In these days of drought, declining water table and lakes going dry, Mulbagal town has discovered a treasure, says water activist S. Vishwanath

In the small town of Mulbagal in Kolar District, an NGO drove a water project for some years based on the Integrated Urban Water Management approach. One of the key ingredients to the success of the project was the de-silting of a large step-well, called a ‘kalyani’. The step-well is adjacent to a temple and the reason for it being filled with garbage and debris is not known. The de-silting and cleaning was an affair of great pride for the town and especially the Councillor of the area.

In the warm month of March, one saw boys diving and swimming in the rather green waters! The high groundwater table in the town ensures that there is water for swimming. Clearly the festival of Holi is an everyday event here in the well.

Beyond the formal flow

Water in a town is not to be seen and planned only as a functional engineering construct meant to flow through pipes and be distributed by pumps. Water is a recreational, aesthetic, ecological and even spiritual a material.

Swimming pools are few and far between in India and for many a luxury they can ill afford. Hundreds of boys and girls in rural India and in small and medium towns have therefore learnt the art of swimming in open, dug wells. With a declining water table there are no more swimming lessons to be learnt and fun had. An entire generation has lost a very significant experience of water. In the midst of this gloomy picture, Mulbagal has discovered a treasure serendipitously.

Close by to the town we come across a full well of water. A tank above stores and recharges water from a rock catchment and recharges the aquifer. A villager informs us that the name of the well is “round well.” It is always full and people come from miles to just have a swim and enjoy the pleasure of dunking oneself and splashing in its blue-green waters.

Value

Is there a value attached to such human activities and their loss through a collapsing water table? Should we not attach the same importance to the non-functional aspects of water which are good for the soul rather than only concentrating on the functional aspects of consumption in taps?

The festival of Holi has just come and gone. With drought prevailing in many parts of the country there were calls for subdued celebrations and for a ‘dry’ Holi. For children and the young the essence of Holi is the splashing of coloured water on each other. Should we as a society go on a guilt trip about this one beautiful experience? What it calls for is wise planning and prudent usage.

This monsoon be prepared to harvest the rain, in tanks, in lakes and in the aquifers. Individually and collectively let us stop polluting water bodies and treat them with respect.

Let the children have the experience of water which is not of shortage and worry but one of plenty and fun. Let them swim in the full wells of life.

That would be water wisdom.

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