Garden Update

March 28, 2013

Amit being the never-say-die kind of person, after we successfully saw two pots of petunias into their grave, he went right out and bought a third one. This time, we were smarter. Instead of planting the plant, we left it in the pot. The thinking was, if it doesn’t do well with too much sunlight, we can move it somewhere else until we find a place that’s just right. And when it looks quite settled and happy in a place, we can plant it, and then if it dies, it’s probably unhappy about being taken out of its pot, or it doesn’t like the new (and fairly lifeless) soil it finds itself in.

The thing is, this creature is looking so radiant right now, in its pot, in sunlight, just around the corner from where the other one died, that I don’t have the heart to disturb it. Maybe we’ll just leave it alone for a while.

Everything else in the garden is doing well – or at least holding its own. The cannas have new plants and new leaves. The frangipani had two of its leaves callously knocked off by the workers who are putting some finishing touches on the house; but it went on to give no less than four new leaves from the other dead-looking stump. The curry patta has another set of tiny green leaves. One of the neem trees is growing so fast it’s scary (the other one seems to have stalled). The three bougainvilleas are in various stages of growth, one full of leaves, one full of flowers, and the third with very few of either, but still alive, still growing. I had placed some verbena and pink flower pots near the jasmine, but the jasmine didn’t seem to like being crowded – its flowers went a sulky brown color – so I moved them away and now it’s looking a little happier. Amit bought and planted some geraniums – the first thing he’s been able to plant here – and they’re doing ok so far.

The only other matter of any interest is the lemon tree. One day I found several of its leaves missing. They didn’t look as if they’d fallen off, and the plant didn’t look as if it were shedding leaves, so I thought they’d been eaten. Sure enough, when I called Amit and we both looked more closely, we found no less than three caterpillars sitting on the leaves, eating their way through the plant. Amit plucked them off and, much to my horror, gave them to the kids to hold. I suppose it’s a good thing – they might grow up with none of the squeamishness about creepy-crawlers (as Mrini calls them) that I have.

Amit got the girls to toss the fat, green caterpillars into the drain outside our house, where they will surely die. Then he spoke to a friend, who told him that if he’d left them alone they’d have turned into butterflies before they ate up the entire tree and guess what? The guy felt so bad for the poor little fat, green creepy-crawlers, that he actually went hunting for them, found one, and put it back on the lemon tree.

What a nutcase! First you dislodge the thing from its home, you give it to the kids, you throw it in the gutter… and then you get all humanitarian and bring it back!?!
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By evening, it was gone and only the missing leaves were left to testify to its existence. The next morning Tara saw a butterfly and concluded that the process of metamorphosis was complete and I refrained from pointing out to her that in the world of a million butterflies, there was no way of being sure which particular caterpillar had led to the existence of one particular butterfly. Especially since our friend informed us that this particular caterpillar was a common Mormon variety, which has kind of black stripes, and the one Tara saw was, she said, green.

In other news, the bandicoots that we had so heartlessly dislodged from the back yard have also been invited back by Amit after he considered how cruel it was to remove an animal from its natural environment.

Ok, ok, just kidding (though I’d better not suggest it to him, why give him ideas?). They have not been invited back, and in fact they have been successfully kept at bay by means of the outdoor lights that remain on from dusk to dawn. Yesterday I spotted a dead rat in an empty plot a couple of houses away from ours. If I were Tara, I’d have concluded that one of our bandicoots was now a widow, or, possibly, a widower, but I thought that the dead rat looked a bit smaller than the bandicoots (or very big rats) that we’d been sharing our land with.

Our beautiful lawn, meanwhile, is looking decidedly dry, yellow, and dispirited. Clearly our household water consumption is not generating sufficient gray water for the lawn to flourish. And given the water crisis that’s being loudly announced (with much glee, it appears) in the news, I obviously can’t spend any white water on the lawn. So there’s nothing to be done but to join the rest of the country in praying for rain – and it’s not even April yet.

