Writing on Children’s day, I cannot help but recall a childhood/teenage wish that will never be fulfilled, at least not in this life – I wish I had been born old enough to romance Jawaharlal Nehru. Read more

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I am sure Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a wonderful thing and not just the event management that it has been reduced to by many of his ministers and party men. But if the Clean India campaign has to succeed we do not just need politicians with brand new brooms making a show of sweeping and mopping up – it needs a seismic cultural and attitudinal change for it to have any effect at all, else it will remain a periodic photo-op for the mighty and the powerful while they continue to live in surroundings full of filth and muck.

Just last week, there were news reports that in a train in South India, normally perceived as the cleaner part of the country, a passenger using the toilet was asked by the railway attendant not to disturb the blocks of ice stored near the water closet. When she asked what the ice was meant for he said, without batting an eyelash, “To cool soft drinks and keep the meat fresh.” Eew! I immediately decided that the next time I travel by train I am carrying my own ice and fruit juices.

But after the first reaction when my hair stood on end, I wondered why I should have been surprised. For my sister’s TamBram, (and no offence meant to the community in general) in-laws are particularly piggish about their hygiene. They have no dustbins in their home – they take particular pride in thus keeping it clean. So what happens to their garbage? Well, they pick curry leaves and chillies out of their food and leave it beside their plates on the dining table. Then the matriarch sweeps it all together and throws it out of her kitchen window on to the roof of the neighours house! This caused a big strain on my sister’s marriage soon after her wedding –she solved the problem by going out and buying a dustbin. But everytime she returned home from work, she would discover her mother-in-law had washed and cleaned and polished that dustbin dry and put it in the store room Their home was too clean to need a dustbin, you see! It became a daily uphill task for my sister to keep that dustbin use.

But it is not just about one region or community. Years go as a school going kid, we had some very rich business people move opposite our home and, soon thereafter, my poor father who went out to wash his car each morning would discover pools of shit around the vehicle. The car was housed in an open shed with no doors and we had no way of securing it. So one day we set the alarm for four in the morning and all of us sat by the window to find out for ourselves who was messing up our environment. Imagine my morther’s horror when we discovered that the neighbour’s four young children arriving with a bucket of water and four mugs to take positioms around our car and happily leaving the mess to be cleaned up by the society sweeper who had begun to protest at this daily chore.

We did not know how to stop this, so on advice from our other neighbours we collected a lot of stones one day and when the children arrived the next morning for their ablutions, we began to stone them from our windows. That bought their enraged mother to our doorstep. When we reminded her that she had three toilets in her home, she said, “We keep our homes very clean. We do not soil it by using our toilet!’’ I have still not gotten over that logic.

They did not bathe in their baths either – instead they bathed on the doorstep leading to the kitchen corridor which ended up creating a lot of soapy mess at the entrance to their neighbour’s kitchens – that issue had to be resolved by beating at their kitchen door with sticks whenever neighbours spotted the beginning of the soapy overflow seeping out onto their doorsteps. A generation later, we have still not been forgiven for forcing them to use their toilets and bathrooms.

So, despite the controversy, I agreed with actor and BJP MP Paresh Rawal that Indian temples are the dirtiest of all places of religious worship anywhere in the world. It is not a general rule but even a temple like the Tirupati Devasthanam can get messy (while surprisingly Dharmasthala also in the South manages to be so clean). The mess is worse at temples where there might still be animal sacrifices (even if just of roosters or chickens) and the toilets at these places have to be both smelt and seen to understand how dirty Indians can really get.

And look at the toilets even at the posh plushy airports – only this week I have seen Twitter posts lamenting the state of the Ahmedabad airport loo as the filthiest in India and also on the poor state of the toilet the Chandigarh airport – so this has nothing to do with rich or poor, south or North Indian. It is just the state of the Indian mind to not clean up after oneself and leave a mess behind for the next user. Unless this mind set changes, the Swachch Bharat Ahbhiyan will remain just an event management exercise.

By the way, one needs reminding that Maharashtra ‘s Sant Gadge Maharaj had already instituted a cleanliness drive years ago and the state government had implemented the Nirmal Gram Yojana in his name in every village to some success. Actress Preity Zinta, too, had undertaken a cleanliness drive in Bombay some years ago – with much fanfare over brooms and garbage bins and all – but I guess even she had to give up in the face of the Indian transience over lack of cleanliness.

Then, again, I have seen several toilets in many of Maharashtra’s recently rehabilitated villages turned over to stowage while people continue to use the nearby fields for ablutions/ And in a city where the government built one room tenements for slum dwellers, with attached toilets, they still preferred to use the staircases for their daily routine.

How do we change these mind sets and go beyond the event management to actually implementing cleanliness and hygiene, personal and environmental? I guess that is a million rupee question for sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists to answer.

