The train of events that follow after a pipe bursts…

‘I'm going to have a birdbath,’ my husband announced the other day. Brilliant, I responded in approval, taking his words literally to mean he was planning a bath using very little water. Great civic sense, to economise on the water since there had been a pipe burst just outside our house that had put our unpretentious road on all the newspapers.

The pipe burst was discovered early by my husband; er... not too early, about 7 in the morning; but then we aren't early birds and worms roam freely in our garden. He noticed a growing pool of water in the middle of the road and smartly deduced the cause. ‘Eureka!’ the shout sent us scampering for all the available buckets to place under various taps that had already begun the all too familiar gargle, cough and splutter routine which was the prelude to running dry.

Yes, we still do not have an overhead tank, tempting fate and confident in the ‘lowlyingness’ of the area to provide us with at least a trickle in one of the taps. In case you think it is very unfair we should have such a tap when the rest of the city has no water, let me reassure you that during floods, our area has ‘welcome’ written all over it and is one of the first to invite the dirty flood waters in. What you win on the roundabouts you lose on the swings....Sigh!

This pipe burst was special for us, since it happened practically at our doorstep. Paradoxically, along with the ‘oh, no, not another!’ feeling of consternation was one of joy for the locality.

The geographical closeness made us feel proud and possessive about it– ‘our very own pipe burst.’ Similar incidents had so far occurred only in other parts of the city. Such news travels faster than gossip about an elopement or a second marriage. The moment we heard, we would pump the source of the news to find out selfishly if our area would be affected and respond accordingly.

I remember the novelty of the first pipe burst. It was years ago and nobody believed it. A water pipe cracking in God’s own city with its tasty and perennial water supply? Nonsense! But the taps spewed air and the dismayed city was caught napping. Not too many houses had overhead tanks in those days and when the houses in higher areas lost water supply, people turned for help to houses in the low lying localities. Snobbery was forgotten as necessity built up camaraderie and water sharing began in earnest.

We have a well, so when water supply stopped completely, people from the neighbourhood began to arrive with buckets, pots and gossip. The old village well scenes got re-created as people gathered around, patiently waiting their turn to draw water as they shared news and views. The welcome sight of the tanker lorry bringing drinking water would bring an expectant glow to their faces.

Executing 50 metre dashes that would have put our sprinters to shame, everyone would leap out, shabby home attire, buckets and all, to form queues that, though not as disciplined as the ones outside liquor shops, were orderly all the same. Oh yes, it was enjoyable. But that pipe burst set the trend for a depressingly regular phenomenon. Uninterrupted water supply has now become a pipe dream.

‘A birdbath on the terrace,’ he continued. I was shocked. Why such exhibitionism? I was about to ask when I realised he meant an actual birdbath – for birds. Birds need water too, and well water would do, he hastily added when I protested we didn't have enough drinking water for ourselves. It was World Sparrow Day and this was his gift to the birds.

A makeshift terracotta pan filled with water was set up on an upturned pot. Just wait, he said, all the birds of the neighbourhood will be here.

True enough, we soon heard the sloshing sound of water being noisily splashed around. Sparrows! Delighted, we went up on tip toe to sneak a peek at the darlings. An unnatural, bloodcurdling cry followed by the sound of something heavy crashing down startled us into bounding to the terrace.

We were in time to see a huge crow squawking away to safety with an angry cat springing in hot pursuit and on the floor the birdbath rested on its watery grave in three irregular pieces. At that moment the taps began to whistle and wheeze the arrival of water.

(khyrubutter@yahoo.com)