Meenakshi Shedde: That 4 am option

Meenakshi SheddeWill you play Holi with water this year? Will you explain to your family that we are incredibly lucky to get drinking water at all, and it is criminal to waste water for entertainment when millions suffer water shortage? Water is liquid gold. You wouldn’t let your children play with your gold jewellery, would you? Because gold is scarce and precious. But water is much more precious than gold because, of course, you’ll die without water, but you won’t die without gold — unless you’re a protagonist on a saas/bahu/nagin serial.

A 2015 photograph of television actors enjoying a rain dance during Holi celebrations
A 2015 photograph of television actors enjoying a rain dance during Holi celebrations

I hope the BMC swiftly implements BJP legislator Ameet Satam’s sensible suggestion to ban the Holi “rain dance” with simulated rainfall, and impose a fine of R50,000 on those who play Holi with water (as we go to press). Nearly 50 lakh litres of water are wasted on these two extravagances in the city, according to BMC estimates. Mumbai has been facing a 20 per cent water cut since August 2015 because of poor rainfall. Holi is a festival of colour to celebrate the arrival of spring, so it should be perfectly fine to enjoy it with dry coloured powders, and get nostalgic on bhanged-out Holi afternoons, playing re-runs of “balam pichkari”. If that sounds like a party pooper, cool, be prepared for year-round fun, waking up at 4 am daily to fill water, as your drinking water supply becomes a half-hour trickle, if that.

Naturally, saving water at Holi is a small part of overall smart water choices you can make. I’ve had various insights, working on water issues over the decades. For instance, I learnt, as a rapporteur at the World Water Forum in Marseille, that mass murders over water were not a futuristic alarm, but had already begun. According to UN estimates, over 400 people have been killed in Kenya as a result of water wars and related cattle thefts, as nomadic tribes compete for scarce water resources. I also learnt about ‘water footprints’ while covering the United Nations Water Annual International Conference in Zaragoza, Spain. Like the carbon footprint, the water footprint of any product can be calculated by considering how much freshwater is used and polluted in order to produce it. This is very useful in assessing what should be produced with a given amount of water, to raise the gross domestic product, as well as to adapt personal lifestyles. In fact,’s water footprint calculator is a revelation: it takes 6,400 litres of water to produce 1kg tea, but coffee requires 19,000 litres/kg — will coffee drinkers switch to tea? Wheat takes 1,800 litre/kg, but rice takes 2,500 litre/kg — will rice eaters switch to wheat? Vegetables are 320 litres/kg, while chicken meat is 4,300 litres/kg, and beef is 15,400 litres/kg — will meat eaters switch to vegetables?

Richard Connor, lead author of the UN World Water Development Report, emphasises that 95 per cent of all electricity produced — by coal, gas or hydropower — is water intensive. So, no water, no power. Demand for water is roughly 70 per cent from agriculture, 20 per cent from industry and 10 per cent from households, and all three must recycle water and save energy. But, in Maharashtra, for instance, politics talks louder than water. The Sharad Pawar and Munde families control substantial sugar factories: despite continuing droughts, farmers grew water-intensive sugarcane in 9.4 per cent of the state’s cultivated area, consuming 71.4 per cent of its irrigation water in 2013-14.

At the city level, San Francisco recently approved legislation banning sale of one-time use plastic water bottles on city-owned property. The city will install potable drinking fountains and bottle filling stations, and violators will be fined $1000 (R66,000) from October 2016. At a personal level, always carry a small water bottle every time you step out; smart, flat water bottles are available in A4, A3 size etc, that fit neatly in your briefcase or bag. Reuse glasses and plates whenever possible; I also air out and reuse clothes in winter. Instead of showers for a bath, use half a bucket of water — Narayana Murthy, Infosys chairman emeritus, does so, and now I do too. Swimming pools — I love them dearly — should be part of the “balam pichkari” reruns above.

There’s always that 4 am option, of course. You’re the boss.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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