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Delhi’s waterman, the matkawala

ISP Delhi Bureau  

Be humble, be gentle, be kind’ reads his modified van which is quenching the thirst of thousands of people in Delhi today. Alag Natarajan, known as the Matkawala meaning the man with the water pot, provides more than 2000 litres of water to people in need in the Southern part of Delhi. Along with his mission to provide water to the thirsty, he also provides nutritious salad to the hungry in his water locations. To add up, he has installed thousands of air pumps for cyclists so that none of them is stranded on roads in the Delhi heat. 

Natarajan is retired from work and is a cancer survivor. A career engineer, his successful operation in London triggered in him the urge to return back to his motherland India and do something for the society for the rest of his life. A resident of Panchsheel Park in South Delhi, he chose to supply water to the thirsty and feed the hungry on the road. He spends his pension fund and savings for his social work, though he is not averse to volunteers joining him in his work and expanding the scope of his mission. Lately, some of his family members and friends have also started funding him for his work. 

His mission statement is boldly stated on his aesthetically and technically decorated water van in the quote by Mahatma Gandhi ‘poverty is the worst form of violence. His van is fitted with a compressor and power back up to refill water inside the hundreds of pots he has placed in various locations. He fills it at least twice or thrice a day doing trips on his water van. 

“I believe that animals, nature and we ourselves are a community and as such we must sincerely care for one another in all our different ways big or small to be able to live together in harmony. Every one of us has something to give and share with the community.

Unfortunately today we live in a society where the rich have become greedier and violently selfish, and as a consequence, the poor watching this growing inequality from the periphery, have become angrier. One of the consequences of this injustice is an increase in crime,” says Natarajan. When the summer situation is beyond normal, Natarajan adds watermelon slices and other eatables to his van storage to distribute to the hungry in the streets.   

His fame with the distribution of water in the city is only less than a decade old development. But even before that, Natarajan had worked steadfastly to contribute things creatively to society. He worked with Stanford University engineers to help cycle-rickshaw pullers in Varanasi make their vehicles more efficient. Once he volunteered at a Delhi school for homeless children and also worked with Shanti Avedna Kendra near AIIMS, Delhi to take care of advanced and terminally-ill cancer patients. He even conducts the last rites of scores of poor people who died at the cancer hospice and unclaimed bodies on the roadside. He converted his own utility vehicle into an ambulance-cum-hearse for the purpose. 

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