Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Water Shortage

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Many years ago my guru Sardar Naseer Tareen of Pishin, resident of Quetta, told me an interesting story. Some relatives of his from Qila Saifullah phoned him to seek his help in getting a teenage son admitted in the mental asylum at Lahore. Without going into detail, Sardar sahib invited the family to visit him in Quetta together with the boy.

When the family arrived, the preliminary conversation with the ‘insane’ boy showed a very bright young man who was doing rather well in school. He read a great deal and was quite well informed on the world.

Sardar sahib took the parents aside to ask what really was the matter, for to him nothing seemed amiss. The boy was starkly unhinged; totally off his trolley, said the parents in unison. Sardar sahib demanded to know the ground they had for this unseemly assertion.
‘Why, the boy is always carrying on about the country running out of clean drinking water!’ said the father.
‘You fools,’ Sardar sahib exploded, ‘it’s not this young man who has lost his beans. It’s you who have no bloody sense at all. We are running out of water. And Quetta before any other city.’

As the foremost environmentalist in Quetta, perhaps even in all Balochistan, Sardar sahib knew what he was talking about: Quetta is wantonly misusing 200,000 year old fossil water and will soon be out of it. I have never asked my mentor about the youngster who, even at age sixteen, knew of our looming water crisis, but I know if he had come under Sardar sahib’s tutelage he will now be an ecologist or something.

The nub of this story is the undeniable fact that we in Pakistan are running out of subsoil water. Point. Those few of good sense in this country know that there is no arguing this fact. But there are fools galore who are mindless of the looming disaster. And in this latter class all 200 million of us are included.

This brings to mind one Ejaz, a neighbour until he move away many years ago. Now, those being days before we had a proper water supply, we all needed our own bores and pumping sets to supply our overhead storage tanks. But having cut corners, Ejaz had no overhead tank. When his family needed water, they turned on the electric pump and in order to prevent damage to it should the user inside turn off the faucet, they kept one tap running in the bathroom emptying good water uselessly into the sewer.

I was appalled. I told him he indulged in a criminal act and that he could tell his family that when they no longer have water to drink, they should collectively skin him alive and sprinkle salt on his fat, bleeding body. Ejaz clearly thought me stupid as I could judge from the speaking look I got. ‘Water is Allah’s gift to us,’ spake the semi-literate Arain from Mailsi or someplace, ‘and it can never finish.’

For this piece of foolishness, water was an infinite supply. I told the fool it was Allah herself who was going to deprive us of clean water. But when you have just basic education and read only Nawa e Waqt (mostly not even that), one cannot expect much from you. As long as Ejaz and his family remained our neighbours, I pestered the man about an overhead water tank. But to no avail. Then they moved away and I used to jokingly maintain that the fool preferred selling his home to preclude my nagging over installing a water tank.

That was fifteen years ago. In all these years I have learned that it was not just Ejaz who was unmindful of the upcoming water crisis: every single one of us 200 million morons does not understand it. Consider my current next door neighbours.

There are two families, one on the ground floor and one above. The ground floor family consists of two parents a little older than me, two sons in their mid-thirties with their wives and two boys. Above them is a doctor, his wife and three children. The eldest son upstairs is a dandy who drives around in a Suzuki Alto with a faulty silencer and a loud horn.

The roof is equipped with two plastic water tanks each with a capacity of perhaps four or five hundred litres. Both tanks are sans the float valves to shut off incoming water when the tanks are full. These morons will not spend – or get their idiot landlord to spend – about Rs 800 on the required equipment. They are all like Ejaz and leave their main valve open at night. The water supply tube well is turned on at 4:00 AM in summers and 6:00 AM in winters and the two plastic tanks are filled within thirty minutes or so. Then the water overflows. And it continues to overflow for the next three or four hours.

I cannot imagine both families comprising thirteen persons sleep late because both have school going children. This means that these idiots even when they are up and about do not give a fig for the water being wasted. Don’t tell me they are unaware of it. If I can hear the water falling, so can they. They are so ignorant that they simply do not care.

Several times I woke them up to ask for the valve to be turned off. And you should have seen the face of the one who answered the door! But nothing changed, so I reported the matter to the society (and ours is hardly a cooperative society!) to forcibly affix float valves in the tanks. I even suggested that if they refused to pay for the things, I’ll be more than happy to pick up the tab.

For a few days the water stopped overflowing. I could not believe they had got the new fixtures. And sure enough, they hadn’t: shortly after, the tanks began to overflow again. I tried waking them up at six on cold January days but eventually gave up fearing there would be an argument. In this while, one of the two wives from downstairs, the one who is better mannered, came around to see me.
‘You reported our overflowing tanks?’ she asked accusingly.
‘Yes, I did,’ said I being as brazen-faced as the next man. Then I went on to tell her that I would happily pay the plumber’s fee and the cost of the float valves if her family would let my man get up to the roof.

The woman assured me they were getting the work done and it would not be necessary for me to be officious and uppity. Despite my lecturing her on the impending crisis, she clearly had no idea. Instead, she asked me how I could be hurt if their backyard got wet.
‘Madam, I am hurt because you are wasting water upon which I also have a right.’ I replied.

However, nothing changed. I reported to the society again. Happily the situation is different now. But please do not imagine these niggardly people had installed float valves in their overhead tanks. No, sir! Someone in the family upon hearing the sound of falling water turns off the valve. Now their tanks do not overflow for hours on end but only for, say, half an hour or so every day.

