills all his pots in one go.
A world of change
Always happy to address any complaints, Natarajan fondly recounts a time when a young boy rang him up: “He told me, ‘You have hammered a nail into the bark of a tree to place a placard with your mobile number. That tree is in pain’.” Moved by this incident, Natarajan removed the nail because while he wasn’t sure if the tree was in pain, he was certain the boy was. “Can you imagine the world with sensitive, young kids like that—it will be a much better world to live in.” A staunch believer in the idea that theft is “an expression of poverty”, he doesn’t mind if the matkas or lotas [water container] ever go missing. The man is on a mission to help everyone—one matka at a time.