And now – back to work. Apart from office work that’s keeping me rather busy these days, I have also started work on my next book, which I aim to complete by the end of May. If you’ve lost track of how many books I’ve written, don’t worry, so have I. One day there’ll be a Wikipedia page on me and then you can go and look it up. 🙂 Of course, I don’t have a publisher for this latest work yet; in fact, I don’t even have a publisher for the previous one yet. And the two that I do have contracts for are still far from seeing the light of day. But so what? To keep working when you don’t know if your work will ever be seen (forget about appreciated or rewarded) is one of the big challenges of life.


Thank God for Work

March 21, 2013

There are many reasons not to like work. It breaks up the holiday that life would otherwise be. It makes life hectic and full of drudgery. It makes you stay up till well after your bedtime and then get out of bed at some ungodly hour the next day. It makes you have miles to drive before you sleep.

There’s more. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s tedious. Sometimes it’s difficult or irritating or frustrating, or nervous-making, or something you just plain don’t want to do. Sometimes there’s too much and – strange as it may seem – sometimes there’s too little and that’s a problem too.

But all the same, I’m glad I work – and for all the reasons to not like work, I can think of only two reasons I’m happy to work.

The first is obvious – it brings home the bread, the jam, the bacon and everything else that keeps our family going. Even (or especially) the lavish meals out and the lovely vacations.

That, in itself, outweighs all the reasons to dislike work. So what comes next is not required to tilt the scales, but it still does, and heavily at that.

Work takes me out of myself. It takes me out of my petty world of me and mine and immerses me in the inexorable, impersonal, unfathomable machinery of the rest of the world.

Take today. I woke up feeling tired, frustrated, and irritated. I had a headache even before I got out of bed. There was still no morning help, and I had little motivation to work my way through the ton of housework and chores waiting for my attention. And I forgot to send money with the kids to school, which carries the disastrous consequence that they will not be bringing home the annual whatever book thingie that their school is putting together.

But I had to get to work, anyway, and I had to make it more-or-less on time. I couldn’t afford to get back in bed, pull the covers over my head, and drown in my self-pity. There was work I was committed to doing, people waiting for me to do my bit.

So I put on my office clothes, picked up my office bag, dug out my office face, and dragged myself off to work, cursing every driver who got in my way.

And work, given half a day or so, had its usual soothing effect. My troubles – such as they were – faded away, and with them went my frustration, my irritation, and even my headache. I had a job to do and it sucked me in, as it always did. By the end of the day, I had the satisfaction that only an honest day’s work gives.

It’s not as if when I got back home in the evening everything was miraculously ok and all my former frustrations and irritations were good and gone – they weren’t – but at least for a good eight hours I had no time for them. And that’s saying a lot.

There have been times in my life when I haven’t had a job – either due to circumstances or by choice. I’ve survived those times too. But it’s hard. It’s always easier, despite the stress of time, despite the difficulty of multi-tasking and prioritizing and having multiple demands on your time, it’s always easier when you have a job to run away to. Yes, it is “running away” at times, it is a kind of escape. At work, you’re in a different world and it’s easier to switch off your personal life, and all that it brings with it. It’s hard, when you’re home full time, to get away from yourself when you need to. It’s hard to appreciate a weekend when every day is Sunday. It’s hard to appreciate time when it hangs heavy on your hands. It’s hard to enjoy your space when you have a vast empty expanse of it.

And how much satisfaction would I really get from a perfectly tended house and garden (and family) if it were the only thing I did, the be all and end all of my existence?

I know women who don’t work and would love to. I know women who work and would be happy not to. I know women who don’t work and don’t want to. It takes all sorts and there’s no right answer. There are times when I think I’d rather be one of the others – not working and happy not to. But it just takes a day like today to remind me of who I really am. Despite all the reasons to not like to work, I like to work and I’m glad to be able to.


These Are The Days

March 18, 2013

One of my earliest blog posts recalled the idyllic days of my own childhood.

As some of you know, my journey to motherhood was not an easy one.

These days, especially in the last six months since we’ve moved into our new home, on so many occasions the realization has been amazingly sharp, crystal clear to me. These are the days. These are the golden days of childhood, my children’s childhood. I hope they will remember these days as golden when they grow up, the way I recall my growing up years. But I know that, whatever memories they may or may not retain of these days, to me, right here, right now, these are the golden days. These are the days where everything I longed for when I dreamt of having a family coincides at the golden section with my own rose coloured, sepia tinted memories of childhood.

