| AWWA India Board Chair Shirish Kardile shares his story
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AWWA India Board Chair Shirish Kardile shares his story

It’s been just over a year since AWWA India opened its doors, marking an historic step in achieving AWWA’s vision of ‘A Better World Through Better Water.’

During the past year, the Association’s first community of water professionals outside of North America has grown to include more than 200 individual members, as well as corporate, utility and student members. Staff and volunteers created a locally relevant website, an Opflow India edition, delivered two training programs and spoke at nine events.

Shirish Kardile is Board Chair and a warrior for safe water in his homeland. His father was instrumental in changing the course of water treatment in India, and Shirish had a front-row seat to it all. Connections asked Shirish to share his personal story in his own words:

My parents were born in Nasik (180 km from Mumbai, sorry 110 miles), then mostly a small pilgrim town. My mother is alive and father is expired four years back. Both came from very moderate income families. Both their families believed in the then “socialist ideology” (working for social justice and equality). In the then-supercharged patriotic atmosphere, both were witness to India’s freedom struggle in 1947. Since both of them believed in giving their best to society, they fell in love and got married in 1957.

My father being a civil engineer took the job in Public Health Engineering Department. My mother took the job as professor of mathematics. Myself and my younger sister enjoyed most beautiful childhood and adulthood in the family with very liberal views. Our parents never forced their views on us. They allowed us to absorb all the good, bad and ugly happening in the world, which ultimately helped us develop ourselves. My mother was then religious and father a non-believer in orthodox concepts of any religion. However, he never objected to my mother’s worship of gods, but politely used to wait outside the worship houses.

Later on, my father became interested in water, specifically drinking water. He was fortunate then to have access to the magnificent literature published by the-then International Water Supply Association and AWWA. He discovered his religion and became a die-hard devotee.

Those were the good days. After getting substantial experience in the field, he requested his mentors to shift him to research field. He became a “Research Officer” instead of “Executive Engineer”. He then went in a frenzy of work and started implementing his ideas in rural water treatment simplification. He became a rebel to “conventional” water lobby. With his limitations as a government servant, he had a simple answer. He used to construct pilots and study those thoroughly. His mentors allowed him to convert his pilot studies to actual plants. He earned his doctorate in unconventional way without attending a single class, by presenting his thesis based on the field work (under Prof. Dr. A.G. Bhole who was much junior to him). The then-legends of water treatment, Prof. Huisman and Dr. Ives, were the external examiners to his thesis and had no hesitation in recommending his work.

With his practical demonstrations of unconventional philosophy, and now having secured a conventional degree, his onetime critics became his followers. The rest is history. Together they changed the course of rural water treatment (No need to use words like ‘legends,’ etc. His holy ghost would not like that). He decorated the much-maligned (and least understood) word  ‘simple or simplified’ with such a gusto that it became the most relevant and prestigious in context to Indian rural water treatment in particular and then to water treatment in general.

In the meanwhile, the most significant event of his life happened around 1955. A contemporary, brilliant senior engineer, D.R. Bhise from then Bombay Municipal Corporation, returned back from his study tour of water supply systems in the United States. Next day he summoned an urgent meeting of his friends at his home in Mumbai. My father listened to him when Mr. Bhise told them about the story of a well-worn book lying on the table of one plant operator – “Operators Guide for Water Treatment” – and more importantly about the famous logo “AWWA” written in a small font on the cover page. No need to say, in Mr. Bhise’s single bedroom apartment a concept, IWWA -- Indian Water Works Association -- was born. My father had got his lifetime gift unexpectedly. A platform for dissemination, learning and sharing water in India, by Indians and for Indians.

In November 2015, we all celebrated the launch of AWWA India in Mumbai. These four or five gents now sitting in their heavenly abode must be smiling among themselves, contented. A greatest, repeat greatest, ever example of marketing for the good of India, I have come to witness myself in the contemporary world.

On my personal front, I am happy, having a great wife having learned graciously not to interfere in my religion – safe water at any cost. My son is settled in Toronto with a bank job. My daughter having won the most coveted Dr. Martin Luther King Award for promoting social harmony and equality for four years on campus of Iowa State University, is presently working in the Human Resources Department at a company in Iowa. Disappointed both of them have not followed in my profession!

Every 26th January my daughter calls me early morning and remembers her grandpa. Especially of watching India’s Independence Day parade together on the TV, hours together. Her grandpa answering her impish questions patiently. Yes, I am lucky being born free and have ensured a living free. I try to come to ACE every year, which is my Makka-Madina-Varanasi-Vatican and many more all put together, meet the high priests, discuss, seek confession, they bless and I return back to my land with a solace. My mother taught me never to forget 2 + 2 = 4 as a ground reality. My father taught me about the whole safe water philosophy lying beyond the PH and HP and always to make sure 2 + 2 is more than 4. I try to abide both. Journey continues to convert all shades of water to azure blue. My only expertise – trouble shooting of water, helps. Funniest part is I cannot even swim.