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Drought Tales: Humanity triumphs in parched times

May 16, 2016 08:51 IST

Drought or no drought... life goes in water-starved Beed district in Maharashtra's Marathwada region.

As Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com and Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com travelled more than 1,000 kilometres through Beed, they encountered these stories of hope and despair.

Earlier in the series:

Laxman Shashikant Mhorge carries his entire house on his 100cc motorcycle.

There is not an inch of space left behind the driver's seat. There's a lantern, a plastic drum, two plastic pots, a few bundles of clothes, packed neatly behind his motorcycle, just like they do it in a car's boot.

Mhorge, originally from Parbhani, a neighbouring district, has been living the life of a vagabond for almost a year now. "There is no water," he responds quickly to 'What made you leave home?'

"There has been no rain for a couple of years and farmers like me have no option but to move around in search of food and water," says Mhorge, who was on his way to Beed when we met him about 40 kilometres away from the district headquarters.

"There's a big fair happening there. I hope to make good money in the next couple of days," Mhorge, who has transformed himself into a Vasudev (a village simpleton who ushers the mornings by singing songs outside homes and asking for alms) from a farmer says.

All of 24, Mhorge who had no employment opportunities in his native Parbhani, has begun to like his new vocation.

"Do I have a choice?" he asks. He still had some distance to cover and the sun was anything but merciless.

***

A couple of kilometres ahead we come across a National Highway Authority of India project that is overseeing four-laning of 150 kilometres of national highway that connects Beed to Solapur.

The contract, undertaken by IRB Infrastructure is in full swing, and the manager on duty says he has hired 50 people to oversee the project on a stretch of two kilometres or so every day.

Jagauti, left, and Bhanamati, in their mid-40s, look battle-hardened and are busy laying the concrete cement mix on the road. They left their homes almost a decade ago in search of work. Thankfully, they say, they have not been short of work as the Government of India's ambitious road-laying projects offer them meaningful livelihood.

"We are Gondis," says Jagauti in fluent Hindi. "I have been on the road for almost ten years now," Jagauti, who earns Rs 250 for her day's labour, adds.

Back home there is family, she says: "Two children and a husband who does nothing but drink."

Jagauti is happy that her two children, 12 and 13, attend school in Jhabua, neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, all because she sends them more than Rs 5,000 every month.

***

Nagpal Donda, right, is all of 14 and had just reached Wanjarwadi from Pandharpur village (not to be confused with Lord Vithoba's abode in Mahrashtra's Solapur district) in Beed.

He had led a dozen buffaloes from Pandharpur to Wanjarwadi because there is a government-run chhavni (camp), where his uncle had already brought three dozen cattle -- cows and bulls -- because there was adequate water and fodder for the livestock there.

"I go to school but have vacation now," Nagpal says when asked the reason for his 50-odd kilometre tough trek with the buffaloes.

Nagpal's uncle Baba says the family were shepherds and originally belonged to Gujarat's Surendranagar district. A decade ago they migrated to Maharashtra in search of -- what else? -- water and grazing fields for their cattle.

"Now, the situation in the state is too grim," says Baba. Despite that, Baba says he will hang on in Maharashtra with his four dozen cattle.

"This year we are hopeful our cattle will have enough to eat and drink."

***

These are Dashrath, left, and Dnyaneshwar Patil, farmers both, from Kolher village, located on the border of Jalna and Beed districts, and close to Wanjarwadi where we met the Dondas.

The Patils -- they have two more brothers and their parents and children, who stay near their 10 acre farm -- had sown brinjals and pomegranates (considered a crop that earns the farmer more than sugarcane does, but which need to be tended tenaciously so that insects don't attack it) and were hopeful that the crop would fetch them enough to clear their debts.

For two years they have been making losses with the same crops. This year they have invested in drip irrigation, covered their brinjal crop with plastic sheets to prevent them from sizzling under a merciless sun.

"We owe Rs 400,000 to the district cooperative bank and a couple of moneylenders," says Dnyaneshwar, the younger among the two brothers, about his family's debt.

"If all goes well with the rains, next year we will be loan-free," says Dashrath.

And there is clear hope in his eyes. "It's going to rain by June 7," he says, echoing many other farmers who await the day the rains will arrive in the water-starved district.

***

Water pots hanging from burly trees are a common sight across the district.

The landscape in the background is all one needs to understand how the drought is scorching the soil. The heat is unbearable as the clock moves past nine in the morning and trees like this play the role of an oasis in the desert.

The cloth over the huge earthen pot helps keep the water cool.

The district may be parched for water, but the spirit of quenching the thirst of travellers clearly wins over the villagers' quest for saving water.

Humanity triumphs even in parched times.

***

Scenes like this, just like the earthen pot above, are equally common across the Beed landscape.

Utensils lined up at the roadside borewell remain there for hours waiting for water to ooze out. While utensils stay put where they are, their owners soon escape in search of shade.

In fact, this could well have been the scene at Sabalkhed village in Ashti taluka where 12-year-old Yogita Desai died after her fourth trip to fetch water from the village borewell.

This long line of utensils seen here is from Vida village, where 9-year-old Sachin Kengar drowned in an open well while fetching water.

The well where Sachin drowned is located about 500 metres from this site.

***

The catchment area of this dam in Ashti taluka is almost empty.

There is just two weeks' water left, but water tankers still make a beeline to this site. These tankers were hired by the district administration to supply water to villages that were already declared drought-hit by the state government.

***

On April 29, April 30 and May 1, a number of weddings took place across Beed.

The rush was particularly heavy on May 1, Labour Day/Maharashtra Day, because that was the last auspicious day as per the Hindu calendar to perform marriages.

"For the entire month ahead till about June 5, there is no other muhurat (auspicious time) for weddings," says a villager about the rush of weddings on May 1.

Just a day before, on April 30, Maharashtra Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam had presided over the mass wedding of 100 couples at this village en route to Ashti taluka.

Drought or no drought, people get along with their lives.

Prasanna D Zore and Uttam Ghosh