Bottled water may seem like a new idea, but it has been around for nearly 400 years. It is only more prevalent today. So, what did people do in old days when they became thirsty in the middle of the road and didn’t want to spend a nickel?
At least in Old Delhi, they went to a pyau. They were opened by generous private individuals, were free and were, generally, operated from a window in the house. There was a depression in the ground to collect the water that poured over and it was used as watering point by horses and other animals.
During my childhood , spent in an interior Odia village, I remember a richer version of the same concept. At the enty to the village, on a raised platform, families would take turns to sponsor and play host with a large cauldron of beverage. Known as avada pani. The same term is used for prasad from the temples too. So, now I understand, there must have been an element of sacred to the beverage.
Avada pani was a mix of curd, cumin and red chilli powder and curry leaves. It was never thick and always served cold. The cauldron will be restocked throughout the day. Children will be encouraged to run to the village and collect more curd, water or curry leaves in return for a glass of the avada. As children, we were the largest consumers and as we grew up, we became managers of the whole operation.
Coming back to pyau, they are not history, yet. We spotted an operational one in Kinari Bazaar. It was far too crowded to take a good picture, but there was this man, sitting behind a chest high wall, pouring water from a jug in hand, almost constantly, as people line up one after the other. And, such is the life of piety. Boring, repetitive, uneventful and hopefully, fulfilling. The real heroes never come in costumes.