Jul-Aug 2011: the Last Page - Water Conversations




There is this sneaky intruder always trying to and conduct my conversations. He has an image of how I should converse, constantly asking – do I come across as informed and as witty as Barack Obama? Do I have the macho-James-Bond flair? He constantly tries to posit what I say in some notion of urban-coolness. When better sense  prevails, and I break free from this Zubin Mehta of conversations, I realize that, more often than not, his orchestration drowns what I say, hear and feel in irrelevance.

There is a school where my colleague and I worked with the kids on “water”. We  identified all places on the campus where water was used and then experimented to determine how much water was used say, in the toilet, or to wash plates. From the cook, we learnt how much water was used to cook lunch. To figure out how much water was needed for the garden or to wash the bus, we talked with the gardener, and the bus driver. A dialogue with the electrician-cum-plumber helped us map the sump, pipes and pump system that brought water to the taps. An exciting discovery followed: where did we get the water from? Apparently, it was from Shivanna’s tanker. So we piled into the bus and went to Shivanna’s place, a km. away, where he told us about the bore well through which he pumped water. He told us how he had to dig new ones as the old bores dried and how it was getting more difficult for him to pump the water out. He told us how his livelihood had changed from being a farmer to vending water and leasing his land. He also showed us an open well – “which used to give water 30 years back.” It was now dry. He showed us a dry bore well, from which the motor had been removed. We then had a  conversation with the bore well. We dropped a stone down the pipe, and kept an ear against it listening to the whining, sonorous sound it made as it went down. It went on and on… “The borewell is so deeeep,” observed everybody. Through conversations, we learnt about not only water but also its history in Bangalore in
the last few decades.

While this was a course on water we supposedly created, in retrospect, the conversational space as its primary medium was not something we foresaw, let alone designed. It just happened. And I don’t presume the notion of relevance to be just about water, it can be about anything at all. When unshackled from the intruder-in-my-head, my conversation is simple, refreshingly stupid, and uncool. It is free too, and that freedom has a way of knowing what’s relevant.

Recently, I was unlocking my door at the end of a long working day, and a pair of eyes peered at me from my neighbour’s. A family had moved in next door a week back, and I was yet to befriend them. The new-little-boy-next-door was more eager to make friends with me than I or his parents were to get to know each other. Then I realized that I had gotten to know Hari and Divya on the ground floor, primarily because of their 2 year old son Ishayu. Ahmed, 8th standard, I often bowled to while he played cricket in the basement and I was picking up my motorbike. A few weeks of this, and, now Hari, Ahmed and I often play cricket together. Ayush, the 10-month old baby of our watchman Naveen gives me an irresistible smile each time I park the bike and we converse without uttering a word - a series of contorted faces can make for refreshingly free flowing talk!

I realize how uptight, censored and selective I am sometimes with the conversations I begin, how burdened by the politics of adulthood in my choice of who to converse with and what to converse about. And thankfully sometimes, with gut-wrenching vehemence, I want to reclaim this space, as a space of engagement, freedom and relevance. I want to hold a water conversation with my neighbour-kid and the water-tanker-wala.

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