The Commune: Zen and the Art of Rainwater Harvesting

Dear Friends,

In 2005, I got on a train from Mumbai to Vaitarna with a few classmates from the media course I was pursuing at Sophia College. We travelled north on a two and a half hour journey, armed with apples and sandwiches. It was an early morning departure to ensure that we could make the 166 km round trip and return to the city by night. We were searching for one of the sources of water that supplies part of the 14.47 lakh million litres of water that Mumbai needs. Shots of the Vaitarna lake and the huge pipelines that run parallel to the train track were to feature in the film we were making on rainwater harvesting, titled Yere Yere Pausa (Come, Come Rain).

It was the first time I had any real sense of just how far water travelled to reach me—water that I’d access at the turn of a tap. As someone who had done a lot of growing up in and around hotels where my father worked, my relationship to water was one of ease and excess. I’d always taken it for granted, rarely giving the 300 litre guzzling bathtubs in hotel rooms a second thought. Now living in a student hostel, I’d become familiar with water cuts that had us packed off to our local guardians. This, in a year where Mumbai witnessed one of the worst floods in its history on July 26. It seemed ironic.  

That was 2005. India’s water crisis has only deepened in the past 15 years. According to the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas report by the World Resources Institute, India ranks 13th among the 17 countries identified as having “extremely high water stress”.  A few years ago, Shimla was discouraging tourists from travel because it was facing an acute crisis, and last summer, Chennai ran out of water. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report, by 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, and crippling for millions of people who already live with severe scarcity. 

Yet, the crisis doesn’t quite feel urgent or immediate for much of the middle and upper class for whom it is still easily accessible, and often wastefully consumed. Environmental scientist and writer, Donella Meadows, writes about how we need to revisit sufficiency and ‘the concept of “enough”. Enough people and enough to support each person fully, but not to ridiculous excess […] Sufficiency is something else again; it is a matter not of quantity, but of quality, not of technology, but of moderation, equity, morality.’

We explore these themes of equity and moderation in our podcast this week, ‘Zen and the Art of Rainwater Harvesting‘ where we talk to water conservation expert, S. Vishwanath on the varied roles water plays in our lives and how we can begin to heal our relationship with this resource. Accompanying it is co-founder Arpita’s writing on ‘Building Water Resilient Cities’, on the increasing water crisis in Indian cities and why we need to rethink how we consume. We’ve also put together a resource, ‘Harvesting the Monsoon’ on ways in which to become more conscious of our water-use by choosing small actions and changes, and then slowly expanding on them.

Hope you’re well and we look forward to hearing from you.

(Team TCC)

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