The other day a long-time friend, who believes in the dictum of ‘contact-when-you-need’, called me over phone and said, “Machi, here there is no water da….You have been asking me to visit you for a long time now. I think this is the time,” he said reminding me of an invite that I had apparently made in the distant eons of time. “When did I extend that invite?” I struggled hard, but couldn’t recollect. But, then I admonished myself for being mean. The friend, after all, was in distress. So, I said, “You are welcome, anytime.”
As you may have rightly guessed, the call was from Chennai which has been going through acute water scarcity that led to the closure of hotels, offices, schools and other establishments. I knew the situation was bad. But, didn’t know it was so bad. “How could this happen?” I wondered. My friend, anyway promptly turned up at my door next morning with his wife, two kids and four oversized suitcases, bloated and bulged like a frog’s shapeless belly.
My wife stared at the suitcases and then at me with puckered eyebrows. Below the worry lines, her eyes swiveled in their sockets. Watching the scowl on her face, I could read the question that she did not ask: what is all this? But, I avoided her intense gaze putting up a brave face, and then turned towards my friend. “Long time man…! How are you?” I bellowed unnecessarily though he was standing at an arm’s-length. I know I must have looked stupid, silly and artificial. But, my wife did not think so. She gave me a cold look and then ushered in the guests with a forced smile.
The monsoon had started about a week back after playing truant for a few days. Still, not much rain was happening in the Malabar region. But, in Kochi, we were getting reasonably good rains for about 10 days now. “What a pleasant change from the sultry Chennai!” my friend exclaimed rubbing his palms together as wind gushed in through the windows bringing with it tiny droplets of rainwater. He sat lazily watching the drooping of branches of the trees outside, dripping in water. Meanwhile, his wife opened the suitcases one by one dishing out bundles of clothes. A faint stench of sweat spread through the hall. “None of these are washed because there was no water,” she sighed.
She soon got into work occupying the washroom and owning the washing machine and the taut clotheslines sagged under the weight of her authority and wet clothes. “What do they think? Are they here to stay for good? And, who’s this friend I don’t know?” asked my wife. My friend and his wife were in the washroom and the children were watching Chota Beem in a ‘bada’ volume. It was a very dim scene. “Shh! Not so loud,” I cautioned my wife placing a finger on my lips. She threw up her hands and disappeared into the kitchen shaking her head helplessly.
Eventually, the skies cleared up and the trees stood energetically bathed in the silvery rays of the bright sun. Looking at the dry earth, it was difficult to believe it was raining so hard till two days ago. “This is what I love about your State, Machi. It rains for days and weeks. Yet, water dries so fast!” he said standing below the neem tree, arms akimbo, surveying the skies. The enthusiasm, however, did not last long as Kochi Corporation stopped piped water citing some major breakdown. But, was it because of a real breakdown or scarcity?
The question became relevant because the very next day Kerala’s water resources minister K Krishnankutty informed the Assembly that distribution of piped water could be hit and water in the reservoirs won’t last beyond a week. With taps going dry, the flat dwellers in my apartment started pumping water from the well. But, our well has this weird habit. It won’t cede even a drop of water if you do not give it a decent 12-hour respite after every pumping lasting for an hour. But, it appeared, my friend was in no hurry to leave much to the consternation of my wife. “I am leaving for my mother’s house tomorrow. You can stay here hugging your friend,” she threatened.
“How can I tell my friend to leave, politely, without offending him?” I tossed and turned in the bed thinking aloud. In the end, I had to concede that I had neither the diplomacy nor the courage to get out of this trap. I closed my eyes, mentally deciding to buy and read the book ‘Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No’ at the earliest! I slept a fitful sleep and the last thing I wanted was a nightmare. But, it did happen anyway.
I saw myself in the middle of a vast, superhot desert. I was alone, tired, haggard and thirsty, dragging my feet in the desert sand. The merciless sun was beating on my head and back and my heels had developed blisters. The light was so blinding that I could see nothing. It looked like moonless dark night, except that it was orange in colour. I was feeling so thirsty I could drink up a whole river. But, there was not even a drop of water anywhere. Suddenly, I felt two hands tugging at my feet through the cavernous sand. Soon, like a snake that slithers into a hole, I disappeared into a bottomless abyss.
I woke up with a start, sweating profusely, panting and puffing. Strangely, I was feeling very thirsty! I reached for the jug and emptied the last drop of the water it contained in one go, wiped my face and mouth with the end of the blanket and went back to sleep. It was bit late when I woke up and my friend was sitting before a cup of coffee, reading newspaper. “That is it!” he said suddenly, tapping the newspaper with the back of his palm.
“What is it?” I could not conceal my curiosity. “It is raining heavily in Mumbai. I know God is kind. He won’t let us down!” he replied. “But, how does it help us in Kerala if it rains in Mumbai?” I wanted to ask him. But, before I could say anything, he took the mobile phone. “Dey Machan, there is no water here da…Anyway, you have been asking me to visit you for a long time. I think this is the time. See you soon da…” he closed the call, grinning widely. The fact that he would soon leave even without having me to broach the subject limbered me up. However, concealing my joy, I asked him innocently, “Who did you call up now?”
“Another friend like you, machan! Reservoirs may go dry. Monsoon may let us down, but good friends like you neither go dry nor let another friend down,” he said rather philosophically. He left with his family yesterday evening after staying for five days. I would love to have my revenge on him by barging into his house one day. But, I can do it only when Kochi too goes dry like Chennai. I don’t want this to happen though the monsoon that has stopped in its track is yet to come back. Overall, I am sort of defeated. The only silver-lining is that my wife is still with me. As threatened, she did not leave for her mother’s house.
(The writer is a senior journalist, political analyst and communication specialist)
Thursday, 04 July 2019 | TS Sreenivasa Raghavan
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