The first thing you see when you enter handloom weaver Prabhakar’s house in Doddaballapur rural Bengaluru are the many tanks and drums stacked alongside the walls.
Why, you might wonder, is so much space in a modest 800 sq. ft. home given over to water drums? Because, says Prabhakar, he and his family are addicted to rainwater. Indeed, for the last 25 years, with the memorable exception of two weeks in 2010, they have drunk and cooked with only rainwater.
Hence, on the 800 sq. ft. plot owned by the family, only 60% percent has been built up, with the family living in one half of the house and two power handlooms occupying the rest of the space. The other 40% is open space where rainwater is collected.
The entire water collection apparatus was conceptualised and designed by the family members.
While Rukmini, Prabhakar’s mother, and her husband originally crafted the apparatus out of old oil tins, in his time, Prabhakar has built a whole new system with plastic pipes. The entire setup, including labour charges for the workers hired, cost him less than Rs 1,200.
All of the water that gets collected is filtered by passing it through five layers of cloth of varying thickness, and then stored in the multitude of pots in the house. “We have over 23 plastic pots tucked under beds and kept on lofts. Two large mud pots in the kitchen, three drums and a one-kilolitre tank kept in the open space. All these store drinking water that we would have to manage with until the next rainy season,” says 38-year-old Prabhakar.
Simply filtering the water through five layers of cloth seems foolhardy compared to the RO purification that is seen as default in most houses these days, but Prabhakar insists that the rainwater is pure enough to require little filtration.
“In 2010 we ran out of rainwater for two weeks. We bought tanker water then. We hated it because all of us suffered. This rainwater is pure as we collect it before it touches the earth,” he said. Prabhakar proudly added.
Even bottled water, he says, affects their health, “I know it when my son has had water from elsewhere. He immediately has throat irritation,” says Prabhakar.
Hence the family also limits any outstation trips to a maximum of two or three days, and bottles of rainwater are packed before any other luggage.
The family does receive some piped water as they are unable to store enough rainwater to cater to all their needs, and must use piped water for washing and cleaning.
“The water that comes from outside is stored in an underground sump. There is a white layer of salt that forms on top within a week. You will be able to see worms in the tanker water that is stored for over a month. It shows that the water has some impurity, whereas the rainwater even after a year, the water will be crystal clear,” says Rukmini.
Prabhakar wishes that he could upgrade the facilities in their home so that not a single drop of water landing on their site gets wasted. But most rainwater harvesting structures, costing between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000, are firmly out of the budget for this family of five living on only Prabhakar’s income.
Prabhakar admits that collecting and storing rainwater is a time-consuming process, but feels it is a better use of their time than constant trips to the hospital for illness after illness.