Will it? Or won’t it? That is the question that is uppermost in the minds of those who live in Chennai and need to worry about it. The Man from Madras Musings alludes to the rain. And cur rently, going by the vague pronouncements of the Astrological, sorry, Meteorological Department, it appears to be anybody’s guess as to whether it will. To MMM, who being married is naturally inclined to pessimism, it does not look like it will rain. There is a nip in the air, which is usually felt once the monsoons are over. Which means the monsoons are er… over, only we did not notice them come or go.
In which case, where do we go from here? Straight to the loft is MMM’s recommendation, in order to extricate those plastic pots in which we stored water in the years of scarcity. In case you don’t have them, you need not worry, there is at least one five star hotel in the city, built on the site of an erstwhile film studio, that has enough and more to spare, for it features them as items of décor. But be that as it may, getting the pot is not an issue. As the old adage goes, you may take the pot to the water, but you cannot make it fill (was this something about horses and drinking? But the line was too good to be dropped and so MMM has put it in. Like the moving finger at Nebuchadnezzar’s feast, MMM moves on…).
Years ago, when MMM was a Cherubic Child of Chennai, the city had its first experience of a prolonged drought. The MMM household had till then taken its ancestral well for granted. An automatic pump, that would switch on whenever water in the overhead tank ran low, would keep going at all odd hours and ensure that MMM and family spent water like water. But came a day when the pump gave out sounds indicative of great distress and, having laboured on for a few minutes, called it a day. The well, it was found, had run dry and nobody had bothered looking into it.
For reasons of ritual purity, MMM’s ancestors had a rather dim view of piped water supply. “You never knew where it had been,” was the general opinion. But now with the well churning out mud and also an occasional clay idol or two of the elephant-headed god (dumped there after worship), a quick decision had to be taken. The elders abandoned all orthodoxy and welcomed with open arms the hand pump. Water came to it only once a day and that too for an hour at an ungodly 3.00 a.m. But you should have seen the enthusiasm with which everyone worked the pump. Its well-being and its treatment during times of sickness (which was often) was the topic of discussion at all times. Some family members became experts in detecting the early signals of failure and their expertise was much sought after.
Everyone learnt to live with limited water supply. The bathtubs, without which no bathroom was complete in the old days, were put to new use – as water storage facilities. The MMM family has since then moved on to borewells, deep borewells and deeper bore-wells. But the hand pump has never been dislodged, remaining as it does as a reminder to the fact that Chennai is a water-starved city. In all this excitement, the old automatic pump was forgotten. It never made a comeback even in times of plenty. The considered opinion was that now the family had learnt to live with restricted water supply, such luxuries were unwanted. The well was fitted with a new pump, whose working had to be monitored strictly, failing which it would draw excess water that would deplete the well and also cause the overhead tank to overflow. It was functional, but it did not have the charm of the old one.
The automatic lingered on for years, however, a ghostly relic of a water-rich past until the time came for it to be sold for scrap. But there are days when MMM can even now remember the musical tone of its suddenly coming to life at all odd hours of the day.