Shiva went to the post office. The postmaster had sent for him. There was a letter waiting for him. Actually, it was the duty of the postman was to deliver the letters at the doorstep of the addressee. But Nirjalapur being a small village and the postmaster commanded high level of respect there, people preferred going to post office and enquire whether there was any letter for them. Shiva did not know he would get a letter and that too from Indian Railways – Central Railway.
The postmaster was very curious to know as to when did Shiva apply for a job in Indian Railways, particularly, when he knew that Shiva had vowed not to migrate to city, come what may!
“So finally, he too fell a victim of prevailing grim drought. See he had to give up his principles and bow down to his survival instincts. By the way, who would not grab a golden opportunity to serve in Indian Railways!” The postmaster was in his wild thoughts. When Shiva came, he gave the letter to him and was curious to know the contents of the letter. Naturally!
Shiva read out. It was neither a letter of offer of job nor a call letter for interview. Long ago, he had written to Railways for supply of water to his parched village. He had enclosed a newspaper cutting which stated that Railways already serving the nation, could serve much better by supplying water at the least expense. The focus of the news item in the paper was more on a budding engineer getting a cash award from the Railway authorities for a simple suggestion made to them, than on providing water to the needy villagers. The suggestion was that with a slight modification in the bogies, and thereby making arrangement for collection of water, millions of litres of water can be carried and distributed to all dry land areas and in particular, the drought hit parched lands. Shiva had enclosed the paper cutting of this particular news item, to his letter. He had also written in detail the rough and tough conditions of severe drought prevailing in the district and his village in particular. He had enclosed one annexure wherein he had listed out the families which suffered losses – both human and livestock.
He had almost forgotten about the letter he had written to Railways and in fact, he had written it off that some action might be taken. After a long time, now a reply had come. The letter though received after so many months, did not assure any assistance. It instead, asked him to make himself available for a Grievance Redressal meeting to be held on the first Monday of the month. Time, date, venue etc. were also indicated. The postmaster lauded his noble gesture of doing some best help to his native village and urged him to go and attend the meeting. He also advised him to go with his neighbour’s son – Jaggu. There could be heated arguments in the meeting or even a blatant “no” to his suggestion. Whatever it could be, having one more person by his side, might help to take stock of situations with maturity and cool head. He advised Shiva to remain tolerant, patient and cool – even if he was provoked.
Shiva lent a patient hearing. Then he asked slowly, “Will the villagers agree to accept the water if at all the Railways are willing to discharge?”
The postmaster not getting the clue stared at him questioningly. Shiva made the point clear that water from Railways means not any holy water fetched directly from river Ganges, dam or some such source. It is the “unholy water which runs through the drain pipe and gets spilt over the tracks. It is this ugly, grey water, rather used up wash water which is required to be collected and stored in containers and delivered to the parched villages of dry India. The award winning suggestion was for collection of this “spittoon water”.”
No sooner Shiva finished his explanation, postmaster was up in his arms, almost about to thrash him. “How could you think of such a lowly idea? Are we worse than dogs and pigs to lick what others have spat? Too garish and too absurd! Nobody will ever agree to this foolish nonsense. Before you go to Railway Redressal Meeting, first you better convince your village folks. Take it from me! I am the first one to oppose your idea I call it sheer stupidity. Your forefathers had lived in this village with great dignity. Don’t do any harm to their name and fame.”
Shiva stood there like a stone wall without hindering postmaster’s downpour. He knew for well that he might have to face a similar situation once he opened the topic for debate in the gramsabha. He told that before writing to Railways, at least hundred times he had questioned himself about its success.
After the post office was closed, he took postmaster to his friend Shriram who was a soil testing lab assistant in Agriculture Department. Shriram confirmed that he had advised Shiva how to filter and use the garish water and that there was absolutely nothing wrong or damage done to the soil if the recycled water was used for agriculture. Due to the stigma attached to the recycled water, Shriram told Shiva to use it for cultivation of fodder and fuel crops only, conveniently avoiding food crops or vegetables meant for human consumption. He even added that if at all, such recycled water was put to use by Forest Department, then there would be no dearth of greenery at all, anywhere in India and most importantly, there would be no forest fire either. Because trees would not turn dry in summer and on the contrary, they could retain greenery. He had already told Shiva what should be planted or grown. He once again reiterated on planting quick growing species like grass varieties, bamboo, Jatropha, Gulmohar etc. much could be achieved. After listening to Shriram’s assurance about safety of the water for the livestock and fodder fuel cultivation etc., the postmaster got somewhat tamed down.