Incidentally, some weeks ago when the summer had first started to get unbearable, we had a protracted power breakdown and therefore no water supply. The younger son of the downstairs family came around to ask if we also did not have water. I told him we have a 10,000 litre concrete tank, not the plastic shit they use. And then I could help rubbing in a nasty, ‘agay, agay dekhiyay hota hai kya’ before going on to tell him how his family was hastening the coming water shortage. Perish the thought, however, that one growing up in an ignorant background will possess good sense.

By the way, their landlord, or the moron who acts on behalf of his daughter who owns the property, is a retired lawyer. He too is a reader only of Nawa e Waqt. His initials are NAT and he is as proper an arsehole as proper can be who likes to label himself ‘allama maulana’ only because he has a sort of beard. Thankfully no one takes him seriously on that count, so he has become a very hyperactive busybody forever on the lookout to ‘help’ neighbours.

Thankfully for him, this society where I live is peopled by mostly semi-literate persons who have just come into what can be called lower class. (I have an interesting anecdote about this which comes at the end.) With NAT preening himself the way he does and always strutting about with a rolled up copy of Nawa e Waqt in his armpit, some of the lesser mortals than he fall for his posturing. Aside: one day I must swipe the fool’s newspaper out of his smelly armpit to check the date. I’m certain it will the old copy he purchased from the ruddi-wala who keeps shop next to his house.

But he is just another seventy-plus idiot whose greatest boast (made to yours truly) is that when he worked for Anjuman Himayat e Islam, he had all those ‘hundreds of years old trees’ on the premises cut down and replaced with shrubbery. He is the kind of moron with a head so full of crap that there is no room for any sense to enter. Consequently, when I tried to tell him to get those float valves, he cut me short with a breathless ‘I know, I know...’ (Perhaps when I’m done with present assignments, I should start spending more time with this piece of bad work and then profile him for this blog. Just from descriptions of his posturing I can have readers in stitches.)

And so, having wasted my breath on him, I yet failed to get a pair of float valves fixed where direly needed.

This piece is prompted by what I saw today. Hundreds of ignorant families order their domestic staff to wash the roads in front of their homes. In the ten kilometre-long drive from my home to the bank in Model Town, I passed no fewer than twenty houses where this criminal act was in progress. And these are the ones I saw when I wasn’t watching the road.

Twenty years ago, I would stop and tell people to please not waste so much water. But everyone looked at me the way I know Sardar sahib’s relatives would have looked at their son. So now I don’t. I know their misplaced faith in god’s munificence will prevent them from trusting me. And for this I say, a belief as staunch as theirs can only lead to the downfall of humanity.

Postscript. I had promised above to narrate a small anecdote about the cooperative society I live in. Well, for starters, it’s hardly a ‘society’ – at least our part of it. This side has been taken over by Bagrian, a village of extreme ill-fame and we are now like the main bazaar of any lower class area.

The place was fine when we first built our home and moved here in January 2001. It was quiet and peaceful, though Bagrian thugs routinely visited in the dead of winter nights to try and steal stuff lying outside. But that was all right for all of them are children of cattle rustlers of just sixty years ago. In May 2004, the proposed Ring Road was surveyed and things altered virtually overnight. Shops sprouted and our side of the society became a freaking bazaar of iron mongers and welders. Houses came up quickly because, I suspect owners thought prices would now soar and they would make a pretty penny selling their homes once the society was ‘developed’.

But since most home owners were not a class of educated, the aspect of our side became that of a lower class area. That got me telling a friend what sort of a place we lived in.
‘Oye, you being the only educated one, you must be looked up to and much respected,’ said my chum.
‘I would be if my neighbours knew I was educated. They are so freaking ignorant they don’t even know there is an educated person among them.’ I replied.

The juice of above exchange can only be savoured in the original Punjabi.

Postscript II. After finishing this piece, I made inquiries about NAT for I have not seen him in months. I was told he had died about six months ago. What a pity. I won’t be able to spend time with him and make fun of the dunce.

Now, some prudes will say it’s not nice to bad mouth a dead person. To all of you I say an arsehole dead or alive is still an arsehole. To call him anything else after he kicks the bucket is being untruthful.

Related: If Lahore Runs Dry 


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 6 July 2016 at 15:55, Anonymous Mutamin-ul-Mulk Hashmat Jung Fakhar-ud-Doula Nawab Bahdur Arastu Jah said...

Salman Saheb Eid mubarak, I swear I used to say the same 20 years ago too when one day in UET Peshawar there was a leaking shower that kept flowing for 10 days till I requested the hostel staff to get it fixed and yeah I had a well educated class mate ( Masters in Philosophy + BS Mechanical Engineer) and never read Nawa-e-Waqt who gave me the exact Pashto that Water will never finish as God will bring Rain..... in Sydney even though the population has grown 5 fold the water consumption has been reduced by 50%. through proper management......incidentally my good friend was reminded of what he had said to me last year when he had to climb his roof 3 times a day to get water into his tank after paying for the water bowser .....:)

My friend of course has also left for the water rich Canada.....

At 7 July 2016 at 10:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Nawab Sahib, it is nice to have faith in a god. But not the kind of misplaced faith that most Pakistani Muslims suffer under. After having depleted Peshawar of its water your friend should never have been permitted to leave the city. He should be suffering with the rest.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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