And increasingly, it centres around the lawn.

There are moments, when I see my two girls racing down the lawn, long hair flying, giggles floating over them like speech bubbles, that I just stop and wish I had a video recorder in my mind, to record the moment with everything in it, the exact shade of light, the exact sound of feet rustling through grass, the exact feeling of lighthearted joy, the exact sense of… I don’t know what.

I’d need a video camera that is capable to summing up the whole to something much more than the sum of the parts.

At first, the lawn was a lake of mud and sand and Amit had started to play football with the girls (an unimaginably unequal contest). Then we planted grass and everyone was forbidden from setting foot on the lawn, much to Amit’s chagrin (the kids were rather more understanding about it, though not as compliant). Now that the grass has sprung up quite a bit, we’ve (I’ve) relaxed the rules somewhat. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve discovered (or, in my case, rediscovered) the joy of a family game of badminton in one’s own front lawn. The kids have discovered the sheer exuberance of “running race” up and down the length of the lawn, ten or fifteen times at a stretch late in the evening, in the dark, barefoot. Amit and I have discovered that beer is just as enjoyable in the lawn as it used to be in the verandah. And of course, the kids have found that the top of the gatepost is a good place to sit and watch the world go by.

Our fledgling lawn is far from perfect, though. It’s been through a lot in its life already. It’s been trodden upon, starved for water, flooded, and – worst of all – founded on a layer of cement dust. It has recently had 50 kilos of horribly rough and dry compost thrown on it at random. It’s full of stones, bits of wood, tambaccoo wrappers and other inorganic matter, and – horror of horrors – cigarette butts, thanks to a callous neighbor who smokes in the corner of his tiny balcony and tosses the squashed butts over the wall.

And of course, we have no gardener and our efforts at growing flowers have not been a ravishing success thus far.

For me, based on my own growing up years, a proper lawn has to be lined with trees, at least a dozen of them. Of course, this is no government bungalow and trees take years to grow. The two that we have as of now are not even knee high. By the time we plant three or four trees in the next monsoon, the kids will be seven. By the time the trees grow up enough so you can climb into them and sit on their branches, they’ll be 27. We might even be grandparents by then (good lord!).

Luckily, we have a neighbor – the same whose bougainvillea I have enticed over to our side of the fence. Which would also be the same neighbor whose mango tree benevolently arches into our airspace laden with fruit that can be easily accessed from our balcony. This mango tree, for now, serves the same purpose that the dozen or so fruit trees served in the garden of eden of my childhood. That is, to be climbed.

It started like this. There’s the wall, and atop the wall there’s a wire fence. When we play badminton, our lawn being the long and narrow driveway variety, the shuttlecock obviously makes regular forays into the neighbour’s property. At first, Amit and I insisted that the kids go all the way out the gate, along the road, look for the caretaker and request permission to enter, go into the neighbour’s property and then retrieve the shuttlecock. All very proper and correct. Obviously, this didn’t last very long. We had some friends over and the kids were playing out in the lawn and when the shuttlecock sailed over the wall, one of the kids (a boy, obviously) quickly clambered over the wall to get it. And after that there was no turning back. Amit and I protested feebly but after a while it just seemed futile, so we gave up and let them.

The next step the girls improvised all on their own. It was to climb up on to the wall, walk along the top gripping the fence, reach the tree and climb into it. Then they figured out they could hang from it like monkeys, travelling down a limb hand over hand and dropping to the ground from something over 7 ft high – since it is a little above Amit’s head. They also figured out that they could climb higher into the tree and settle comfortably into the fork between branches, or sprawl along the length of a branch like a panther at sunset.

In the government houses I grew up in, I had a dozen different fruit trees at my disposal, one for every mood, one for every occasion. Here, there’s just one, and it isn’t even really in our house. But at least there is one and we didn’t have to wait 20 years for it.

There are so many things I want to pass on to, or share with, my children – swimming, baking, numbers, photography, travel, history, music, writing, knitting, reading, dogs… to name a few. But at least one of the things on that list has now started. I don’t have a name for it, really – playing outdoors, running, climbing trees, what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that one happy sunshine part of my childhood has now become a reality for my children as well. What could be more satisfying than that?

