It was in the early 60s when we used to reach Taj Mahal cycling from our Air Force camp. A common belief among locals was that the monument of love would glitter more in the nocturnal hours on full moon days with the painted designs on the Taj reflecting the moonshine. With no shopping arcade or any other building around the edifice those days we’d proceed after dinner, freely up to the enclosed wall, park our cycles close to it and enter the central walkway flanked by manicured meadows.
Looking eagerly for any glinting spot on the monument we would move on the skirts of the structure and return to the entrance thirsting for water. A handful of Muslim residents in the neighbourhood each carrying a canvas bag hanging down the shoulder by a cord attached to it, seen moving about the entrance were the ones who fain wetted our parched throats with drinking water, charging only a paltry amount of five naya paisa per glass. That was the first time I ever experienced paying for potable water, of course realising the gravity of the situation.
About a decade and a half later, on movement of our Air Force unit when we would be supervising transportation of heavy equipment from railway wagons to a fleet of lorries outside the station the task tired us so much that to quench our thirst, we had no alternative to buying it from trolleys each with a metal tank mounted on it containing 20 gallons of drinking water for sale at 10 paisa a glass. This was the second occasion I came across sale of drinking water.
That potable water is brought in tankers and supplied to residents of drought-ridden metros and rural areas suffering failure of monsoon in certain years, all on payment by the consumers we are aware. This condition results from utmost necessity as water has always been something none can do without. Earlier generations took a keen interest to quench travellers’ thirst for water free of charge by erecting thanneer pandhals (water shelters) on roadsides whereas the later ones took to trading in water depriving it of its sanctity, under compulsion. In recent years the elixir of life stooped to the level of being a saleable entity because of its scarcity and impurity stemming from reasons unknown.
Air passengers reluctantly chuck out their water bottles before boarding the flight only to pay heavily for the same mid-air. Such instances of paying for potable water once provided to cart-drawing domestic animals in stone troughs on roadsides and in ponds in towns and villages meant for people, are now common in the modern world due probably to urbanisation entailed by multiplication of human population, inexorable development of industries and such other similar factors. Our great grandparents may be turning in their graves to see later generations treating water as a commercial item.
That we have embarked upon trading in Adam’s ale forced by depletion of groundwater and population explosion is miserable indeed.