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The modern-day mashqis

September 08, 2013
Children queue up to get potable water from a tanker.
Children queue up to get potable water from a tanker.

You turn on the faucet and only air comes out. You start the paani ki machine and it simply groans and grumbles. That’s when you know that it’s time to call that number you keep handy. Yes, the people without whom you cannot bathe, wash your hand or even the dishes. The all-important tanker-wallah.

Why don’t the contacts of water bowser suppliers also appear in that box of emergency numbers in the newspaper? That’s because they are not a service, but a business. But to me, it is an emergency alright!

Amjad Shamrez owns three tankers of 2,400 gallons and each tanker costs around Rs1,800 to 2,000. When asked what causes the variation in price, he says, “As you know, all the hydrants are illegal. So when the one that is nearest for us in Chakra Goth closes, which happens every now and then by the way, we have to get our fill from the industrial area in Mansehra Colony, Quaidabad.”

Travelling the extra distance means burning more fuel and therefore he charges an extra Rs200. “But we can charge the extra amount from new customers only. The regular ones already know our rates and argue when asked to pay more. And anyway, since we are charged Rs500 per tanker by the hydrants, it is not that big a loss. We still make a profit,” he admits.

Asked if he only dealt in sweet water or was he also selling brackish water, Shamrez quickly announces that his ‘product’ is one hundred per cent sweet water. “Khara paani (brackish water) is cheaper as it only costs Rs200 per fill but the other tankers still sell that water for the same amount as for sweet water. But we don’t cheat,” he informs.

“The brackish water is either boring water (water obtained from a well, not as you may imagine, unexciting water) or ground water. We sell both boring water and sweet water,” says Mohammad Saleem, another water supplier. “Boring water isn’t always too brackish or saline, too. It has different qualities and we inform our clients when it is boring water,” he adds.

“Recently we found that hydrant water, which is mostly line water being sold illegally anyway, had several contaminants due to the rains. That’s when people preferred the ground water,” he says. “The boring water we get is from the Teen Hatti bridge. You can hardly tell the difference between that and sweet water. It is that good. We charge one rupee per gallon for boring water. Since you can’t really tell the difference, we can also sell it for more while passing it off as sweet water, but that would be cheating,” he says shaking his head.

Saleem also said that most of his clients were in Orangi. “There is more water shortage in that part of the city,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Ayaz Khan, who owns a small Suzuki water tanker, says that it has a capacity of 1,000 litres and costs Rs700 per tanker. “It can also cost you more because my pickup runs on petrol and if I have to travel far to supply the water, the rate will go up naturally,” he reasons.

When asked which hydrant he filled his tanker from, the fellow says that he doesn’t go to any hydrant. “I buy water from a building owner in Zamzama. I pay him on a monthly basis for it,” he explains.

Asked how much he paid monthly, the man starts avoiding giving an answer, “Sister, my brother knows about these things but I just can’t locate him right now.” S.H.