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And Then There Were Rats

March 13, 2013

Or, perhaps, bandicoots. I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter. They’re all rats to me.

See, it’s not as if I’ve never seen a rat before. When I was growing up in Chandigarh and Panchkula, we had enough close encounters of the rodent kind to fill a book. But the thing is, we had three dogs back then. Two of them were fairly good at catching rats. And I also had my mother and sister around – for moral support. Whenever a rat appeared, all three of us would jump six feet vertically upwards, and then scurry to climb on to the nearest accessible surface. And of course, my father would be there, or could be relied upon to turn up shortly. Handling the rats was his department – if the dogs failed. Or even, come to think of it, if they succeeded. Our oldest dog would occasionally lay one of his kills at my father’s feet with an expression of haughty pride and self-satisfaction, clearly expecting the highest accolades.

After I got married and moved out of those rat-infested government bungalow, I rarely encountered any four-legged rodents. In fact, it would not be stretching the truth to say that I pretty much forgot about them. Until a couple of weeks ago. That was when we started noticing these gaping holes in our back yard. Our back yard is a bit of a mess right now. When we moved in, the wooden crates that Amit had used for his vegetable garden were dumped in the back yard. We planted the hibiscus and the lemon tree in front of the wooden crates, but they did nothing to improve matters. And when the gaping holes began to appear, I noticed that some of them gaped right under the stack of wooden crates. What’s more, the blue plastic sheets that held the compost in the crates were beginning to look rather, well, ratty. The conclusion was pretty easy to draw.

When we first moved in here, we had a canine infestation. Stray dogs would get in over the walls and had taken to knocking over the compost pots, probably looking for edible content. All they got for their pains was a mouthful of maggots. All we got, for their pains, was unbreakable metal covers with spokes in them, which dug down into the pot and hence the lid could not be dislodged so easily anymore. We didn’t stop at that, though. We shored up our defences and made our property largely dog-proof. Predators stay out. Rodents, come on in and make yourselves at home.

It wasn’t until Amit was putting the garbage into the compost pot on Monday night that things came to a head. The back door was open, I was in the kitchen, handing him the containers with kitchen waste, he was outside, barefoot, emptying the containers into the compost pot. We were just barely arm’s length away from each other. The light was on – both inside the house and outside. I heard him shout. I grabbed the door and quickly banged it shut. Then, I saw the creature scuttling past. Good lord, it was big!

Now we’ve been married 15 years, so it’s easily that long since I last came face to face with a real live rodent – discounting the small field mice that have picnicked (and sometimes held midnight feasts) on my groceries during my treks. So I really don’t remember how big the rats I grew up with used to be. I think some of them used to be pretty big – about the size of a puppy or at least a small kitten. Those were called “goose” in Chandigarh, which probably equates to what I hear is called bandicoots. I do remember catching some rats in the old-fashioned wire traps – wire mesh cages with a trap door. I remember their tails sticking out when they got locked in. I remember my father taking them for a morning walk, depositing them in a field somewhere. Apparently, unlike cats, pigeons, and some dogs, rats aren’t homing animals, they don’t easily find their way back.

Anyway, having a bandicoot scoot across his bare feet scared the living daylights out of Amit. So Tuesday morning saw us struggling to upturn the broken down wooden crates. The outcome was more or less as expected. Two huge rodents scuttled out of the wreckage and lumbered across the back yard. They were so big and heavy, they needed a stepping stone to get on to the fence and though a stepping stone was to be found conveniently nearby, in the shape of a built-in, covered box for storing dry leaves, they both needed two attempts to get onto it. A dog or a cat would have been onto them long before they got away. In fact, if we hadn’t been so busy jumping six feet in the air and clutching on to each other and falling over our feet to get out of their way, we might have been able to nail them with a well-aimed stone.

Anyway, having dismantled their mansions on Tuesday morning, I spent the evening soaking their beds in gray water. I’m not very sure of the preferences of bandicoots, but I’m hoping that a wet mattress is not to their liking. Amit also turned on no less than four lights outdoors and kept them on all night – and this is a guy who cribs if an 8 Watt bulb is left on for an extra five minutes, so you can imagine how he felt about that.

