Delhi: Cancer survivor, now Capital’s water warrior

- June 18, 2024
| By : Monish Upadhyay |

Alag Natarajan, 75, has taken upon himself to provide water to the thirsty through his water van.

Delhi: In Delhi’s Panchsheel Park, a van customised with dummy cameras, water taps and etched with quotes of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa makes its way through busy roads.

The vehicle, driven by 75-year-old cancer survivor Alag Natarajan, has come as a sigh of relief as the Capital continues to burn under the shadow of the heatwave.

“I always had an inclination towards social work,” says Natarajan.

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005, the senior citizen says that the experience of going through the ailment increased his zeal for social work.

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Natarajan, who lived in London for 33 years, got involved with a host of NGOs and social initiatives.

“After some time, I decided to do something around water,” he says while filling traditional mud pots, colloquially known as matkas.

The water van, a labour of love for the engineering enthusiast, has been a process of deconstruction and constant modifications.

“My van has certainly been an eye catcher as people often enquire about it and the work I am doing,” says Natarajan, as he drives to one of his matka stalls.

One of such stalls is located near a busy intersection in Panchsheel Park. People clamour to fill their water bottles as motorists stop to quench their thirst.

The Delhi resident has been serving water to the local community for the last seven years.

“Around 7,000-8,000 people use our matkas for water every day,” says Natarajan.

Such a large endeavour requires around 4,000 litres of water which is then poured in about 100 matkas, kept in different locations. Natarajan makes sure that commuters and residents alike are provided with water in an efficient yet respectful and aesthetic manner with two rounds of water distribution conducted every day.

Matkas are kept in neat, tidy rows alongside roads as they are equipped with wooden coverings and ladles to pour water.

The senior citizen, an enthusiastic collector, has placed old school taxi signs on his matka stalls to add an element of surprise and colour to the place.

“The worst form of violence is poverty,” a quote by Mahatma Gandhi also adorns the space.

“You see, it is not easy to transport such a huge quantity of water and thus, my van is equipped with premium generators,” claims Natarajan as he explains the mechanics of his vehicle.

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A 25-feet pipe connected to a pump helps the senior citizen to transport water drawn from a borewell.

“I have completely exhausted my borewell. However, a kind neighbour has provided me with his own so that I can continue to serve people,” he explains.

The senior citizen sometimes also faces suspicion and detractors.

“Sometimes people think that I am providing these services to kickstart a political career or gain something which is very unfortunate,” he sighs.

An overjoyed security guard rushes to a matka stall and starts to fill a water canister in the smouldering heat.

“It is sad that people employed in these posh colonies are not provided with even basic facilities such as drinking water. Everybody now lives in a silo with no mutual dialogue and empathy,” he says as the security guard struggles to carry the heavy water canister.

“I come from a humble background and through my childhood years, I saw my father doing a lot of social work and that is what keeps me going,” Natarajan says proudly.