Thirst by Varsha Bajaj, Can be read in a 3-4 hours depending on your speed, Young Adult

“Numbers they say don’t lie. But do they tell the story?”

~Minni p. 133

I actually finished reading this at the end of August, right about the time the story of Jackson, MS being without any clean water hit the news. While the book is set in India, reading the two stories (varied as they are) was a reminder that what seems like a problem “over there” is all too often a problem everywhere. We just have to know to look for it.

And, like those most heavily impacted in Jackson, this story is about a community that struggles to find and get clean water on a regular basis. And, like those in Jackson, the community is made up of some of the most marginalized in Mumbai. In this case, the community is of lower caste individuals. 

A photo of Thirst next to a pot of water waiting to be boiled.

The story centers on 12-year-old Minni and her struggles to manage to keep her family going. What initially begins as a story about the lack of water becomes so much more when her brother and their friend accidentally witness people stealing water. They then must go into hiding, followed quickly by her mother becoming ill and going to stay with her mother. As the remaining “lady” of the house, Minni was responsible for caring for and feeding her father, gathering and boiling the water daily, keeping up with her school work, and covering for her mother at her domestic servant job. It is a lot for a 12-year-old to handle. 

The title and book description would suggest the water issue would be front and center of the entire story, but, in many ways, it hovers in the background. When we think about our own access to water and the role it plays in the background of our daily lives, the subtleness of the water crisis and how it impacts Minni’s daily life—as part of the routine rather than an every second issue—becomes familiar. Of course, the water crisis comes roaring back to grand effect in the last third of the book.

But the story is about so much more than the water crisis. Indeed, the water crisis is a symptom of larger issues of caste discrimination, poverty, the privilege of wealth, the value of education, gender discrimination and expectations, and more. It is amazing how much is packed into this short 179-page story, which is a testament to Bajaj’s writing.

If you’re looking for a quick but impactful read, this would be a good one. Just don’t forget that “over there” isn’t as far as we like to think it is.

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