|We are at the gateway of the Indian Thar desert.
Domes dot the sandy fields of the village of Lahsedi in district Churu, Rajasthan. At the
edge of each dome are little holes, surrounded by a clean circular area. They look like
upturned cups in saucers staring at the sky. So does Ran Singh, who has made many of
these. Habitually, he looks or points towards the sky. Awaiting rain.
The structures are
kundis. Small, covered tanks to store rainwater captured by the neat surrounding
saucers. Under the dome is a well which holds the water. They are the main
source of water for the villagers. The saline groundwater is no good.
Official statistics put the average annual rainfall in Churu at 325 mm. There is a
government pipeline some two km off Lahsedi. It supplies water once a week. For two hours.
Or as and when the administration remembers that Lahsedi needs water. But villages here do
not depend on the vagaries of the administration. They rely on Ran Singh and his kundis.
The tall, well-built jat is sure-footed, even though 62 years have taken their
toll on his physique. He knows what he is all about. And of the five protagonists featured
in in this section, he is the most articulate. He likes to speak. He has opinions. On
"Pipeline is unpredictable. The government waterworks are like water-less eyes
that cannot see. What is their use?" he demands. He does not remember how he learned
to make kundis. His early childhood memories describe a Muslim craftsman who came
to the village from Ramgarh to make a kundi. Ran Singh was impressed by the
He saw. He learned. And he made kundis. About 400, he recounts. Or 450. He made
his first kundi at the age of 13. Who did he learn from? "God is my guru. I
just improvise from what I see. God is responsible for rain, without which we cannot
exist," he says. This is characteristic of the man. He is philosophical about
everything, exhaling smoke from his hookah.
Singhs philosophy is rooted in his observation. He is a man who has seen. Watched
closely. He understands rain. The behaviour of water, how it travels and how it should be
stored. "In the three months of the monsoon, we are okay if it rains thrice. If it is
less, then we are in trouble. If it rains four times, then its time to sow chana
(gram)," he says between pauses.
But what marks him out as a kundi-maker are his engineering skills. As he stands
near one of his kundis, the farmer on whose land it was built explains: "There
are others who make kundis. But the water is either bad in quality or inadequate.
Ran Singhs kundis are more reliable. His understands the depth and width very
well." Ran Singh says the villages prefer him because he finishes his work in little
Making a kundi is no easy task. It takes about 25 days. After selecting an
appropriate area, the first consideration is the incline towards the holes. The
inclination should catch as much rainwater as possible.
At the same time, it should not be too steep to send too much sand with water. The
depth of the well is varied, depending on catchment and requirements. Generally, it is
about 5 metres deep and 2.5 metres in diameter.
However, the most important consideration is leakage. Any flaw in the plastering and
the water will seep out into the greedy sand. Ran Singh uses cement. After the walls have
been plastered, the convex lid is placed on top. This is made with cement.
Kundis have brought Ran Singh the respect of his village. Visitors are a regular
feature at his house throughout the day. As he moves about, people salute him. They joke
with him. Despite his age, a good joke is never lost on him. He catches it like water.