Shiva then reminded him of one sad incident – when postmaster’s wife while fetching water from a far off well tumbled over a small rock and fell down on the way and fractured her leg. People around her instantly regretted heavily for the loss of water that got spilt and that not a drop could be saved and much later only, they cared to attend on the lady. Even the human factor was pushed to the backyard. Such was the grim situation in the village. Till date the lady is limping. Each and everyone in the village had suffered some loss or other. Almost everybody had sold off their goat, sheep bovines whatever they had, at whatever price they could fetch, so as to sustain themselves. Two consecutive droughts were too much for the villagers, wholly dependent on farming, which activity had now come to a standstill.
When they returned to the village, they found a huge crowd waiting to greet them. By then the rumor of Shiva getting a job in Indian Railways had gone far and wide. Shiva did not anticipate the sudden reaction to the letter he had received from Railways. Rumours spread very fast like wildfire. In small villages, it is even faster. When the crowd understood it was not a job offer, they were curious to know then what it was. Shiva prepared himself for the worst and told them about his letter to the Railways and the reply received from them now. When he tried to explain in detail about bringing the dirty water to the village, much before he would finish his words, there were agitated outbursts and people naturally were very angry. Even postmaster’s words fell on deaf ears. It was the Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat who, after, allowing the crowd to calm down, asked Shiva to put forth his side of arguments. This is what he practiced in any hearing – first listen to both sides and then finally draw some conclusion!
Shiva started narrating the gruesome drought that gripped every household and left everyone high and dry. Even the Government had left them in the lurch. For the Govt, providing drinking water once in a long fortnight, was in itself considered to be a great solace. It was this compelling situation that led him to write to Railways. They too had not assured any assistance. It was just a letter to attend a meeting on the particular issue. The postmaster too addressed the gathering about what he had learnt just now from Shriram. Nobody in the crowd was convinced about the efficacy of ugly grey water and its use in their lands. Shiva told the people in very strong terms that nobody’s land would be put to experiment. Anything that was to be done, it would be only on his land. Once again he reiterated that presently, there was no issue at all and what everyone was debating was all about an imaginary situation – in the event of Railways supplying dirty water to the village. He concluded “Let us cross the bridge when we come to it.”
Sarpanch asked the people to disperse, as the issue was to come up only in some distant future. However he allowed Shiva to go and attend the meeting. He prayed to himself if only Rain Gods were merciful on this village, he would not have to face such a day.
As already planned Shiva along with Jaggu, went to the Railway office in the metropolitan city – far away from his village. He was there well in time. He had taken with him a complete set of papers which he had earlier sent to the Railways. The Office building was very big and massive. For Jaggu it was the first time he saw such a big, tall building.
When they came to 5th floor by lift, he was quite thrilled. There was a waiting hall where already many visitors were sitting. The office was quite brisk with so many people going up and down. Though it was a rail office, there was neither any train in the vicinity, nor its hooting, nor even the chugging sound of the train could be heard. A peep from window showed miniatures of cars, vans and buses crawling on the road. Everywhere people thronged! Crowd, crowd and crowd.
In a few minutes time, Jaggu’s initial fascination was all over and he felt bored. He wanted his personal convenience to be attended. Shiva went around looking for public convenience and there was one. They both entered the room only to find all taps as many as ten, either dripping or running. He was awe struck. Instantly, he tried to close one by one. How could they afford such a colossal waste of water. Some taps he could close but many he could not.
Just then a person came and held him by his shirt and neck and shouted “Who are you and what are you doing here? Trying to steal? Meddle with government property? You sco*ndrel! If I did not catch you red handed you would have nabbed all the spindles and taps.”
Upon hearing his raised voice, some people gathered and tried to manhandle both Shiva and Jaggu who were least prepared for such an attack. Shivering in fear, shame and humiliation, Jaggu was about to cry aloud. They were then taken to Securtity Guard who confirmed that as per attendance records of the day the two had come for a meeting and hence were permitted inside. In fact, they showed the office letter also.
By then Shiva had gathered guts and got composed. He offered his explanations which fell on deaf ears. On the contrary, he was told, if the taps were found to be loose and running, it was not his duty to attend on them as he was not a plumber. Even if he be one, he was not authorized to attend on government property. When the Security, frisked his body for any stolen items, Shiva lost his temper and shouted back at them. “Stop your nonsense! You called me, so I came. You call it ‘Grievance Redressal’ but I find it ‘Grievance Addition’. I have not come to steal or take anything from here.”
