So Natha did really commit suicide this time! And everybody, including politicians and the television channels had their ‘Peepli Live’ moment. Read more

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….one might well ask. Does not a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Not when it comes to the Thackerays, however. They should actually spell their name as be T-h-a-k-r-e but then they will lose the unique colonial flavour to their name if they switched to the native spelling.

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Many years ago, when Sharad Pawar was chief minister of Maharashtra and Ramrao Adik his finance minister, one of their budgets had given much relief to the tobacco industry, including the cigarette and bidi companies. Read more

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I am by no yardstick a saffronist but I am with the late Bal Thackeray on this one.

Writing in my book ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena Changed Mumbai forever’ I had said that there were a lot of things that Thackeray said which one could never agree with. But there was no challenging the truth of some of his statements. Thackeray always avowed that he was not against the Abdul Hamids of this country, only against the Dawood Ibrahims. Read more

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Sometime in the 1990s when I was following Sharad Pawar on the campaign trail in search of an exclusive interview and he could not find the time, I decided to hang outside his door in obstinate determination not to leave until I had spoken to him. Read more

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Nearly a decade ago, I found myself appointed, out of the blue, to the advisory panel of the Censor Board. I did not known why I should have been there, I was no film critic nor a political affiliate of any group or party. Read more

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I wonder how many people in India know that before Shakshi Maharaj who wants every Indian woman to produce four children and former RSS sarsanghchalak K Sudershan who had wanted us to produce five and remain barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen all our lives, there was a creature called Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania who had had the same idea about women in his own country? Read more

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As the reconciliation talks between the Shiv Sena and the BJP got underway on Friday, my colleague Sayli Mankikar tweeted rather tongue-in-cheek – reporters hanging outside Matoshree with Odomos. Last time many of them had caught dengue! Read more

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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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