On a Road, Less Travelled
There are some people whose lives revolve around creating change in society and uplifting everyone around them. One such special person who enriched every soil he touched, marks his birth anniversary today.
India's Waterman; Image Source- Swachh India NDTV

Born on 6th August 1959

At a very tender age, this individual knew that being of service to others is the only way to quench his thirst for life. He is one of those who left a well-paid government job with lifelong security at a time when the country had just recovered from economic recession in 1980.

You ask us why? Well, before that hydrate yourself because he is the 'Waterman of India'

Near to the land where the first fight for freedom emerged, there is a village named Daula. In 1959, it gave birth to Rajendra Singh, yet another revolutionary who saw the suffering of people and went along the path to 'be the change'.

Coming from an affluent family, his father was an agriculturalist who had their own land in the village. Living in much favorable conditions, he did his schooling from the village itself. However, as an observer, he always attempted to make sense of things around him as a child. His ability to find the right question was paired with his dedication to reach every possible outcome. In the latter part of his life, he used this tool to illuminate many lives.

"We have to change the way we think and look at things in a different way, it's difficult, but it's not impossible."

A member of the Gandhi Peace Foundation first ignited his interest in seeking truth when he met him. Mainly indulged in social work, the foundation members dealt with the ground problems of the villagers and how they can be solved.

That day young Rajendra was introduced to the world beyond books and in a provided space and time, he learned not only to empathize with peoples's conditions but also encouraged to follow the track that alleviates this suffering, for life. As expected, he got more involved in social activities and discussions to learn everything about politics and societal issues that concerns people. Consequently, he continued to volunteer in various organizations, involved in petty politics until he completed his education and became a BAMS doctor.

However, Rajendra's course of work was destined to go beyond his education and qualifications.

“You have only one heart and one mind. When you work in government service, you use neither.”

In 1980, he joined the government office where inadequacy in handling people's problems was the norm. While he questioned the authorities on one side, he worked with some roving blacksmith deprived of their daily bread, which inspired him to work closely with the populace.

Like a fascinating twist in the plot of this story, he resigned from his job in disappointment, sold all of his personal belongings, took the last bus stop on an unknown route, and took the road less traveled. And that made all the difference.....

But life is a loop and eventually revolves around the same things. It was Gandhi's birth day when he reached that last stop of bus to begin his new journey in a small village of Alwar district.

The trip started with Rajendra and his friends finding it difficult to be accepted by new people in a place they were unfamiliar with. Over time, villagers residing in Bhikampura began to accept them and they settled in the village. While, his friends promoted education in nearby hamlets, he began his own Ayurvedic practice. But that wasn't the end.

The story of this dark-zoned village where Rajendra's destiny was written had something bigger to question. For villagers, "Water was a bigger issue in rural Rajasthan than education", and instead of acting like some educated folks, he was chided to start from scratch.

With time, as they assimilated into the soil of the village, they began to look after many other problems that people dealt with, on a regular basis. They realised that medicinal or educational requirement were the least priority since the villagers couldn't fulfil the basic needs of drinking water for over past five years. Finally Rajendra found the right question that had to be addressed.

Having laid all of his research and inquiry to the test, he went deep into the well, quite literally, in an effort to uncover the root cause that indicated years of resource exploitation and overuse. The result was that the wells reached the point that even digging them deeper would negatively impact the already diminishing water table.

On his Journey; Image Source- Development News

Rajendra then, discovered an ancient method of storing water during rainy seasons by building small dams called johads on rivers. His friends, however reluctantly left midway. He then started desilting the local pond, laying infertile after years of neglect and paid attention to techniques learned from locals about water conservation.

As a result of many long days and nights of hard work and with the help of the local community, wells in the village were able to reach an approximate depth of 15 feet. The crystal clear water was all set for drinking purpose, by the end of the next three years.

The village that was blacked out for so long over a lack of water, it was the time to finally declare it as a "white zone". But Rajendra's journey never stopped. Like a perennial river, he went with the flow.

Provided that he recently discovered the answers to his questions and realized the adverse effects of climate change, Rajendra began his padyayatra (walkathon) from village to village in which he raised issues about environmental exploitation. Using a previously extinct source of water, he filled up many dried-up ponds and built dams to provide water to the villages. Despite the difficulties faced, he walked so far that even an extinct river that had been dried up for over 60 years was born again to flow through the villages and reached the target of 375 johads.

Explaining the structure of Johads; Image Source- Millenium Water Story
Aravri River was given the International River Prize in 1995. The following decade saw more rivers being revived after decades of remaining dry.

After this, significant impact was visible as the Gram Sabha, which were set up specifically to manage community resources, took up reforestation projects in numerous village communities. A number of drought-prone villages in adjoining districts got populated and farming began once again in once abandoned villages.

A big part of his work involves building earthen check dams, or johads, in 850 villages in Rajasthan. He was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2001 while the Jamnalal Bajaj Award was presented in 2005.

At last, one can find reasons to the question raised by Rajendra while quoting his line - "when our lives are connected with nature, we draw from indigenous knowledge, which is also a science, but with common sense". We now know that he would still be found on a road that is less traveled by, probably reaching some other dark zone to quench one's thirst and enrich another soil he touches.

But today, this Jal Purush ki Kahani is a documentary that certainly asks the right question from its viewers and raises only one genuine concern — Are we ready to find the answers and start from scratch???

Reminder: Don't forget to hydrate yourself!

Ishita Gupta Author
While I write life stories of others, make sure to get me the perfect 30 words that define me. Otherwise, I will mess it up with my own silly jokes.

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