Sathyanesan who is better known as Shashi is a difficult person to catch hold of. “It has been a busy couple of months. As people are facing water problems, more and more people are digging wells.”
And that is where 51-year-old Shashi comes in. He is a well digger. An eighth standard dropout, Shashi learnt the art of digging wells by watching well diggers at work. “I was a manual labourer at first, doing odd jobs. One day, I saw a man digging a well and thought to myself that learning this skilled trade would be useful in future. I started learning under a man called Andai at the age of 18. Once I was confident, I moved out and started working on my own,” says Shashi, who lives at Marathur with his wife, Kamalam, and his son and his family.
While work was just enough to feed his family then, the last couple of years, he says, has been lucrative. “I was in Sreekariyam yesterday and today and tomorrow I have work near my place. Last week I was in Vizhinjam and Shanghamughom.”
Shashi does only hand dug wells. “I don’t do bore wells. You need a separate set of skills for bore wells.” Those who have a bit of land prefer hand dug wells, says Shashi. “The water from hand dug wells is softer and purer.”
Although most observe Vaastu before digging a well, the belief is fast fading due to lack of space and the need for water mounting, says Shashi.
So, how does he know where to dig? “To be honest, I can’t really say. I have this intuition as to where to dig for water.” Shashi usually starts his work at 7.30 a.m. and ends it by 2.30 p.m. He generally works in a team of two and if the diameter and depth of the well he is digging is more, he brings in more people. “It takes a minimum of eight to 10 days to dig a well,” he says. He is quick to add that there are no youngsters in the field. “There’s a high level of risk involved in the job. Although, by God’s grace I have never faced any major injuries apart from some scrapes and bruises, I discouraged my son, Ranjith from following my footsteps; he is a mason. Also, youngsters have this misconception that it’s a low-paying job,” says Shashi who charges according to the amount of work involved and earns at least Rs. 1,500 per day.
Apart from digging wells, Shashi also cleans wells. He also does odd jobs to sustain his livelihood during dry months. The man who tries to ensure he has lunch at home enjoys spending his time with church activities and with his family. “My son has two children, Abhijeet and Asha. I usually spend time with them.”
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)