Kolkata’s Answer to Parched Lips

Our home in Central Kolkata often had a visitor, almost every week. Carrying water in a huge, brown, goat-skin bag; he would arrive in our locality between 9 am and 10 am.

I take this opportunity to slightly digress from my daily chronicles of hawkers and street vendors, and highlight one of the dying professions of the city. Mashq walas, as we used to call them were a source of relief for homes that ran out of water. Toiling for hours through the day, carrying 30 litres of water in their mashq, the tribe of water carriers is beginning to vanish. A little research and help from a friend enabled me to learn more about these helpers of the city. They are known as Bhishtis, derived from the Persian word behesht, meaning paradise.

One of Rudyard Kipling’s poem – Gunga Din speaks about a bhishti who was shot and killed while saving a soldier’s life in British India.

For Rs. 10, the bhishti would fill two buckets with ‘meetha pani‘ for us. Covering several localities, making multiple trips, climbing countless floors – by the end of the day, he would make about Rs. 300 to Rs. 400.

Owing to many different reasons, future of bhishtis look bleak. Drying up of tube wells and the evolving preferences of individuals leave not much scope for the water carriers.

Many have also been opting for alternate professions to support their livelihood. Years will go by, people will come and go, newer experiences will replace the older ones; will we then still remember the ones who brought us relief; while they burnt under the scorching sun?

Have you met a water carrier in your city? What do you call them there?
On that note, I bid adieu! See you tomorrow!

Bhishti, filling water in his goat-skin bag from a street-side tap
Bhishti, filling water in his goat-skin bag from a street-side tap. Image courtesy – @ammarhamid89




16 thoughts on “Kolkata’s Answer to Parched Lips

Add yours

  1. Gunga Din is one of my favourites too.
    We don’t have water carriers in Shimla but there used to be rickshaw pullers with those rickshaws from the British era. Now there are collies who migrate from Kashmir. It is difficult to be in a place like Shimla without them. Your post just motivated me to do a story on them when I get home this time. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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