where our water came from

One of the uncountable ways in which we were lucky Delhiites was our water supply: it was almost always reliable. Our toilets almost always flushed, our showers almost always flowed, and the musical electric water filter our landlord installed (which alternated between a tinny children’s song and an 8-bit version of Für Elise as it operated) almost always dispensed water free of waterborne threats.

The water itself came into our flat by way of a giant black plastic tank built above the servant’s toilet on the roof, two stories above our heads and nearly high enough to generate pressure sufficient for a satisfying shower.


(Here’s me celebrating Republic Day by failing to fly a kite. At upper right: our precious water.)

Each flat in our building had its own black tank for its own individual household water supply. Our tank was fitted with devices that automatically activated pumps whenever the water dropped below a certain level. In theory, this meant we never had to flip the switch that activated the pump manually. That switch, located on the same panel as the switch for our kitchen light, was the reason we got to meet one of our downstairs neighbors when we first moved in: a few hours after I ignorantly pressed it and forgot about it, our doorbell was urgently rung by a woman who first introduced herself and then, shouting over the sound of falling water, pointed out that our tank was overflowing and creating a swimming pool on our roof. I quickly switched off the manual pump, and then taped the switch down so I’d never make that mistake again.

Every so often, our automatic pump sensor would fail, and our morning would begin in the cruelest possible way: stepping sleepily into the shower, shampooing up our hair, and staring in horror as the flow ceased just when it became time to rinse. Two things would ensue: we’d finish our shower with ice-cold drinking water from the refrigerator, and then we’d call the landlord to request a technician.

The problem was almost always the sensor. The technician would scale the tank, lift the cover off its roof, and pull out some sort of mineral-encrusted doodad dangling off of wires directly into the water. It was nearly always the case that the minerals encrusting it had grown too thick, and the technician would scrape off what we hoped was just calcium to re-expose the bare metal.

Naturally he’d remove just enough so to ensure the device would function for a month or two before failing again and necessitating another service call.

On one service call, when the technician’s scraping failed to fix the sensor, my curiosity led me to follow him down to a shed behind our bungalow, beyond the driveway, past a locked gate that I’d never seen opened. The technician unlocked the gate and opened the shed, which was empty but for a few items on the shelves and some wooden planks on the ground. Squatting, he lifted the planks to reveal a cobwebbed black hole in which our entire building’s water supply was collected from the municipal mains. It was in this black hole where our water waited until  dwindling water levels above required it to be pumped.

I was horrified by its accessibility to spiders.

As the technician went about scraping another sensor, with shavings falling gently into the black water below, I made a note to thank my landlord for installing that musical water filter — clearly, that strange Beethoven-playing device was the only thing standing between us and drinking pump-masticated arachnid bits.

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13 responses to “where our water came from

  1. Your story remind me the same issue with my tank when I lived in Delhi last year.
    The first days, we didn’t understood why there was no water anymore… and we found “by chance” the switch in the kitchen to fill the famous black tank. But the system was very weird, when the tank was full, the overflow came by a pipe passing through a hole in the window and finished its path into the sink of the kitchen… I think it was made like this to ear when the tank was full ’cause there was not any sensor…

  2. It’s surprising that they use electronic sensors. It seems like it’s be easier to use a float thing similar to those used to fill the tanks of toilets

  3. we had a much more high-tech device: our ears. You just had to listen if water came poring down, then you would switch off the pump.

  4. i forgot to add, that was in Patan, Nepal.

  5. Was it a Patton tank? I found the name of that company to be particularly ingenious.

  6. If you every get annoyed with the music, there is a little switch hidden somewhere near the top of the machine which will turn the Für Elise off.

  7. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…that’s why I drink from any source of potable water when I’m in India. keeping my immune system fighting fit. Don’t want all this US sterility and cleanliness to weaken it.

  8. Aaww!! your’s the blog I could fall in love soon 🙂

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