The shrinking water level of the only tank in the hilly hamlet meant leakage in the supply line somewhere or blockage at the source due to debris accumulating in the storage, some 2 km uphill. The village folks apprehended that the dilapidated stony lid there had been damaged warranting an early replacement. But none dared to take the lead.
It was the month of May in the early seventies and our schools had closed. Sati Bhaiji (elder brother) from Dehradun and me from Delhi had come back to our native village Khand near Deoprayag across the river Ganga in the Uttarakhand mountains. Sensing an imminent potable water crisis and ever true to his soil Sati Bhaiji, who was four years older to me, asked one Prem and me to join him for a door-to-door campaign. The offer was appealing as it satisfied my urge to serve my native place in the company of the innovative Bhaiji.
Early next morning after breakfast, the trio, aged 12-16, knocked each household to spare one person to join pipeline inspection and render manual help in case a new stone cover needed to be immediately installed at source. To our dismay, the response was cool, and not a soul volunteered to back us giving one excuse or another. For a moment, Prem was skeptical whether the plan may not work with just three youngsters at the helm. Bhaiji infused optimism by referring to Tagore’s call of Ekla Chalo Re for moving alone even if others stay neutral or hostile, provided the pursuit is worth it. The reluctance of village folks did not dampen our spirit, and we proceeded on our errand.
The pipelines up till the source were all intact. The congestion inside the storage tank was due to hardened thick mud mixed with trash. This had blocked the flow, as we apprehended, and diverted inward flow all around, which could have further damaged the structure. With minimal clothing, Bhaiji and Prem delved into the muddy mess and started pouring out solid wastes using flat wooden pieces. This went on for not less than two hours till normal flow resumed. I rendered only lip service with inspirational anecdotes and quotes interspersed with humour.
As the main cleaning operation was nearly over, a beat of the drum coming closer reverberated around the hills. Soon a group of 50 folks from the village came, some holding the storage cover and some, local Singeria mangoes for the triumvirate. They hugged and kissed us with fervour. We overheard them saying, “These chaps are here for few days, yet they are doing so much for us.” We felt instantly and amply rewarded.