Then I called the pest control guys, who said they would get back to me, but didn’t.

Then I emailed CUPA to find out if they have any cats available. Haven’t heard back from them yet, either.

Then, this morning, I saw a big fat tabby cat casually stroll across our lawn. Obviously I rushed out and shouted “pussy, pussy, pussy,” at it, but to no avail. It gave me the briefest of glances before casually leaping off the wall into the neighbours’ lawn and disappearing from sight. The kids spotted it again, later, grooming itself atop a fence. This time I rushed out and placed a saucer of milk closeby, but again to no avail. It completed its grooming and languidly strolled away without even sparing a glance for the milk. Sigh. I probably need to fetch some caviar and cream cheese for the creature. Cats come with attitude too, these days.

I had been charged with the task of obtaining a rat trap, but I haven’t managed to make any progress on that front yet. I’m not very motivated, either. For one thing, I’m more interested in keeping them bandicoots away than in luring them into my garden in the fond hope of catching them. I’m also not very convinced that the trap is of a size appropriate for bandicoots. I have every expectation that in the morning we will find the food gone, the trap closed and nary a bandicoot in sight. And they’ll be back for more treats the next day, friends and family in tow.

So – what does one do about these repulsive rodents? Any suggestions?

Amit says we should move into an apartment on the 22nd floor, but somehow I don’t think that’s realistic today.


Life of Pi

March 7, 2013

Sometimes, without realizing it, a perfect gem just slides past you, or lies around unnoticed for years. It’s not that I’ve had Life of Pi lying around at home unnoticed and unopened; but it could easily have been that way. In fact, it was lying around in the world, in bookshops, in the news, in movie halls now, and was still unnoticed and unopened by me.

And that’s what friends are for. To quietly gift you one of the many such unnoticed gems of life.

When Christina gave me Life of Pi as a birthday gift, I knew that if she liked something enough to get it as a gift for me, it was probably something I wanted to read right away. So I did. In fact, I opened the book as soon as she left and read the first two pages and I liked it already. It still took me another week and another delicious weekend before I could properly get into it and get to the end of it.

For a book that should by rights be somewhat slow, even tedious, it was surprisingly enthralling and hugely unputdownable. It’s clear, if you know anything about the book, or even if you just read the blurb on the back, that it’s the story of a shipwreck. It’s also clear from the beginning that the survivor survived to tell the story. All the same, I couldn’t wait to find out how. I wanted to know all the gory, grisly details, and the book did not disappoint. In fact, some of the portrayals sounded so genuine that one of the first things I did when I finished the book was to check whether the story was in fact a documentary of a real-life incident or not. I was slightly surprised but nonetheless quite satisfied to discover it was not – it was fiction through and through. That was good, though – the tale was too incredible to be true (all they say about fact being stranger than fiction notwithstanding).

I loved the humour in the book, especially in the early chapters, where context is being set and tragedy is yet to come. I normally avoid books that talk about religion because it’s boring to read someone else’s opinion on religion, but not so here. The religious aspects were laid out in such a candid and incredulous manner that you couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

On the whole, I’m not very fond of allegorical works. Perhaps I haven’t read enough of them. The only one that comes to mind is the Narnia Chronicles and I really would have preferred that series if the allegorical aspects had been vastly underplayed and the books had concerned themselves purely with the adventure. The fantabulous Harry Potter series, for instance… could be taken to be allegorical, but they are such a good read even if you completely ignore the understated understory.

Not so here. The allegory is very much there, and you would have to work very hard to ignore it. But, you don’t really want to ignore it, because it’s so well done. It’s not quite in your face – the adventure stands on its own even without the allegorical interpretation – but it’s clearly brought out at the end, point clearly made. I like that it’s not too perfect either, not an absolute parallel. I like that there are many ways of reading it. Who, exactly, does Richard Parker represent? Who does the inebriated crew represent? And what was all that about meerkats?

After a long time, here’s a book I definitely want to read a second time.

And yes, I want to watch the movie too.


