“Paani Chala Gaya”: Why India Will Never Have its The Shape of Water


“Paani Chala Gaya”: Why India Will Never Have its The Shape of Water

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

As I watched the brilliant Guillermo Del Toro’s masterful The Shape of Water recently, I found myself drowning in the surreal romance of the story. A mute woman rescues an exotic water creature from the hands of evil scientists and eventually falls in love with him – a fairytale as beautiful as it is imaginative. After all, how many times have we imagined making love to our beloved in a bathroom filled with water, submerging everything in the process?

But as I returned home, still crushing on the pure, honey-to-the-eyes movie, it occured to me that this story could never be based in India. I mean, the ancient water god wouldn’t have it. We simply don’t know how to treat his favourite element right.

A lot of Indian cities are staring at a dry future. Bangalore is one of the first few world cities heading toward Day Zero. Gujarat too, is staring at a water crisis, due to plummeting water levels at the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river. Police stations have been asked to save up on water and most public swimming pools have been instructed to remain dry.

In Delhi, especially in the posh southern parts, Delhi Jal Board tankers are a usual sight. The blue, grimy, cylindrical vehicles are stationed at every other door, like the God of death, letting out a pre-decided amount of water from their slithery pipes. The landlady then goes to each floor, exacting equal amounts of cash from every floor’s occupant. I recall watching my Ma count ₹66 diligently as her one-third of the 200 bucks every alternate evening, summer after summer.

In a country like ours, what chance would the creature, who needs to stay hydrated all the time, have of falling in love? He might be an anti-hero instead, avenging the loss of his habitat from the worst of us.

The many times you may have heard water overflowing from a tank near you, feel free to invite the monster to treat him like “cat meat”

Like the aunty next door, who washes her vegetables for far too long. Amphibious man would hate this woman who washes her vegetables not once but twice, perhaps as a nervous tic. Once when she gets them home from the market, and the next time when she decides to cook them. She also washes the rice about eight times. She doesn’t care if she is spending too much water; if the tap has it, she’ll let it flow. Hell, she will water her balcony for extreme sport.

Then there is that guy who needs a “bucket list” to wash his clothes: One to soak, one to rinse, and one more just to be sure the detergent doesn’t stick. With a washing machine, it will always be the whole 45 minutes for him; the 15-minute quick wash just won’t do. Because anything less than 45 minutes and the domestic goddess award will go to Sarita next door.

The monster’s wrath will then be directed at the bachelor who works in a call centre all night and sleeps all day, the one who leaves the “paani ka motor” on for way too long. The many times you may have heard water overflowing from a tank near you, feel free to invite the monster to treat him like “cat meat”.

Water man might be joined in his efforts by that person at your workplace who dares to drink water left in a bottle for over two days because she can’t bear to throw it out. At home, she waters her plants with the water she washes her vegetables with. She checks every tap obsessively and walks around the house like a horror movie actress until she finds that one tap that goes “plop plop” all night. This person will be Amphibious Man’s Eliza. They’d better not go for a romantic cruise down the Ganga though.

Unlike the Oscar-nominated film which is an other-worldly romance, our desi version is more of a thriller. Or even a documentary. In India, The Shape of Water is the shape of our future. Which might be without water one day.