- Five years from now, a chaotic fight breaks out as the water tanker arrives. There's been no water for the last five days and the rich and poor alike are facing parched times.
- It's fifteen years from now - there's no water left. The rivers are polluted; the ground water has been sucked dry.
- Then the children break into a song reminding us that there are things more precious than money.
This is a sequence of scenes from a 20-minute play by the Tanky Troopers, a group of 20 New Delhi-based school children between the ages of nine and 17, who have been part of a water conservation campaign being run by Anuradha Mehrotra, a member of the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of B-1/Vasant Kunj, a south Delhi residential colony, along with Nalini Pradhan and Richa sharma.
The production was staged this July at the American Embassy School, New Delhi, as a part of Badlaav 2009: Be the Change!, an annual convention on environment conservation by the United Nations Development. Before this, it was performed around six times at various places within Vasant Kunj to motivate people to save water in the area.
Overflowing water tanks, car being washed with water gushing from hose pipes, lawns being watered excessively - these are some common early morning sights in affluent residential colonies in the Capital. Without so much as a thought to the rising water crisis, people indiscriminately waste this precious natural resource. In fact, this summer the Capital saw a serous shortage of water, with many parts witnessing water riots for the very first time. This is why initiatives that motivate people to take conservation seriously are the need of the hour. And this campaign is a fine example.
The play, which is a part of this unique campaign, has engaged school children to create awareness about the need to conserve water. During the initial stages, the Tanky Troopers went door-to-door reminding and urging people to stop water from overflowing from their water tanks. The stage production is the dramatized version of these interactions with the erring adults. "We've been doing the rounds for months now. Our play shows how people are and our experiences with them. Most of them would start screaming and tell us to mind our own business. Some would say they were just turning off the tap but it would continue to overflow," reveals Nandini, a student of Class 11 from Mother's International School, New Delhi.
The play thus opens with the portrayals of the various kinds of people they came into contact with. The scene then skips to the near future to portray a group of people fighting over water. The performance is punctuated by a brief 'Kathak' (a traditional Indian dance form) recital, where the lithesome dancer expresses the plight of a dying river - clogged and polluted. The actors then present an apocalyptic view of the future where everything has dried up and people of all classes are desperate and dying.
Talking about the Kathak recital that she performs, Ranjini, a trained dancer and student of Class 11 at Mother's International School says, "It's a small piece but a very important one. I'm the river and we show how it's dying because of the misdeeds of people. People pollute it mindlessly."
Just within a few weeks, the play and campaign have elicited an impressive response. "At least ten people have come up and told me that they have made necessary arrangements in their homes and will not allow water to overflow. Even at school, I've been telling my friends and we've now started making it a point to turn off taps and water coolers," says Siddhartha, a student of Class 8 at Mother's International School.
Back on stage, two 13-year-old girls step forward and ask the audience to imagine the water situation in the slums - not far from their homes. "There are people just two minutes away who don't get tap water. They have to fight for two buckets and have to carry them back home. It is disgusting that we allow water to get wasted here," says Surabhi Nagpal, of Class Eight at Mother's International School.
This is one of the issues that has been addressed in the campaign, which has been on for the last three months, since May 2009. However, it was only recently that the Tanky Troopers decided to give it a creative outlet. It all started with Mehrotra, Pradhan and Sharma started their early morning checking rounds. They went along with a few kids who woke early enough during the summer vacations. Slowly, the campaign became popular, as people started responding to the appeals, and then the children enjoyed doing the rounds together. "We would later come back and joke about the aunties and uncles. It's from these jokes that we decided to make the play," says Vaishnavi Vardharajan, a student of Class 11, Mother's International School.
"This is the first time most of the children are acting, the experience has been great. There is a need to integrate children with our causes and also to familiarize them with theatre," feels Mehrotra, a coordinator of the water campaign.
The children see a role for themselves with this campaign. Not only do they feel socially responsible they also gain the confidence to speak out. In fact, the older children, aged 13 and above, have also been involved in a campaign to save fresh water lakes in the neighborhood. This campaign began with the formation of a citizens group in September last year. They have been working with the government for the restoration of the fresh-water lake, particularly in the light of the recent construction boom for the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi. The children have been involved with awareness generation.
For the last one year, this citizens group has been part of a drive to save and restore Neela Hauz, a fresh water lake near Vasant Kunj. Like many other fresh-water lakes around the city, Neela Hauz, located on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, is on the verge of extinction, covered under a huge pile of dirt and stones. This lake is part of the ridge forest and is a unique ecological site.
Nandini Mehrotra and Megha Nagpal, both students of Class 11 of Mothers International School, have been actively working for the lake. "Both the causes are inter-related but our approaches have been different. While the adults have approached the government to help save Neela Hauz, we have helped raise awareness. We hold demonstrations and give people pamphlets. We may perform for people of the Jal Board next," said Megha. They hope to push the Jal Board into fining people whose tanks leak and also look into their own wastage - 40 per cent of water supplied to Delhi is wasted in leakages.
"The children have been the force behind this campaign. They were driven even on days that we felt tired. It forced us grown ups to live up to our promises," says Mehrotra, adding, "the biggest landmark has been that more children are voluntarily coming out to join us. We started out with 10 children and now we are about 28 strong."
Meanwhile, the gutsy Tanky Troopers continue their work on weekends, educating themselves about other environment issues, as they prepare to take up bigger causes.