The Season of the Tap Confusion

Every year, there are two seasons of tap confusions. In the winter, warm water streams out of the shower head, when I turn the left knob, whereas in summertime, warm water comes after turning the right knob. And in between, when I try to remember which one was which, I’m confused for days if not weeks.

To explain the switch, I have to start with the unreliable water supply in Delhi. I live in one of the 75% of the households that are connected to Delhi’s piped system. 25% are not, they get their supply through either tankers or bore-wells.

But: This doesn’t mean there is a 24/7 water supply. As Debashree Mukherjee, former chief executive of the Delhi Jal Board, the municipal water supply agency for the capital, nicely put in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “We’ve started pilot projects to move from intermittent supply to continuous supply to show that it can be done in Delhi.”

So, because there isn’t a ccontinuously pressurized systems, but instead one with a lot of vacuum in the water pipe – by the way also due to leakages: physical losses are 22% to 25% of total water produced – the house owners play safe. They install, if they can afford it, huge water tanks on their roofs. Black ones. And because there is no warm water supply by the Delhi Jal Board, they built water boilers into the bathrooms.

Now in wintertime, I switch on my personal water heater. Then warm water streams into the pipe from the tank, and cold water is added from the pipe that comes directly from the tank on the rooftop.

Whereas in summertime, the water in the tank heats up so much, I can use it as warm water, whereas the water from my (then switched off) heater serves as a cool admixture. No joke. In May and June, I can’t have a shower in the evening with the rooftop water. It’s boiling hot.


Helpless women at night

helpless women

Old habits die hard

The German embassy had invited to a get-together, because a German delegation was in town. As soon as the speeches were over, everybody bolted for the buffet, to load heaps of rice, roti, daal, and all kind of curries onto their plate, then went back for a second filling  of salad, bratkartoffeln and kässpätzle.

broken plateWhen the feast was over, not enough waiters were around to immediately collect the plates out of the hands of all guests. So I saw an Indian man do what an Indian man does: He threw his plate underneath the next tree. Bad luck he had forgotten that this time it wasn’t made out of paper of plastic, but porcelain.


Illegal sand mining

sand mining

Illegal sand mining is rampant in India. And the problems arising from it are manifold: It causes erosion, groundwater tables are sinking, and even the Katlabodi tigress and her three  cubs are threatened through it.

In recent month, I had also read a lot about the sand mafia and its patrons – a powerful, corrupt, brazen and devious lot. They ruthlessly operate in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, cause bloodshed and turf wars in Bihar, and make huge profits in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha. Everybody wants to build houses out of concrete, so everybody needs sand.

But just how brazen the gangs operate, I only realized when I was laying at a beach in Goa. In the afternoon sun, a truck pulled up at the beach, ten men jumped down, and calmly started to carry sand away. No one said anything, no one seemed to be bothered.

I asked my hotel owner, a local and quite a number in the area, what was going on there. He said: “It’s only for playground of the local kindergarten, so that the children can play. So it’s okay.”

A fine example of Jugaad

If you can’t fix something, make do with what is available. This is called Jugaad (or jugaar), and one of the most important principles in the country.

my staircaseHere we have a wonderful example. The light  bulb busted (or so I think, as it hasn’t been proven as of yet). I couldn’t reach for the ceiling, so I thought: Why don’t we call somebody? In Delhi, workman and craftspeople are called for any kind of work. Even if a nail has to be hammered into the wall. No joke, I saw exactly this happening in my office.

Anyway, I did as an upper middle class lady without much knowledge of Hindi does: I told my maid to call the electrician.

When I came home, it got fixed, but not as expected. The electrician, my maid told me, also wasn’t able to reach the lamp. And because the lamp is placed right between the descending and ascending stairs, he couldn’t place some chair or stool to shorten the distance. So he got his tool kit out, and installed a new bulb, cable and switch instead (left side of the pic).

Let me close with some of John Elliott’s words: “One of the magical things about India is its unpredictability and its ability to turn muddle and adversity into success. … Jugaad … is the knack of turning shortages, chaos and adversity into some sort of order … such as using a belt from a motorbike wheel to run an irrigation pump, using a Pringles potato chips container to bridge a piping gap in a car engine, and applying turmeric powder to fix a radiator leak.”


“Jugaad is a brilliant patchwork solution for a deprived  and underdeveloped society, but it is not enough for a country in India’s state of development because it deters efficiency and innovation and destroys institutional structures. In the past few years, India’s pace of events has overwhelmed jugaad, making it impossible for the country to cope with basic services, projects and development – and that is now leading to the risk of implosion.” (from Elliott’s book “Implosion. India’s Tryst with Reality”)

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