Last month I attended a conference in Delhi. I arrived late at night and went straight to bed. When I got up the next morning, I was surprised to discover that just beyond the boundary wall of the conference venue was a sprawling slum.

I had just made a cup of coffee when I heard a commotion outside. A crowd of more than two hundred had gathered and many were in a fierce battle. I watched as one young man tore off his shirt and waded into the throng, swinging his fists at anyone who got in his way.

The crowd was so thick it took me a moment to register that the focus of the chaos was a water tanker, and that the conflict was over who would get served first. Buckets and drums lay strewn about, and a few women were trying to pull the fighting men apart. Suddenly the truck’s engine roared and it moved away from the scene. The fighting stopped abruptly and the crowd slowly dispersed.

Several drums of water had been filled up and left unguarded, and I stood there wondering what would happen to them. After a few minutes, two men arrived with a long pole. They hung one of the drums on it and together carried it down the hill. I don’t know what happened to the others because I had to go get ready for the conference. I went in to take my bath, and, with even greater amazement than usual, watched as the water flowed into my bucket.


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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.