Irrigating humour


When there is no water, use satire! Nivedita Louis resorts to dark humour to write about the water woes in her perennially water-starved city, Chennai. But threading through it all, is her deep frustration and anguish at the state her city has been reduced to.

When the last drop of water vanishes into thin air… there is always air in Axe Deo to aerate your underarms crying for breath. Air bath is all we can do in the hottest city down South, Chennai, where mercury soars faster than the price of petrol. It is 45 degree Celsius as I write this. The air conditioner’s usual low humming now almost sounds like a person with the worst wheeze inside the room. Plants and trees look parched, grass along the pavements and sidewalks have died long ago, street dogs run around looking for a drop of water to quench their thirst.

When data is cheaper than water!

Mrs. Janaki and Mrs. Uma, the neighbours who used to boast of their Kanjivaram saris and diamond necklaces, now have a different competition. One boasts ruefully, “400 feet”, and the other smiles emphatically and announces with pride – “250 feet”. The depth of the borewell that you’ve recently sunk is now the criteria for deciding who is richer than who! The house owners gladly, willingly, and happily share two buckets full of water to the tenants every day and suggest, “See, this is all that the motor could pull. Just be frugal with this water. Thou shall wash vessels, shower, wash your clothes, mop the house and cook with these two buckets.” Welcome to the #TwoBucketADayChallenge! Tiktok videos, facebook fighters, Instagram warriors, and Twitter leaders are inventing new ways to conserve water, thank God data is cheaper than water in the city.

If borewells in suburban areas of the city save the middle-class half ground 800 sq ft house owners, the elite flat dwellers of the city who perch on the pigeonholes survive on water on wheels. The new swanky drool-worthy vehicle is neither the Merc nor the Audi. It is our Muniyandi Water Supply lorry! Booking a tanker of water through Chennai Corporation’s website has been outsourced through those same guys who designed the IRCTC website, folks! You never know when you will lose the connection or when the server will bunk its duty. And remember, there is no Tatkal here. If someone is dying of thirst, corporation website will crank that day and say 404 error.

The ‘wet’ nights of Chennaiites are those when the Corporation decides to supply water to your area. Satellite TV channels have now gleefully started airing Midnight Masala throughout the night, duly supported by the city’s Metro Water. Ever alert citizens in streets take turns to stay awake every night to ‘smell’ water the moment it starts its descent down the tap nozzles. The last time the whole city took turns to stay awake in the nights was during World Cup cricket matches in Australia! Metro Water is also adding to the woes of population expansion during these summer months, keeping poor citizens awake at ungodly hours.

The cost of 12,000 litres of water through private tankers is 4000 bucks! That is one bottle of Prada candy! The lesser privileged ferry water in colourful plastic pots across the city, right, left and center. If it is midnight masala for the flat folks, it is WWF fight scenes for the poor neighbourhoods. Left with no other options, no borewells, no private tankers, these men and women are left at the mercy of their counterparts. And remember, thou shall not cut the queue while waiting for water. Cutting the queue is punishable with the choicest expletives, and abuse hurled like tornadoes on the prowl.

IT Companies have always been unique in their problem-solving skills. They have now come up with the brilliant idea of WFH (Work From Home)! Seriously? WTH! Husbands working in US shift and wives working in UK shifts can now finally see each other every other day. A boon or a bane, you decide! Work From Home of course has its benefits, you need not wear your best attire while sitting at home and waste litres of precious liquid gold in that Gadothgaj (does she mean Ghatotkach?) washing machine of yours! Hell, no one will bother even if you elect to dress up a la Archimedes. Just be sure you don’t end up attending official Skype calls wearing the Emperor’s clothes!

I now like the consistency of milk supplied by our milkman. It is thicker, creamier and tastier! It is no easy magic, the fella doesn’t find water anywhere to mix it with the milk. Thankfully, God has blessed us these few months with unadulterated milk. Our street water tap has gone so dry that the wind through it permeates the air around us with peculiar music. I know for sure that if the Martians invade the Earth, our street will be Point Zero. The water tap sure can be a point of study for NASA.

We follow the three Rs of dressing these days. Repeat, Recycle, Reuse. Never wash! The recycle part is a little bit tricky though. Air dried clothes carry the stench of rotten meat, so recycling it with the best perfume will be a challenge. The gardens out there bear the brunt of the heat, and we Chennaites finally have started following Gadkari ji’s advice. Thanks for that Ji! Just as how you splash your urine over your garden trees, we too literally ‘water-loo’ our trees. Trees gracing the sidewalks always have the help and support of beer-drunk men. Chennai has been hosting its own SeptemberFest from last March!

The most wanted handymen are the water tanker drivers and AC mechanics. Every time you try calling their number, the formidable lady in their phones keeps chanting ‘user busy..user busy’. Never have we seen this demand for drivers and mechanics, hopefully South will produce more drivers and mechanics than engineers. One out of every one person of the state is an engineer, and hence finding a driver and mechanic has become more difficult than choosing a groom through online matrimony.

Water is our foe and woe. Water God must have been kicked at his behind so hard by this city and its burgeoning populace in their previous birth, and he has now returned with a vengeance to haunt the city. 2015 witnessed the worst floods in decades, and 2019 is privy to the city’s worst drought. We live in a cursed city and have a love-hate relationship with it. And we, we alone are responsible for this man-made mess. Water management is an art, and I am sad we haven’t learnt that…I can hear our water tanker honking…It is the middle of the night, and the rest of the world is busy in its beauty sleep. The night is scary, dark and dry, but I have tanks to fill before I sleep…

Nivedita Louis

Nivedita Louis is a writer, blogger and social activist by choice. Bitten by the travel bug, and smitten by nature, she loves travelling and cooking. She blogs at