The Current Tally

March 4, 2013

So here’s a list of what all I’ve planted so far:

Two purple, one white, and one orange bougainvillea
Two petunias
Two frangipani which might be counted as one
Four canna lilies, of which two in the reed bed (supposed to be hydroponic)
Two neem trees
Curry patta
Hibiscus
Lemon tree
A chickoo seed
Three pots of verbena not planted, still in their pots
One Jasmine creeper

Here’s the list of the casualties, so far:
The orange bougainvillea – the poor thing was planted right on top of the foundation of the boundary wall. Even so, it might have survived – the other three have survived and are beginning to flourish – but when I took this one out of the bag it was in, the soil was so wet it fell apart in my hands and the entire root was exposed. I think that was the beginning of the end for this poor thing, but the end of the end was the flooding it received when the tank was emptied out. Amit says it simple fell out of the ground – it hadn’t taken root at all. Oh, well. Certainly not the first boug to have died under my care. Sob.

One lot of petunias. We put one lot in the sun – since common wisdom has it that flowers need sun – and the other lot in the shade. What do you think happened? The one in the sun withered up and died after a couple of weeks. The one in the shade flourished. Unfortunately, only the leaves; it gave no more flowers. I’ve moved it to a bright sunny spot now, so I expect it to die soon, too. Luckily, I don’t feel too much for pretty little flowers.

The award winners for status quo are:
The canna lilies. One is in bright sunshine; two are in the reed bed where the water-conservationist architect says they will grow hydroponically; one is in the back, where it gets only afternoon sun. And all four are in an advanced state of status quo – neither a bloomer nor a dead thing.
The runner up award in this category goes to the lemon tree, which is also just hanging around, looking the same from day to day and week to week.
Coming up fast on the tail end is the hibiscus. After delighting us with a flower every other day for maybe three weeks, it’s now settled down to bloom once in a way in a rather dispirited manner.

The non-starters are:
The chickoo seed. Amit thinks I should give up on it.
The verbena. I had kept the pots in a somewhat shady place, where they got a thorough drenching in the rain some days ago. Now I’ve moved them into direct day-long sunlight. They don’t seem to mind either way, as long as they aren’t expected to flower or anything.

And finally, what everyone is waiting to find out, the star performers:
The curry patta is doing surprisingly well. It’s got a burst of new leaves. Amazing.

The three surviving bougs are looking very happy, with plenty of new bracts showing up. It’s very satisfying, because I love boug, but also because at some point each one of them looked like they were on their last legs. Also, these were the first things I planted in this garden, so it’s reassuring that they’re doing ok.

The biggest surprise of all, something of a shock, actually, is… even if you look back at the list of stuff at the top of this post, I’m guessing you’ll never guess this one… it’s the frangipani tree. After looking deader than a doorpost for about two months, it’s suddenly showing signs of life. I was so shocked I almost fell down when I saw it. Two little shoots of green have emerged near the top of the dead-looking stumps. I must say – life is supremely persistent. This is not a particularly good-looking tree, especially not as a stump. Yet… it is still capable, in its apparently inert state, of returning to life.

A friend told me – apparently with no intention of comforting me, but just casually mentioning a general fact – that in her experience, you could expect maybe half of the stuff you plant to fail. By that benchmark, I’m doing ok so far.

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Living on the Edge

March 1, 2013

On Monday morning, after a very hectic but fun weekend entertaining friends at home with biryani and beer, the workmen arrived. I had left for office, so I have to take Amit’s word for what happened next. They brought a pump with a long hose and one end and a long hose at the other. At least one of the hoses was pretty fat, too – not your common or garden variety, I guess. One hose went into the sump. The other went out in the lawn. The pump, oddly enough, went on top of the gatepost and one guy got on top of it and sat astride it to keep it from pumping itself off the gatepost and crashing to the ground below. (I wish I’d been home to take a photo at least!) The pump whooshed the water out so fast that even though it was aimed to stay in the large, thirsty lawn, it started to overflow out into the storm water drain.

By the time the tank was empty, we had less than 500 lts in the overhead tank, god knows how many lts in the gray water tank, which was full to overflowing, 300 lts in the discarded rain water harvesting tank, which was perched next to the phytoremediation reed bed, and maybe 100-200 lts in various buckets that had been filled to the brim. Less than 1,000 lts of white water – and with that, we intended to hold out for three whole days. Was that at all possible – even by our stringent standards?

