RAMANATHAPURAM: The vicious drought gripping all of Tamil Nadu, particularly the southern district of Ramanathapuram, has already thrown up some dramatic syndromes.
One has been of perfectly grown men dancing naked in front of Parliament or eating rats in full public view. Out in the parched acres of Sayalgudi, Kuruvadi, Mudukulathur, we see some equally deep, if not as dramatic, effects of this mother of all droughts. We see not only signs of distress — which is serious enough — we also see a people backed up to the edge but coping, enduring and waiting it out.
In large parts of the dry district, the people’s response to the drought has been to devise a contraption that is a testament to their spirit of jugaad. It’s called anju-kudam vandi, a wheeled trolley fitted with rings to hold five pitchers of water. Hitched to a moped, or pushed or dragged with a rope, the vandi eases a family’s toil. The vandi is so prized in Ramanathapuram, it is a must item in a girl’s dowry.
An entire ancillary industry has taken root in these dry tracts to rig up such contraptions. Its cost of Rs 4,000 is a prince’s ransom in a season when farmers have made zero money from agriculture this season, but then every drop of sweat conserved is a blessing.
The other great effect of this drought is that fetching water is no longer a woman’s work alone. Everyone has to do it, man woman and child. So it is not odd that 75-year-old Muthuvelu of Adhankothangudi spends every waking hour keeping an eye cocked to the tap. As her neighbour said, “If you let her, she’ll sleep here.”
The only thing thriving in Ramanathapuram is the water trade. With hefty premiums available for every pot of water, private water tankers are rumbling around for 15 hours a day, filling up at private bore wells, illegal holes dug in dry reservoirs, busy making a buck while the sun blazes.
Tanker operators say every truckload fills 320 pots and fetches a profit of a thousand bucks at Rs 3 per pot. No wonder there are queues in the dead of night at back-of-beyond water holes.