Prabha Bandhankar’s (46) mood is as black as the angry clouds hovering over Pen. The retreating monsoon is preparing for one last assault on the town 80 km south of Mumbai, famous for its Ganesh idol-makers. Her husband Lakshman (54) is one of them.
The walls of her home are lined with shelves full of idols waiting to be painted, while from the ceiling hang unfinished idols of goddesses. Nobody in her family ever votes. “We don’t see why we should,” she says.
The hard rain that submerged Mumbai on July 26, 2005, destroyed 300 idols and several precious moulds in the Bandhankar household. Prabha says they were all insured but the insurance company refused to cover the Rs 2 lakh loss. “Politicians assured us of help, but did nothing,” she says. Ultimately, it was the consumer court that came to their rescue.
Prabha’s younger daughter, Veena (20), is mentally challenged. She used to go to a special school, but doesn’t any more. A few years ago, she saw her teacher beating a boy with a wire. The teacher warned her against telling anybody, but Veena couldn’t hold it in and informed her parents.
Terrified about the repercussions, Veena started getting fits and, when the trustees showed no empathy, her parents decided to take her out of the school.
Veena needs a school and medical treatment, but neither seem even a distant possibility where the Bandhankars live.
Says Meena (24), Prabha’s older daughter, “Sometimes I wonder why we need politicians. After all, we manage everything on our own… We just don’t care any more.”
Seated at the galla in his hotel at Wadkal, 5 kilometres down the road, its 35-year-old owner is at his profane best when talking about politicians. “Those #@*^& are only interested in lining their pockets,” he says. “I am an educated man — I hold a Master of Science degree — but I have never voted in my life. I am my own sarkar,” he says, refusing to be named.
“I recently applied for a home loan. My papers were in order but the bank officer kept stalling, angling for a bribe,” the hotelier says. “I asked him upfront whether he considers himself in the same class as a politician. That shamed him into passing my loan in two days.”
He says it’s time to take a stand. “We have a saying in Marathi that everybody wants a Shivaji-like revolutionary, but not in their own families,” he says. “We all want a revolution, but don’t want to be the revolutionaries. I won’t vote – that’s my revolution.”
As I drove 400 km south of Mumbai along winding mountain roads, it seemed as if a giant paintbrush had painted the world green. When I looked down into the valleys, I realised I had never seen more shades of the colour.
In Oni, a village on the edge of Ratnagiri district, a crowd gathered around a spanking new Tata Nano. The village folk said they had only heard of it before.
An exasperated Arvind Sakhalkar (53) got into the driver’s seat, saying: “People gather wherever I take it.”
Sakhalkar, a Pune-based former bank employee, was in the village to inspect a three-acre plot he had bought. On it, he is building a retirement home and will start an agro tourism property.
“I have seen illiterate villagers make trip after trip to the electricity board office, begging for a connection. Among them are widows and the desperately poor. When the connection never materialises, they simply break down,” said Sakhalkar.
I don’t know whether it’s an image that haunts him. But it’s one many will carry into the polling booth with them on October 13.
Signs on the Mumbai-Goa highway:
- Jaagte raho, kal ho na ho
- Safety on the road is safe tea at home
- This is a highway, not a die way
- Control your nerves on curves (indeed!)
- Raste pe nahi jaati kisi ki jaan, mera Bharat mahaan
This blog emerged from a report I did for the Hindustan Times’ pre-election series in September 2009.