He stretched out his annexure sheet and held it before them “See this! It is a sample list of sufferings of our village people who are dying every day due to acute scarcity of water. Look at this office! None of the taps was closed. Litres and litres of water going down the drain. My heart is bleeding. If only a little of it is spared and given to us! How wonderful it would be!”
By then some more people had gathered and every one sympathized with Shiva. They openly apologized and expressed their heartfelt sympathy. In fact one person openly hailed his civic sense which was a rare sight in city. The people one by one moved away.
It was time up for the meeting and Shiva and Jaggu went to the concerned hall where it was to be held. The same person who took Shiva by force at the bathroom, was also there in the meeting hall. There were not many issues to be addressed. So Shiva’s case was taken up right then. The person who accosted him was the one who was reading out the issues.
“Oh! God! He is asking for the dirtiest wash water from the wash basins attached to Railway compartments to be collected and supplied to his village to quench the thirst of parched lands. Oh My God! What a terrible drought situation in his village. No wonder he was obsessed with the leaking taps”.
He had read out only half of his suggestion. Then he stopped it abruptly there and came to Shiva and gave his bottle of mineral water and pleaded sorry for his earlier action. He then turned to his boss and told him, who was presiding over the meeting that there was a small personal altercation with Shiva for which he felt sorry.
The boss too on hearing fully about him, pleaded guilty for the casual approach and carelessness of the office maintenance and felt sorry for inconveniences he was subjected to. He went through the papers and assured Shiva that he would certainly do what best can be done. He also made it clear that the issue called for structural changes in the existing coaches. Hence it might take time for implementing. It required lot of changes like, suggesting new models, casting and approving some new designs for the coaches and then there might be trial runs and after crossing all these stages only, that too if found successful at all stages, then only, it was likely that Shiva’s suggestion might see the light of the day. It might take some months. Shiva, though did not tell them, said to himself, it took so many months for the Railways to give just a reply to his letter and when it was time for taking action, obviously it would be years. The meeting was over. All the officers who had attended the meeting had open heartedly lauded Shiva’s courage and positive approach and more than anything, his keen interest in the welfare of his village folks.
When both Jaggu and Shiva returned home, the entire village was waiting in eagerness to know about the outcome. Shiva assured them that nothing would happen to the village and his visit had created just a few ripples there. As regards, the water crisis the status quo would continue. But Jaggu on the contrary, went on narrating in full excitement, the altercations they had, the heated exchange of words that took place between them and at the climax, Shiva’s strong and befitting reply that silenced them.
While many felt relieved that no dirty water would flow into their village and pollute their fields, some people felt sad and sorry that nothing rather nobody came to their rescue and relieve them from the prevailing drought conditions. No hope from any corner!
Shiva went to the post master and apprised him, of the deliberations of the meeting. He also made it clear that implementation of his suggestion, if at all it got approved, might take a very long time, as it called for modification of existing rail coaches.
Then the post master said “if at all you need dirty water, why do you think it should come from outstations? Why don’t you collect the same waste water from your own village? In what way these people are inferior? From every house you can easily get a bucket or two of wash water that too, every day. All you need to do is to connect their outlets to a specially dug pit for the purpose and make arrangements for cleansing it and then as you already said, use the recycled water for raising fodder and fuel crops. We have about 800 household and surely you can get more than 25000 litres of grey water every day. An assured source! What you wanted the railways to do for the village, you do now on your own. It is just my suggestion. You better think and act accordingly. Most importantly keep the Sarpanch informed and take the permission from all seniors before you plunge into any action”.
Post master went home after that. Shiva was wonder struck. “Remarkable! We have a goldmine here right under our feet and we never realized that”.
First and foremost he must consult Shriram about the pros and cons of such pooling and collection of grey waters from all households. Upon his confirmation, he might think of working out the cost details of laying pipelines from each household to the common pool for filteration and then a dug-well for collection of filtered water. Once these preliminaries of collecting information were worked out, then next biggest hurdle to cross would be to arrange for such a huge sum to carry out the plan. If wishes were horses, everyone would ride. He let loose his thoughts and was riding high on his fantasies.
‘Is it possible to draw a scheme? Will any bank finance such a scheme? Is the scheme workable? Will it be feasible and also viable? Will the villagers agree and cooperate?’
