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Updated: June 14, 2013 15:54 IST

Of water and stone

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An abandoned quarry in Tirisulam
An abandoned quarry in Tirisulam

Numerous families in Tirisulam and Pallavaram are drawn to abandoned quarries for washing and bathing

In a city perennially short of water, abandoned stone quarries have become a lifeline for many people living in areas such as Tirisulam and Pallavaram. Take Harbour Hill at Tirisulam, for instance. Numerous families use the waters in the deep receptacle of stone in this hillock to bathe and wash clothes.

This waterbody is the subject of many myths. While one man claims that it was formed after neatly cut stones were transported to the harbour around 100 years ago, another hotly contested this.

Conflicting accounts aside, there are 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 the placid water. “Scarcity of water drives people from other areas to this water body,” she says.

Early in the morning, I notice people lugging buckets of unwashed clothes to the waterbody, which is called a kuttai. It’s around half past six and Prem Kumar, who travels to Perambur for work, rushes through the chore, assisted by his sister Diana. Says Diana: “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 drawn to this abandoned quarry. “For some, adventure results in death. The deepest points 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 of the kuttai. “They dive at various places and some sustain head injuries,” says Muthu, who has spent 30 years in Tirisulam.

Every abandoned stone quarry with its kuttai has a character. Says Muthu about one in Tirisulam called Tattangundu: “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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