Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Joy, killjoy of thesis, antithesis: Waterless urinals and water crisis

New 'waterless' urinals installed in some of the restrooms in MIT and Harvard proclaim that by installing these approximately 40,000 gallons of fresh water will be saved every year. If we say that India needs to install around 25 million urinals to prevent people from watering the roadside grass and trees, then by not installing those 25 million urinals, we are saving a trillion gallons of water every year.

If we account for the amount of irrigation water and organic manure that is provided by this roadside act of  'free giving', as well as account for cost of having old urinals constructed and buying new ones at a formidable price, as well as the cost of maintaining the buildings, and so on, we must have saved over 100 billion dollars in last two decades (10% of Indian GDP in 2008). This is the money that we have saved from going down the drain, if you wish.

If you knew Marcel Duschamp's work, and if you knew that such saving requires one to have the fountain of knowledge, you will know that by not having the 'fountain', we have shown a genius, that goes beyond the realm of conceptual art. I am often reminded of his art, as we were born on the same day, separated by space, time and thought process; while he calls that physical object a fountain, I am pleased to refer to its absence as 'fountain of life'.

I think everything in this world happens first as a farce, then as a tragedy. I can explain my arguments, but I think it is better to give the reader a whiff of the idea, and if they wish, they can read books and wikipedia to understand that I happily and angrily argue from the both sides. The rage for progress has brought us to this page, but by the time you will turn it, you will yearn for the absence of it. Or maybe not.

The per capita water consumption in United States (and many European nations) is at least twenty times higher than per capita water consumption in India. Water used for bathing is minimal if you get a bucket (15 -20 liters) on your turn, as opposed to a shower or bath-tub. Our ancestors preferred a dip in the holy rivers and holy lakes, and let me remind you, all Indian lakes, rivers, streams, rainfall, all water-bodies are sacrosanct. Since no man steps into a river twice, through a dip in the river at the dawn, our ancestors were led into a habit of cleanliness as well as a realization of evanescence of human existence. Returning to question of water consumption (the holy dip was necessary to cleanse my mind of extraneous thoughts), Indians consume less water, and if they stop aping the West, they would consume less water in coming centuries as well, and run a lower risk of undergoing the imminent water crisis. We know that water will be next oil, and even though finding water on the moon is a step in the right direction for India, formidable transportation costs will limit its availability only to politicians. Meanwhile, the common man, general public must learn to not forget their ways, and teach their kids the importance of holy rivers as well as the concept of "gagar mein sagar" (ocean in an earthen pot).

Ghada (घड़ा) (earthen pot) was one of the greatest discoveries ever made by human beings. To shape a container for water using a wooden wheel, a chakra, out of mother earth, requires a metaphorical, spiritual act that is both of scientific and engineering value to humanity. By replacing ghada with refrigerator, we have become more dependent on electricity than ever, and we eat more stale food than our ancestors were ever able to. The unhealthy way, the way of fridge, involves drinking water with ice, and by making extra effort to drink water at those inhuman temperatures, we are merely making power producing companies richer, cough syrup producing companies (that serve alcohol and sedatives to non-drinkers) richer. By not buying refrigerators, 50% of India, implying at least 100 million households, have saved another 100 billion dollars, if not more. Plus they have been drinking cool water, cooled by evaporative cooling, and they have been drinking water, conditioned by the mother earth herself.

Many, many years ago, before the time of Arundhati Roy and Medha Patekar, before engineers and scientists learned that dams cause irreversible damage to local flora, fauna and folklore, apart from displacing people like their cattle and other calamities, when the first dams were constructed in India, the farmers in Punjab refused to drink and use water from canals. Their argument was that the government is trying to dupe them by providing them "powerless water", as its shakti (शक्ति) (power) was extracted by government in form of electricity already. It took a lot of convincing: world bank grants, field trips by the scientists of green revolution era, multimillion dollar corporate sponsorship, NGO work, government subsidy, brainwashing and wallpaper campaigns to convince these farmers that canal water was 'good' and God-sent, high yield seeds that require more water for irrigation were good, that changing their water tables and water habits was "good". In past ten years, two million of those farmers have committed suicide, due to a water crisis that is affecting at least two hundred million farmers in India. The reason is that the 'rain gods' were not consulted before corporations that supply single-crop yielding seeds, were brought into the system, and 'low water use, low fertilizer' local varieties were discarded for providing the greatest profit to greatest number of people. Some people are still profiting, but our seedless, waterless farmers, must be wondering, why did everyone laugh at their grandparents who believed that by supplying them this canal water, the government is giving them 'powerless' water.

1 comment:

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