That is a public tap at Law College junction near where I live. There is something marvellous about it, that such a thing exists at all- the welfare state providing free purified running water for the populace. But this is one of the last taps standing. They used to be all over the place in my younger days, a common sight in major junctions.
This tap is a modern plastic device. The older ones were metal, phallic representations which had to be grasped and pulled up firmly to disgorge water. Freud would have had something to say their inventer. The obvious advantage was that the flow would cease when you released it. The modern plastic taps must be screwed shut after use, which often demands a level of civic sense beyond the average user. Penile taps wasted less water but someone had to keep holding them up.
The water provided is clean, filtered and purified by the corporation. Nobody drinks it now. Or at least no one does in the elitist circles I move in these days. My daughters are astonished when I tell them I used to drink from these taps. At home we drink boiled and cooled water which has previously been purified by an Aquaguard machine.
When I was a schoolboy everyone would run to the taps first thing during recess, and last thing after it. There was a battery of taps standing right next to the cage where Joseph the monkey lived. Our school also had an inhouse python whose name I forget. Once in a while someone placed a rat inside its cage. The rat would cower to a corner and the python would ignore it until it was hungry. The python knew there was no escape for the rat. The rat knew it too.
Back to the taps. We cupped our hands underneath and drank straight from them. On occasion the taps ran dry. Someone discovered that if you sucked a dry tap you could get a good drink. That was a wonderful feeling- perhaps it evoked some unconscious memory from postnatal days- and to this day I have an impulse to suck at a tap when it doesn’t yield water. Not that I would of course. I’m too old and affect too much of an air to do that sort of thing.
The water had a taste. We were taught that water was tasteless and colorless but Trivandrum Corporation water had this taste, a subtly sweet taste probably from all the chlorine. The taste didn’t survive boiling. I loved that taste. I wasn’t alone. Relatives from afar used to drinking bland well water agree with me in this matter.
One fine day after we were all grown up we began to drink boiled and cooled water. I’m not sure what happened to make the switch. Perhaps it was an item from one of the newspapers about how a decayed corpse was discovered in one of the Chennai corporation water pipes. The sweetness now suggested putrefaction. Were there corpses in the pipes to Trivandrum too?
Its Aquaguards everywhere now. No one drinks tap water. My daughters carry flasks to school, the younger, thirstier one has an extra large flask. We live in careful times.