UK-returned engineer helps India’s poor to reduce water woes

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By CP Surendran

New Delhi : Delhi in summer is not a very pleasant place to live. The temperature hovers around 47 to 48 degrees Celsius, and air conditioning does not cover all. The poor live in a kind of furnace. Often too in summer the heat is accompanied by acute water shortage. Here too the poor bear the brunt. Alag Natarajan is trying his mite to make a few lives better in the hot, arid season.

Before the fridge and air conditioning came to Delhi in mid 20th century, those who could afford it would have built a basement to their house and shift downstairs to escape from the heat. The affluent among them would enter into a contract with the local Abdar – water supplier- who would take care of the water needs from bath to drinking water. No one asked the Abdar where he got his supply from. He probably stole it from public water spots, or transported it from the river before the city woke up and reached the contraband to his destination.

Natarajan is the angelic Abdar of the poor. The 68-year-old is an engineer who returned to India in 2005 after spending over 32 years in London. He was not particularly given to charitable work. But a brush with colon cancer changed him. Because the cancer was detected at an early stage, he could treat his condition and get the better of it.

But while recuperating, he decided to live a little for others as well. Since his return to Delhi, he had found that the Delhi poor were in permanent search of drinking water.

Natarajan had a car modified to transport water. The first thing he does when he wakes up at 5 in the morning, is that he fills 60 odd matkas ( mud pots) and fills them with water. The water is collected from three different bore wells whose owners appreciate his intention. The filling of the matkas takes close to two hours. Then he goes around the city and places the matkas in strategic spots where the poor collect in numbers and street children play. He is helped in this task by his gardener and driver.

Before Natarajan hit upon the fact that water would be the most precious thing in demand by the living, he was volunteering at Shanti Avedna Sadan cancer hospital. Here he found the relatives of many diseased patients could not afford cremation expenses. So he would meet their basic expenses. Then he shifted his focus to water as it would help the living. In an interview to a newspaper, he explained how he got around the transport problem: “The water-car had to be modified, with a generator added and two tanks of 500 and 200 liters to ensure the matkas did not run dry. My volunteers and I now make four to five trips to fill these matkas.” On the van is written in large letters the name of his website: matkaman.com

There are other ideas floating in Natarajan’s mind that would help the poor to a slightly better living. But what he is doing currently gratifies him: At least a few hundred people can get to drink clean water. Charity, he seems to believe, is a great way to make one’s life meaningful.

Source: Khaleej Times

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