Fetching drinking water for the family meant a 10-minute rickshaw ride or a tiring 2km walk for Suchitra Bairagi of Harindanga village in Bagula, Nadia. A long wait in the queue meant losing out on precious work hours for the 42-year-old kantha artisan.
Today, a tubewell just a stone's throw away from her house saves her time, energy and even health woes.
Harindanga and East Chunari villages now have three tubewells with clean water to drink, thanks to an initiative by the German consulate.
A team from the consulate, headed by Angela Grossmann, the vice-consul in Calcutta, visited the two villages recently to inspect the tubewells and interact with the villagers.
Most of the women of the area are supported by Shamlu Dudeja and her NGO, The SHE Foundation. "There are over 100 artisans from Bagula (in Nadia district) registered under our NGO and the rest, around 250, are supported by us," said Dudeja, who also accompanied the team. At present, she supports over 800 kantha artisans across Bengal.
The German consulate had handed over Rs 1,47,000 for the micro-project to SHE Foundation last year. The latter ensured its speedy completion and also got the water examined.
"The best thing about our tubewell is the hygiene factor. It has been built in a clean environment with no toilets or garbage dump nearby. That makes our drinking water safe now," said Suchitra's neighbour, 36-year-old Rinku Biswas.
Suchitra, Rinku and many other women in Harindanga stitch in their spare time to supplement the family income. "We stitch in the afternoon or when there are no household chores to take care of. We would waste a lot of time looking for good drinking water. That affected our productivity. Now life has become easy," smiled Rinku, who has a tubewell just next to her house.
The happiest of all is Jaya Rani Biswas, all of 100 years old. The wrinkled lady hugged Grossmann and Dudeja for the "gift".
"We have a social responsibility towards our artisans. Getting funds for the tubewells was a step towards that. We try to help villagers in every possible way. These tubewells are for everyone, not just for the families of our artisans," said Dudeja, as she and the village girls impressed Grossmann with samples of kantha work.
It was a double boon for East Chunari, the bigger of the two villages. In celebration, the villagers gave Grossmann a taste of rural life, taking her on a tour of the village and sharing personal stories with her.
"This is the first time I am travelling so far (around 93km from Calcutta) to meet project beneficiaries. I am so glad we could help these villagers, for whom clean drinking water is a luxury. It is good to touch hearts," she said, posing with the villagers for snaps and learning how to pump a tubewell and sieve mustard seeds as well.
"I tasted tubewell water for the first time," she laughed.
Molina Biswas, 40, is happy she has more time in hand. "Fetching drinking water was a big deal for us. Covering long distances on foot would leave me tired and if I got chatting with a friend there, it meant a longer break from work. Often the water was not even healthy. Now I can spend more time at home," she smiled.