Water for All & Other Poems: Poetry with a purpose

A set of poems by G Venkatesh, a researcher on water and sanitation issues, seamlessly bring together important issues concerning water in verse form.
Water for all and other Poems Water for all and other Poems

An engineer or an ecologist talking about water may not cause many heads to turn, but when they do it through poetry, there is a chance that more people will take notice. With water as the recurrent theme, topics including water and technology, dams and development, scarcity and wastage and other such parallel and often conflicting sentiments are echoed in the booklet titled 'Water for All & Other Poems' by G Vekatesh.

How  fickle is our memory that we easily forget the lessons we learnt the previous summers at the onset of monsoons! We continue with gay abandon ‘Washing cars, watering lawns; Bathing long at wintry dawns’. Water wastage is accepted as an inherent part of our life, as we ignore ‘Those old pipes leaking away, none was bothered, none did pay.’

In another poem, a tap prays never to be recast as a ‘helpless kitchen tap’, or else at least have hands so that it could close itself off and stop those precious water drops from going down the drain. As also talking about having sensors in taps, the response is  typical, ‘It costs quite some money, and water , you know, is dirt cheap...’

Another poem, aptly titled ‘Hungry men in well lit huts’ talks of how dams block free-flowing rivers in the name of progress and electric power, lose fish and food and turn areas into ‘dust bowls’. Global warming is seen from a different perspective, in another verse, where Santa Claus lays off his red nosed reindeer, Rudolph, and switches to a yacht!

Cynical at times, there is a subtle barb at industries that spew toxic waste into the rivers, and still perform within the regulation limit by diluting the outflow, through ‘water in the town, that is very cheap.’ The poems cover a gambit of socio-techno-economic related water issues, and communicate these through simple and sensitive verses.

Below are excerpts from a short conversation with the author.

Why did you turn to poetry for an issue like water?

Poetry is often not used in the way it should be. It is far from just a medium for romantics to express their innermost thoughts in. One can appeal to the common man (who here is the consumer of water and sanitation services), more ardently through art, poetry, cinema etc. I was just experimenting with this thought, and having worked with water and wastewater issues as an engineer and researcher, I thought I could move a level up in order to communicate effectively with people.

What are the 3 major water issues that the world faces today?

Oh, there are many! And different parts of the world would have to tackle different combinations of issues. Hence, it would be difficult to just name three as the major ones for the whole world, in general.

In my opinion, though, if you really want me to name three, these would be

  • Water wastage
  • Corruption and lack of proper use of public money to provide services
  • Non-appreciation of the value of water in most parts of the world, owing to the fact that it comes very cheap!

How do you think that the modern world's attitude has changed towards water?

Scarcity problems have made some stand up and think. But a lot more needs to change. There are new demands now, and what was not necessary in 1990 for instance, is very much necessary now. 

What can help solve these ever increasing water problems? Who do you think can be the game changers here?

It is the end-consumer who needs to play a key role. Take responsibility and start using water optimally; think about others before wasting water; coming together to harvest rainwater in localities and pool resources to use the harvested water for the needs of a few hundreds in the locality.

Which of the poems is your favourite? Which do you feel will connect the strongest with your readers?

Difficult to say. They are all like my children and hence cannot say that one of those is the favourite one. However, I would like to refer to a review in a Polish journal, where the editor has identified two as his favourite. 

What lies ahead of this book? Any plans to write anything more?

I have been writing a lot of scientific journal publications related to water and wastewater in leading journals of the world. If your question refers to poetry specifically, I am working on poems focused on animals and birds. I hope someone may show interest in sponsoring and publishing these. There are no limits to creative endeavours, as we all know; and efforts will continue in this direction – communicating with people through articles, poetry, journal papers, etc. 

Any particular inspiration for writing poems on water?

Since 2005 I have been associated with water and sanitation issues as a researcher. Poems on water followed as a logical consequence of this. Though I had stopped writing poetry in 1998, I took it up again, thanks to the encouragement of my wife, Varshita!

The royalties from the sales of the book ' Water for all & other poems', are directed to Water for People. They would most likely find use for that little sum of money in the projects they are carrying out in West Bengal. It is ‘poetry with a purpose’, as Plato would have wanted!

 

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