Read Part 1 here: The Story of an Island.
Walking through the island i came across a hand pump in front of a mud house in the village of Idrakpur, filled my LifeStraw and took a sip. My confidence in LifeStraw’s ability to clean the water made me drink it, but not before the pungent odour reminded me of: “Water water everywhere, not a single drop to drink”.
Quite contrary to the claims of the villagers i had met about an hour ago, this water didn’t just taste and smell pungent, it was clearly not clear water. Infested with some kind of rotten particles that i observed only after that first sip, there were a hundred questions floating in my head already. Is this what is being claimed as clean water? Have habits changed taste so much that it would start to not matter to people that the water was dirty? This was actually the start of my observations of this changing behavioural trend amongst people, something that was really heart wrenching and definitely stomach cringing.
To confirm that this was not just a one-off case because the first hand pump did appear dirty, i tried drinking from more sources on the island only to come to the same conclusion yet again. I kept walking with these new observations in my head while i was stopped thrice in a matter of a few minutes (an entirely normal day while walking), but the third conversation is what stayed with me. Lying on jute mats inside a hut, 3 young men called out to me and asked, “what do you sell in this big orange bag of yours?”, to their disappointment that i wasn’t a salesman. “Then who’s house do you want to visit?”, following my refusal to sell anything and “Nobody comes here without a purpose” when i said i was just passing by. Continued conversations revealed that they did not have a constant supply of electricity, maybe a few hours in a day. I was asked to move ahead on asking a lot many questions, but not without observing the lack of hopes in the eyes and attitude of these young men.
I walked through the village and reached a point where the limited population had also thinned out, only a few houses here and there. What seemed to be a new structure on the right side of the road was supposedly dysfunctional, owing to the silliest reason i have ever heard. Installed about a year ago, this water treatment plant meant for and i quote “Iron, Arsenic and Batceria Treatment” has worked for a total of 8 days in its one year of existence. While i assumed erratic electricity supply to be the main culprit, tiny lizards is what i was told to be the reason for the shutdown. So, on an island with contaminated water and irregular water supply stood the expenditure (proof) of a people repeatedly failed by those they trust in. What the men had said earlier, “Nobody comes here without a purpose”, was possibly an unintended pointer towards 5 year visits. I moved on with the knowledge that people with a water treatment plant (dysfunctional) had to buy canned water for drinking purposes, about 25 rupees per can (maybe 500 rupees on water every month for a family of 3-4).
There’s a world of surprise as to how people survive and how gracefully do they manage to do it, sadly with an acceptance of the subversion of their rights and still smiling through everything to help a stranger.
Moving Upstream is our homegrown project, a four-month walk along the Ganga from the sea to the source being undertaken by Siddharth Agarwal. He is accompanied by a team of researchers and and film-makers that is working to create a multifaceted experience revolving around the river. For more from the project visit: www.veditum.org/moving-upstream, and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more frequent updates.