He did not want to think further and give room for more doubts. He wanted to strongly catch hold of his idea, dream of it and live on that idea. For that matter, he was cursing himself for not using this method all these years. It never dawned on him. At least now, the post master opened his eyes. The first thing he did the next day was, to meet Shriram, who had cleared all his doubts and gave a clean chit for the “Dirty Water scheme” as a workable one. He took that in writing from him and straight went to Sarpanch to request him to convene a meeting of Gram Sabha and discuss the issue in all minute details.
In the meeting that was held, there was lot of chaotic noise, mixed feelings, too many doubts and too much of shoutings, abuses and fist fights too. Many called it a hideous act of foolishness. Finally Sarpanch stood up and put a full stop to the uproar. He gave his thumbing order stating that the one who was going to use the dirty water for his field experiments whether Shiva or anybody, should only bear the entire cost of laying the pipes that too in such a way that it did not obstruct anybody’s movement, nor cause any inconvenience to anybody whosoever. If at all it was found that at any point of time, the neighbour’s land or the standing crops were affected by these hideous or as some people preferred to call it ‘magical experiments’, the person responsible for such sins should compensate all damages in to without any recourse to further challenges. Of course, on the contrary, if the experiment yielded any good results the village would also not hesitate to acknowledge such merits. Shiva was very happy in the sense that it was not summarily rejected and there was no ban on his actions. But the total cost of the scheme was wholly on his shoulders. He had the least idea as to how much it would cost him. ‘May be a few thousands or who knows it may run into few lakhs!’
He went to the Anti Malaria Squad Section of the Government and asked one of the babus there to come and close all the open drainage canals in his village as the stagnant water of such canals was the main source of mosquitoes.
‘You want the whole village! Roughly about thousand households! My dear boy, it is Big money!’
They sent him away. A simple application from a simple villager was not any solution to such a big issue. They sent back Shiva saying that it would involve calling for tenders and thereupon awarding the contract to a chosen one. So Shiva had to drop the notion that Government would come and assist him. He had to try out something on his own. All he wanted to know was how much it would cost. Jaggu told him to first try laying pipe for one house and from that it would be easy to assess the approximate cost for the village. ‘Good idea!’ he thought.
On second thoughts, he thought why was it necessary to go for covering the canals of all households in the village. Let it be just one or two houses for which not much of funds would be required. So he went to Govind uncle’s house and sought for his approval. He had chosen Govind uncle’s house, because he was the senior most person in the village and had maximum number of persons in his family and also that it was comparatively closer to his fields. Govind uncle at first did not agree, but when his family members advised him that he was getting the gutters closed by new pipe lines and that there would be no filthy and dirty water around their house. But as a safety measure, Govind uncle insisted that he be paid one tenth of whatever yield it might fetch, as his share of partnership. Shiva had no choice than to agree. Similarly he contacted some more neighbours and then he enquired from a plumber cum masonry craftsman, the cost of the job to be undertaken. It would cost a whopping five thousand! Oh! God! He did not have that much money to throw into the gutter – rather for the gutter project. He could not borrow from others as they too were not rich enough to pay him. Above all why would anyone pay for an item which was more a fancy than an assured one.
While he was contemplating on what to do, Jaggu came running and said, there was a letter for him and this time also from the same Railways! Both suspense and excitement gripped him including those around him as to what it could be. Some people had already started teasing him that he would have worked out yet another dirtier plan and submitted, for which the call letter would have come now from the Railways.
“What a doom’s day for all of us”! they grumbled. The post master gave the letter and asked him to read out aloud so that all could hear. It was from the Railway Employees Union which stated that all the members of the Union had expressed heartfelt sympathy of their members towards their drought stricken brother in the village and as a measure of goodwill and good gesture they had collected some donations from their members. The union wanted to give the amount to the people of the village for which a simple ceremony was arranged at their Railway office. The letter further said that Shiva along with three other important honourable members of the village should grace the function and accept the offer. The amount was not specified but time date and venue were given. There was a footnote also to the letter which stated that all taps in the office had been replaced and there was no leaking tap in any of the floors of the office.
No sooner had he finished reading out the letter, the very post office got transformed into a hall of loud cheers – ‘Hey Hoo Hurrey’ Victory, Hail Shiva Shabash , blah blah and blah blah . Shiva instantaneously was crowned as a hero. The village folks go to extremes whether it is for condemning a person or for complimenting him. It was unanimously decided that the three distinguished persons of the village would be Govind uncle, the senior most citizen of the village, the Village Sarpanch and the Postmaster.
The function at the Railway Union office was a simple one with the Union leader initiating the ceremony. The Union leader explained how the staff members readily and willingly offered donations and that there was no compulsion. Everyone came forward willingly to domate. It was truly a unique gesture. Probably that was due to Shiva’s unique request of dirty water from Indian Railways. Of course, it is not new for the railways to supply water to the needy places.
