Once upon a time, on the outskirts of a dusty little village, a tiny bird searched for a place to lay her eggs. The land was parched and dry and there wasn’t a bush or tree in sight. Finally in desperation, the little bird discovered a shallow depression in the ground. Using her claws to remove the stones and loosen up the packed earth, she broadened the hole and there, underneath the hot sun, she laid her eggs. The eggs hatched and the good mother protected and fed her babies until they were big enough to fly away… And here our story would have ended, except, this isn’t a tale of the little bird but a much more interesting one of the hole she used as a temporary nest.

     “A hole?” you may ask. “What could be interesting about a hole in the ground?” Well, this hole grew to be quite important, as you will discover.

     For some time the hole remained dusty and untenanted, until one day a passing wild boar settled his rump into the depression. The pit was not comfortable enough and getting up, he scraped and dug, carving a pit of more hospitable proportions. Backing into this hollow, he turned around a few times and with a satisfied grunt settled down to a long snooze. A very long snooze it was too. The boar turned and scrabbled in his sleep, loosening the earth around his cosy dugout until the fading sun and the rumble in his stomach told him it was time to get up. With a mighty stretch and a final kick, the hungry boar departed his daybed without a backward glance.

     “And is that it?” you will enquire. To which I will reply, “No it isn’t, dear one. Not by a long shot. Our story has just begun.”
     A pack of wild dogs catching the scent of boar in the wind came to the spot where he had lain. They sniffed the circle that was rich with the smell of the animal. They whined and snarled and dug at the smell as if digging the elusive boar himself out of the ground. Finally, realising that there was no dinner to be found there, they departed, their noses and tails high in the air. And in doing so, they left the hole a little bigger and wider than they had found it.

     “And then what happened?” you will ask. “Do other animals come along too?” They do indeed, my child. I told you the hole had a story to tell!

     Not long after, the rains came. It poured and poured and only those of us who have seen the monsoons will know what that means. It rained without stopping for three days and three nights and the dry earth soaked up the moisture, as a hungry puppy laps up milk.

     The whole earth smelled wet and fresh and even the normally serious–looking people in the village went around with smiles on their faces. The hole in the ground collected the water that fell and around its edges the grass grew a brighter green. Soon buffaloes discovered the grassy spot and as buffaloes want to do, they wallowed in the puddly water, turning the hole into a muddy pit.
     I was not there to see, but I am told that many afternoons did the buffaloes gather and thus with a multitude of hooves trampling the soil, the pit that was once a tiny depression, widened and grew and became a little watering hole.

     “And they all lived happily ever after!” you will say in glee. But that rarely happens in real tales, my dear. There is more to go, so you will have to wait awhile.
     A poor farmer tilled the land near the once small depression. His life was hard and the rains were often cruel. In summer months he had to travel far to get water for his thirsty crops and even then his harvest was meagre. One day, not long after the last of the season’s rains, he straightened up from his back-breaking work and looked over the land that was soon becoming brown again. And on the horizon, just beyond his pitiful plot, his eyes came to rest on a patch of green. Going closer to investigate, the farmer fell to the ground with gratitude at the sight of the verdant bowl. Here was water to be had, and so close to his holding! Forgetting all tiredness, he raced home and brought out his pickaxe and spade and soon the buffaloes’ picnic spot was a perfectly decent little pond.

     “Is this story going to end with a moral?” you ask me suspiciously. No, little one, but there is something to learn from everything we see and hear; so hush, while I come to end of the tale.

     So happy was the farmer that he told his wife who summoned the village priest to bless their fortune. I do not need to tell you how soon news travels in a little village and so it was quite a crowd that gathered by the side of the pond to see the priest furrow his brow and chant serious something that nobody ever understands.

     Just then, the richest farmer in the village pushed his way to the front of the group. He was always upset when things took place that he was not invited to. Looking at the farmer and the placid pond, a slow smile of contentment creased his face. “I see you have come to bless my pond,” he said to the priest. “Your pond?” stuttered the poor farmer. “Why yes,” smoothly oiled the rich one. “Your patch, surely, ends just there. This land is all mine.” And saying this he crossed his arms and planted his feet four-square on the ground. As the rich farmer and the poor one looked at each other, the buffaloes, the dogs, the boar and yes, even the little bird stopped by to see. They all stood around the little jewel of blue and in every mind, small and big, came a similar thought: “Surely, I had something to do with this!”

     And so I end with a question to you, my beloved friend.

     “Who owns the water?” Not a moral, just a thought – a germ of an idea to dig and make bigger.
State Council of Educational Research and Training (2019). Term-3 English Standard-6. Who Owns the Water (pp 71-80). Published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation.