Thursday, November 4, 2010

A genius mistaken for a crashing bore

Over thirty years ago, when I was a resident of Chennai (then Madras), there was a retired railway employee called Narasimhachari in my neighbourhood.  A crashing bore, he used to be the terror of the entire neighbourhood, including his wife who, however, didn’t have the means of avoiding him.  If Uncle Narasimhachari was out in the street, we wouldn’t step out of our house for fear that we might be buttonholed by the old man.  But the wily old man knew how to thwart our attempts, with the result that he had a constant supply of audience for his “cranky” ideas about how to reorganize things in the world so that the future generations were not deprived of the natural resources.
 One of his “cranky” ideas was rainwater harvesting (RWH) which, he claimed, would help recharge groundwater.  From the open terrace of his house he had had two courses laid out, using water pipes, for the rainwater to reach the open well in the backyard of his house.  “During the rainy season”, Narasimhachari said with enthusiasm, “the rooftop water won’t go waste.  It will have to go into the well through the water pipes.  I’ve installed a filter also, and so before the water goes into the well, it will get filtered.”

But people only laughed at him.  When a block of apartments was being built in our neighbourhood, Narasimhachari rushed to the builder and advised him to put up an RWH system in the block.  He spoke at length about how RWH could recharge groundwater.  “Not only that”, he persisted.  “The groundwater in this area is a bit brackish.  RWH can, in course of time, reduce the salinity, and the quality of the groundwater will certainly improve.”  The builder looked him up and down and said he didn’t need to be educated.  “In any case”, he added, “I’m providing a metrowater connection for this block, and so drinking water won’t be a problem here.”

When I visited Chennai a few years ago, I realized what a genius Narasimhachari was.  After battling for water for decades, Chennai had realized that RWH, Narasimhachari’s obsession, could mitigate its problem.  The Tamil Nadu government had promulgated an ordinance making the installation of RWH mandatory for all buildings, old and new.  The ordinance said that if an RWH structure was not set up by the date specified, the water connection would be cut.  The residents of Chennai seemed to have taken the ordinance seriously: they were installing the RWH system.

I don’t know where Uncle Narasimhachari is now.  I can only imagine him stopping a young man rushing to his office and telling him how Chennai ignored him when he proposed the RWH idea over thirty years ago.


  1. You are right sir . Actually in my previous visit to Kovai, my grand mothers house dint have this installtion but now its mandatory as you said......

    You were charging my English Knowledge in my College days which i was proving in all the Seminars. Now i am really thankfull for your Blog which i have discovered,again to recharge it.


    Hareesh Raman @ Hariesh .R

    1. Sorry, Hareesh. I've just seen your comment made over 4 years ago. While redesigning my blog, I visited a few old posts at random and came across your comment. Thank you for the comment and for the kind words you have said about my teaching and my blog. Do keep reading and do post comments.