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Updated: June 14, 2013 15:54 IST

A quarry for water

PRINCE FREDERICK
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RECEPTACLE FOR RAINWATER An abandoned quarry in Tirisulam
RECEPTACLE FOR RAINWATER An abandoned quarry in Tirisulam

Numerous families in Tirisulam and Pallavaram are drawn to unlikely sources for washing and bathing

Harbour Hill, a hillock in Tirisulam that is integral to an abandoned stone quarry, draws numerous families for its perennial supply of water — rainwater that has accumulated in a huge and deep receptacle of stone. Without percolation points, it remains filled with water through the year. Groups of people wash their clothes and bathe in the kuttai, as the water body is called.

Besides the one at Harbour Hill, other kuttais at other abandoned quarries around Tirisulam and Pallavaram serve as water sources for the locals.

Volunteering information about the Harbour Hill kuttai, they weave a multi-threaded story of unchecked facts and uncontrolled fantasies. When a man explains that neatly cut stones were transported to the harbour around 100 years ago, another contests it.

Conflicting accounts may obscure its history, but there can be no two opinions about its usefulness to families around the area. Samudram, living a stone’s throw away, explains that a thousand families wash and bathe in its placid waters. “Scarcity of water drives people from others areas to this water body,” she says.

Returning early next morning, I notice people lugging buckets of unwashed clothes to the kuttai. It’s around half past six and Prem Kumar, who travels to Perambur for work, gallops though the chore, assisted by his sister Diana. Says his sister, “People come here as early as 3 a.m.!”

Gandhi, a resident of Tirisulam for 35 years, explains that the charm of Harbour Hill goes beyond its usefulness to the local community. “Scenes of many films have been shot here,” he says, and adds that adventure seekers are another group that is drawn to this abandoned quarry as well as the others. “For some, adventure results in death. The deepest portions of a kuttai can range anywhere between 40 ft and 100 ft. Every six months, a case of death by drowning is reported.”

The unfortunate ones are invariably outsiders without a clue about the varying depths around the kuttai. “They dive at various places and some suffer head injuries,” says Muthu, who has spent 30 years in Tirisulam.

Beyond the common facts, every abandoned stone quarry with its kuttai has a character. About the one in Tirisulam that is called Tattangundu, Muthu says, “Its name derives from the fact that Army personnel engage in shooting practice here and the locals habitually look for the fired bullets (gundu).”

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