My interest in photographing Delhi’s water towers started in 2012 when I began to notice the sheer number of towers dotting the city’s landscape. They are found in almost every neighborhood and are even marked on maps of the city along with tourist attractions, hotels and temples as a testament to their importance to the city and its residents. I returned to the subject years later and have now traveled to all corners of Delhi looking for these water towers. Many of them are no longer being used, replaced by underground tanks, and others have been demolished as the Delhi Jal Board, which manages most of them, has belatedly realized that the city is spread across a seismic zone.
I was initially drawn to the sculptural quality of the water towers but then grew interested in their relationship to the physical and social landscape around them. These physical landscapes vary from parks in upscale residential areas to government housing colonies and semi industrial zones. The towers themselves vary in design from simple utilitarian structures to more elaborate and intricate constructions implying aesthetic considerations well beyond basic functionality. The height of the towers all but ensures that they are usually the tallest elements in the neighbourhood. With this height, they enable the delivery of pressurized water even during power cuts and were able to provide water to the typically 2-4 storey high government housing projects. Without the towers, there was no water.
Access to water is a major challenge for many residents of Delhi. It is not at all uncommon for water to be delivered to neighbourhoods in tankers that are often under the control of the “Water Mafia”. Residents are forced to line up with their plastic containers meager rations of water of substandard quality. In this context, the towers taken on greater significance.