Pics and write-up: Saroj Thakur
When my marriage was fixed to a family in Hamirpur District, the first concern that my people held was the scarcity of water that some pockets of Hamirpur area experienced. After my marriage, among other experiences that my parents were interested to know were obviously the Khatis. “Do your in-laws, too, drink water from the Khatis?
It was for the first time in my life that this word had become a part of my vocabulary, little knowing how important this small word is in the life of people who had developed water sustaining method indigenously.
Necessity is the mother of invention, proved to its best in some small areas of the Hamirpur and Mandi districts of Himachal. Inquisitive, as I always am by nature, I wanted to know more about this water conservation method. I was surprised to find two Khatis near to our home, and some four to five in nearby homes. Though I wanted to know more but my inquisitive nature got a rebuttal when I came to know that two small girls had accidentally fallen in one of the Khatis and were declared dead by the time they were fished out. I thought of the Khatis as death traps and would not go near one.
But with the advent of peak summer days when the water level in the village well would recede a lot, it was the preserved water of the Khatis that would come to the rescue of the villagers. I had a change of heart as the drowning incident was an accident and could have been avoided if the Khatis had a covering to protect it. And I found that many Khatis had a cover on them not only to protect someone from accidentally falling in it but also to lock the precious water resource! It was now that I was able to see the importance that was accorded to Khatis by the villagers as the water shortage was really acute!
Khatis can be bored in hard rocky terrain where the water seeping from the hard rocky structure is stored. The main source of water collection, however, remains the rain water. I was surprised and was full of praise for the indigenous technology used to collect rain water. During the rainy season, the surplus water finds its way to the nearby Khud, so the village artisans provide water pipes on all sides of the slanting slate roofs and the rain water, that otherwise would have gone wasted, is diverted towards these Khatis.
The Khatis are of various sizes but most of them are of 12 ft by 12 ft by 12 ft big enough to a spacious room size! The rain water diverted towards and collected in the Khatis is used during the dry summer spells. Some Khatis have stairs in stone to get inside where small structures to collect water are constructed so that when the water level becomes lower, the most judicious use of water can be made!! Otherwise, the water is drawn through a rope attached to a bucket. Talking to some village elders revealed that it is a tedious job to have a Khati of this size when all work is done manually using hammer and the chisel. I wondered at the hard work put in by the diggers of the Khatis and the artisans who thought of this most indigenous method to collect rain water.
Rubber pipe fills it but who’ll clean this?
But unfortunately I found that if man is the most innovative being, sometimes, this faculty is used in an opposing manner as well. These days, when the Government has provided tap water in almost all villages, the people connect rubber water pipes to public/private taps and fill the Khatis as long as the supply is on! Some residents have disconnected the traditional indigenous method of water collection and depend upon this only. I think that the awareness campaign for the benefits of rain water collection should be popularised so that water as a precious natural resource can be preserved for a longer period! Not only this, in areas that don’t have rocky terrain, artificially constructed concrete Khatis should be made a must in all newly constructed houses so that the rain water could be collected and used later during the dry spells.