69-year-old man Alagarathanam Natarajan, a cancer survivor, wakes up every morning before dawn and drives out in his van to fill up as many as 70 matkas so the poor don't go thirsty.
Water is life. We can all live without love, but nobody can survive without water. Especially not in Delhi's hot, dusty summers when the sun scorches down and thirst is an all-day companion. There are those who can afford to buy packaged drinking water on the go, but there are thousands of people - street vendors, road sweepers, rickshaw pullers, and many others - who can't. But help's at hand, thanks to 69-year-old Alagarathanam Natarajan, who has set up matka stands and provides free drinking water in his South Delhi neighbourhood since 2014.
Alagarathnam, better known as the Matka Man now, was born in Bangalore. He went to London to visit his sister on a tourist visa, but stayed back to start a souvenir shop. He seemed settled there, with a family, but things changed 10 years ago when he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer.
He won the battle, and now lives a cancer-free life in Delhi. After his return, he started working on designing sturdy and efficient cycle rickshaws. He did other things to give back - helped out at an orphanage and last-stage cancer hospice, served langar (food) to the homeless in Chandni Chowk, and carried out the cremation of destitutes to give them a dignified end.
In 2014, when he witnessed the scarcity of drinking water and the plight of people suffering due to thirst, Alag wondered how he could help. And, Matka Man was born.
On the role of Matka Man, Alag says,
“Delhi is thirsty. I am using matkas to provide drinking water to poor people. I have developed and set up more than 15 matka stands in my neighborhood in South Delhi. The stands have a sign with my telephone number, so people can notify me when a matka is empty, and a bench when there’s space. The matkas need around 2,000 litres a day in the summer months. The water is supplied by a school nearby and two kind souls. The rest I supplement from my own home.”
Every morning, Alag drives his van to fill the matkas. In case the water finishes by evening, one can call him to ensure a refill at the earliest. He tries to regularly distribute about 40-50 kg of seasonal fruits and vegetables to labourers when he's out refilling the pots.
Apart from matkas, Alag has also placed cycle pumps at some matka stands for people to use. He often distributes glow-in-the-dark stickers for safety purposes and spare nozzles for wheels.However, he's keen to do more, beginning by installing coolers at areas in Delhi so that those in need can get their fill of drinking water. He also invites people to help him by donating drinking water or making financial contributions.
Through this work, he has come to believe that “we are all crucially linked together but that society today has abandoned this interconnectedness. For this reason, I work now with my immediate community in Panchsheel Park and South Delhi. I wish to help those in need around me and also to inspire people to help those around them. Perhaps then, I can start a quiet revolution of human kindness”.