I first moved to Delhi back in 1996. It was August... muggy... the middle of the monsoon and I'll never forget my first sight of it. If you've read Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon, you know it is an event nearly half the planet waits for, relies on, dreads...
Monsoon rain isn't a gentle downpour.... it isn't England's infamous 'spitting' mist. Nor is it America's dramatic thunderstorm with its drum kit of thunder and lightning.
The monsoon is one of nature's most enigmatic and sweeping events.
Each day nearly on the dot of 3 p.m., just as all of us hapless, severely underpaid Delhi journos felt our spirits and energy flagging... the first dollops -- large enough to rival frogs -- began to land. Within seconds, with little warning... sheets of water would descend. Anyone unlucky enough to be caught short of an awning was instantly soaked. For an hour, perhaps two, a staggering volume of rain would fall. There was no wind, no thunder or lightning... no drama. Just the utilitarian pouring of water from cloud, each drop hard enough to thump your scalp.
Today, the monsoon barely registers in this water-parched city of 16 million souls. India's hyper-polluted, eco-phobic lifestyle is helping ensure not only that the air and water are soaked with toxins, but that when something clean does come along, it's sure to be wasted.
A great proportion of rain water washes over this concreted city and either floods roads - which still seem to have no drainage well into the new millennium - or runs off into sewers to mix with the horrific sludge killing the Yamuna river.
Das, like the few effective plumbers in this city, is from the south-eastern state of Orissa, which, mysteriously, is the only place to turn out proper plumbers.
A few wooden pallets, a large plastic storage tank and some piping... and the stream of rain water that routinely runs off our roof, wasted, is now being harvested for thirsty plants. It's a 'drop in the ocean' though, given that our building's current water system is so criminally wasteful. Everyday, a pump is switched on that manually draws water up to the storage tanks on the roof. There's no sensor to tell you when the tanks are full though (there could be, if the landlord was willing to spend a few pennies), so every blessed day, I watch in fury as surplus city water pours from the overflow pipe into the street below.
I've covered communities in India where people are drinking putrid water without filtering or boiling (they can't afford the wood)... where people are killed in the brutal competition for water... where women walk for miles to drying wells for a few drops. And here we are pouring it off the side of our roof for the sake of a $150 sensor.
Don't get me started on the wasteful water heaters...!