Long back, Indian Railways had already set an example by offering “Telugu Ganga” to Chennai Metro city. Water from Krishna River from Vijayawada station was supplied to Chennai through the Rails. Who knows one day all villages like Nirjalapur also might get water from some Rivers. But as a measure of immediate relief, our Union members had collected a sum of Rs 50000/-which was now being offered to the honorable Village Sarpanch. The Sarpanch wanted to express his gratitude but was overwhelmed by the generosity of Railway employees and was choked with emotions.
So the Post master stood up and spoke about how the village was reeling through drought conditions. Even the animals were not spared. Women had to go far and wide to get a pitcher of water. Level of high water contamination was another problem to combat. Many fell sick due to contamination. The water woes were plenty. Any amount of enumerating them would be too less. To cut short, he said, the amount that was received from the noble hearts would be used for supplying drinking water, preferably mineral water. Both Govind uncle and Sarpanch nodded their heads affirmatively and approved his suggestion.
The audience wanted that Shiva also should speak a few words on the occasion. When he stood up, there were cheers and applause. At first he thanked the audience for their noble gesture of helping his village. But his village was just one among the so many which were badly affected. Drought and floods in this country had become a regular feature, as though they were one more season of a year. Still we had not come out with any tangible solution. Shiva very generously thanked the unknown gentleman of the newspaper, who had earlier suggested to Railways to make use of the unholy wash water of washbasin for the betterment of wastelands and dry lands of our country which idea sparked him to approach the Railways for speedier implementation of the already accepted novel idea. On behalf of his village he thanked each and every railway man for his sympathy and kindness. He also mentioned that he was very happy to note that the leaking taps were replaced.
While returning home, Shiva asked the other three elderly men whether it was possible for them to grant him a loan of Rs 5000/- for laying pipelines from the gift amount received. Sarpanch refused – saying the money they received from Railways belonged to the village and he was a mere guardian to hold the amount given by them. Moreover, it was meant for providing drinking water to the village people and not for laying pipelines for taking the polluted water from houses to fields. But he totally did not dismiss his request. He just said if the village people agreed to grant the loan to Shiva, he would not stand in the way.
The village people were very happy to know that a large sum of Rs 50000/ was donated for the village to cope up with drought. When Post master said that Shiva wanted Rs 5000/- as loan nobody had any objection, because they believed that due to his personal efforts only, a sum as big as Rs 50000/- was received. So if he had asked for a small share from the amount as his commission, people would have readily agreed. But Shiva was neither greedy nor selfish. He took the amount as loan only and promised to repay as soon as he would raise a crop or two.
The drainage pipes were laid for the first five houses with interconnections and the main line was leading to his field. Once the water started flowing into his field, other things were just a matter of time. As already planned he had dug two wells – rather two pits – one big and small. The smaller one was filled with layers of filtering materials, like sand, loose soil and pebbles and pebble like stones. An outlet was in place to let the filtered water to fall into the bigger well, from where, water was taken for growing grass. Every day, the villagers would come to his field and notice the developments and comment upon the growth and also offer tips for better growth. Though Shiva listened to them patiently, he relied on his friend Shriram’s advices for proper action.
To everyone’s anxiety and happiness, the grass grew long and thick. Shiva was also equally excited when it was time to cut the crop. He readily agreed to anybody and everybody who offered to sway the sickle for reaping. What is more! He offered the entire crop of cutting to his village-men for their use. For him that his efforts were fruitful, was in itself a great achievement. He was more than happy that he could infuse a ray of hope in the minds of his village folks even in the midst of extreme hardship. On the one hand, the problem of drinking water was solved and on the other hand, he could find an innovative way of raising a second crop. He lifted his hands and thanked God profusely. Somehow the problems of Nirjalapur were solved for this drought season. He was confident that by next year, he along with others in the village would carry out his pipeline model in full swing whether there would be any drought or not.
That Shiva could lift his village out of crisis was a great event. But there are innumerable villages in India reeling under severe drought and in every village there are one or two people like Shiva making their best efforts to save their villages. They are indeed Bhageeraths performing hard penance. Their efforts are yet to pay rewards.
Bhageerath of mythological era had completed his penance and accomplished his goal. But Bhageerath of modern era is still under penance. Lord Shiva is yet to shirk off His hair and Ganga is yet flow down. Bhageerath is still at penance…. and the penance goes on…..