It is a sight that is becoming rarer by the day. In a few years, it may just become one of the many things that used to happen in the past: bullock carts supplying water to roadside shops and a few homes.

It is a sight that is becoming rarer by the day. In a few years, it may just become one of the many things that used to happen in the past: bullock carts supplying water to roadside shops and a few homes.

In Ranganathapuram, West Tambaram, there are five men engaged in the task of drawing water from a huge public well and delivering them in bullock carts. This is the only job these men have ever had. The well caters to the requirements of residents in five wards .

Some decades ago, there were more than a dozen men engaged in the profession, but all but five have not now retired. The current five too, are on their last legs, unable to cope with the stress and rigour the job demands.

For M. Toufiq and N.Kuppan, the day begins at 4 a.m. They draw water in 20-litre cans, 20 times – a gruelling process – to fill the two 200-litre drums on their bullock carts. They repeat the process every time they run out. They make four trips until 9 a.m. and three trips in the evening.

 A 200-litre drum costs Rs. 100. A can of water is sold for a paltry few rupees.

The years of work have resulted in permanent bruises and scars on their palms and the back of their fingers. To draw water, they crouch, placing their legs on the well’s parapet wall for support. As a result, their knee caps have been severely affected.

 Nagoor Gani, a former municipal councillor, says while residents can fill their cans with water from pipes, the bullock cart owners have no option but to draw water as this is their livelihood.

Water supplied Mr. Kuppan and Mr. Toufiq is used by nearly all small-time eateries, roadside shops and tea stalls in West Tambaram, apart from a few residents in need.

 “I have been doing this for more than 30 years and cannot think of another job. I bought a new bull for Rs. 18,000 last year. On cattle feed alone, we spend Rs. 150 per day. We do not earn much. It has taken a toll on our health. But our children have gone to college and are looking at a better future. The satisfaction we derive in supplying water to people day after day, though, is immense,” Mr. Kuppan says.

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