Doing the waterproofing itself doesn’t seem to have been much of a task. When I got home, all there was to show for it was what looked like a layer of white paint on the inside of the tank.

Of course, Amit and I can never leave a good thing alone, let alone a bad thing. So we manouevred the immensely long ladder into the extremely small opening of the sump – we seem to be getting quite good at this – and with me still dressed in my newest t-shirt and jeans, to boot. Then, of course, since I’m the more compact one, it was me who went down into the sump. It was quite nice inside – wet, but not dank; warm, but not fetid; dim, but not gloomy. I measured everything I could, made some markings to provide visual indicators of the water level that would be visible from ground level, and came back up without incident.

Inside the house, though, was another story. By the end of Monday, our overhead tank was down to half. By the end of Tuesday, we had stopped using all the taps in the house and were desperately filling buckets from the discarded rain water tank and lugging them into the house, and by the end of Wednesday we went so far as to go out for dinner so that we wouldn’t have to wash dishes – which is not a unique event in itself, but what was rather rare even by our eclectic standards was that by this time dishes were being washed with water scooped out of a bucket. The washing machine was given a rest and the house looked distinctly messy for want of mopping on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The only thing that still looked happy was the lawn – it was still a brilliant emerald green.

Meanwhile, the suspense was building. Clearly, we couldn’t manage another day on our current reserves of water. The question was, what would Thursday bring? How much water did we actually need to ensure that we could run the submersible pump? Would the Cauvery water gods smile on us and fill our tank with a good 4,000 lts?

Of course, it’s absolutely true that all this drama and suspense was of our own making. Granted that the waterproofing probably needs a day or so to dry, it’s still patently true that we could have called for a tanker and got ourselves 5000 lts of borewell water at any time on Wednesday. But – after all, why pass up an exciting challenge? I mean, it’s not every day that the opportunity to spend three days with a meagre 1000 lts of water comes a-begging.

So Thursday morning I got back from tennis to find Amit straddling the sump and looking down pensively. I joined him. Water was gushing in, but the sump looked very big, very deep, and very empty. There still wasn’t enough water in it to run the pump. To add to the nail-biting finish, our diligent cleaning lady had come and washed all the breakfast dishes directly with tap water, resulting in the overhead tank being run almost entirely dry. Then, just to make sure there really was not a single drop of water left in it for exigencies of any kind, she proceeded to diligently fill the water filter with eight litres of water. This, after we had been brushing our teeth and washing our faces with about a dozen droplets of running water each. Sigh.

By 8.30 a.m. I needed to get dressed for office (I was already half an hour behind schedule) and the water in the tank was still not enough to run the pump. The mouth of the submersible pump has to be completely submerged, or the pump will burn out. And our overhead tank requires 500 lts, which, according to Amit’s calculations, represents a clear two-and-a-half inches of water from the underground tank. And, we weren’t even sure the pump would actually pump until the water had reached a sensor on it which was fairly high up. In a happy but disgruntled manner, I resigned myself to yet another cold water bucket bath.

By the time I was leaving for office, though, things were looking up. Water had been filling for more than two hours and the “fairly high up” sensor level had been attained. The automatic water level controller took charge and started pumping! By the time the water gods’ munificence finally reached its limits, around 10 a.m. we had got more than 5,000 of our 15,000 lts back.

And then, on Thursday evening, after the kids had gone to bed, I stepped out into the driveway, what do I hear but the sound of water gushing into our tank again. At that hour? Can’t be! I called Amit and he equipped himself with a headlamp and we opened the cover and lo! Still more water! We went to bed disbelievingly, and woke up this morning to find our sump full to capacity! The water gods have been incredibly kind to us.

Elections must be coming, said Amit cynically.

And here I thought it was all good karma being paid back in kind.

007 The discarded rain water harvesting tank, with about 100 lts of water left in it. We couldn’t have managed without it. Don’t miss the endless ladder, stretching into the distance.

015 See the disbelieving look on his face? That’s because the tank is full to the top!


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