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Years ago after a rather scintillating interview with Bal Thackeray, I thought I had a sort of `scoop’ of the century. The Shiv Sena was ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP and the 13 day government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had just reinstated the Srikrishna commission probing the 1992-93 Bombay riots, which had earlier been dismissed by the state government. Thackeray was livid. He sent for me when I called him for a reaction – it was worth every minute spent at Matoshree to watch him letting off steam. I recorded the entire interview. Read more

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If any one wishes to understand the meaning of the phrase `free for all’ in its full import, they need only look at Maharashtra since the break up of the two alliances, the Shiv Sena-BJP and the Congress-NCP. Everything has gone haywire since the two divorces and party lines are blurred. Caught unawares just less than 48 hours before nominations closed, no party bar the Congress seemed to have canidadtes of its own for all the 288 assembly seats. So all have been poaching right royally from the others – NCP men have moved to the Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS, in some places joined hands with the Congress. The BJP has borrowed liberally from the Congress, the MNS from the Shiv Sena, the Sena from the BJP and the NCP from the Congress, giving a new meaning to the term `import-export’. No one is now certain how it will all pan out and which party will lead the stakes at the end of the polls.

Analysts are confused and I wonder if the voters will finally be able to make sense. I had always advocated for long that the four political parties in Maharashtra should go it alone to test their respective strengths but even I had not accounted for the amount of bitterness that would entail. The BJP has the maximum at stake at these elections and so is cautious in its criticism of the Shiv Sena. The Congress has a weak leadership and is, moreover, led by a gentleman (Prithviraj Chavan) and so ignores the NCP. But the NCP and the Sena are at the throats of their former allies, calling them names and offering every insult under the sun to their former allies – I wonder where this will all stop.

But it is the Sena which is acting as the wounded tiger in his game. I wonder where its advice is coming from but am surprised to see the party mouthpiece with a new spin on the BJP every day. They have called the party pro-Gujarati (because both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are from the neighbouring state), tried to raise the 1960s bogey of Gujarati domination of Bombay, described the party as renegade and now denied that the BJP has any right to profess the Maharashtrian culture. I wonder if any one party can quite be entruted with the exclusive custody of any culture anywhere – if so that is a sure fire way of inviting cultural terrorism and moral policing and I do not thnk any one would appreciate that.

Yet the Sena is appropriating to itself the moral right to represent the people of Maharashtra and giving offence to the BJP on its inability to do so. But when party leaders make statements like that they should sit back and think if they represent all of Maharashtra or just Mahsrashtrians alone. For Maharashtra, over the past decades, has become a very cosmopolitan state and at least in Bombay, the state capital, local Marashtrians are in a minority — just about 40 per cent of the populations. At one time anti-Gujarati an anti-South Indian, the city has been taken over by Uttar Bharatiyas and its a toss up as to whether the north Indians, including large sections of Muslims, will vote for the Congress or the BJP – they will certainly not root for the Shiv Sena and the MNS which has been systematically targeting North Indians both Hindu and Muslim over the past few years.

Outside of Bombay the Sena has diminishing influence – in Marathwada it exists because a of an anti-Dalit sentiment, in Vidarbha it is sparse but mostly exists vecause of its fierce opposition to a separate Vidarbha from Maharashtra. I will do well in the Konkan but the BJP will override the Shiv Sena in the Khandesh and Western Maharashtra is essentially Congress-NCP turf. So how does the Shiv Sena become the custodian of all these people of Maharashtra?

It is my reasoned opinion that in this one-upmanship, neither the Sena nor the BJP know where they are going. The only leader of consequence on the campaign trial is Sharad Pawar but since he is not a candidate for chief minister, it is doubtful if his nephew Ajit Pawar will be able to enthuse the voters much. Uddhav Thackeray is not what his father used to be and his cousin Raj Thackeray makes some attractive noises but has essentially been reduced into a non-entity. The BJP has a star campaigner in Modi but he cannot be a chief minister of the state and the party has no worthies in that department, The only leader with a credible image then is Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress but he is a novice at the game and is battling his first election, quite all on his own. One does not know how well he has understood Maharashtra and if at all he will be able to combat the veterans in this game.

That is why I say the game is undecided till he end . It is now open season in Maharashtra.

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In the end, it was almost anti-climactic. Leaders of the Congress were completely unsurprised at the Nationalist Congress Party’s decision to break away from its 15 year old alliance. And Congress workers who had been urging their party leaders for yeas to do the same were delighted. Read more

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On Teachers’ Day today, I can see a lot of tributes being paid by all people to all their teachers. I learnt a lot from most of them but the tributes I saw got me thinking if there was any one in particular that I could pick out as particularly influencing my life, education and career – sadly in early life and school days I cannot think of one. Read more

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During the course of an interview that I was conducting with him some years ago, I remember actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha nearly jumped from his chair, electrified as I broke into Hindi. Read more

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After the BJP wins nearly a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it seems a bit much for BJP leader Vijay Goel to threaten migrants from these states with deportation/prevention of free movement into Delhi – it reminds me of the time when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had made a similar statement soon after his party came to power in Maharashtra. Read more

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What a state of flux Maharashtra’s politics seems to be in – I have always heard that there can be no permanent friends or enemies in politics but here, on the western shores of India, the dividing lines seem to be etched in acid with no room for crossovers. Read more

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