Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bhanu Kamdar

A few days ago my mind wandered off to my good ole days, when MTV and cable TV were still distant pipe dreams and PC’s and the internet, at least in India, were non-existent. What kept us busy during hot summer months was cricket and haranguing our unsuspecting neighbors. During one of those summer months in the mid or late 70’s we participated actively in a civic Municipal election in Bombay. We participating implies the hyperactive motley crew of pre-adolescent brat pack that ran wild in our society complex. The reason for the active involvement was Bhanu Kamdar, a tall, sprightly man, with a scruffy beard and professorial demeanor, who was contesting the municipal elections from our constituency. He was not a candidate of any of the well known parties, but was contesting the election as an independent. With a megaphone in hand and a ‘jhola bag’ hanging on his lean frame he would scour the residential areas on a bicycle with ‘Kachra Hatao’ being the pivotal theme of his campaign. Bhanu Kamdar wasn’t a businessman with oodles of black money, nor a public servant or some movie star hankering for cheap publicity. He was a working class stiff, who lived in a modest 1 bedroom apartment and who just wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

What really drew us to this man I cannot remember, but what I do remember is that he was humane, sincere, decent and willing to roll up his sleeves and get down to doing anything himself. Patiently he would listen to complains from the residents in our area and refrain from making any false tall promises. In those days, sanitation and hygiene were a big concern since the garbage would not be cleared by the corporation for days on end and coupled with the water scarcity and oppressive heat of Bombay, it made many a lives miserable. Not that the situation has improved much now, but Bhanu Kamdar listened to them all, and evoked some hope of a cleaner surrounding for all of us. Till midnight or sometimes later, he would urge the society members to provide him with signed petitions describing their grievances and the gravity of the situation concerning hygiene. He employed sweepers and gutter cleaners at his own expense to have the refuse removed from overflowing garbage bins.

We, the kids in our neighborhood were his campaign workers. We would walk the streets behind Bhanu Kamdar screaming slogans and extolling residents to vote for Bhanu Kamdar. He would stop people in the streets, explain his manifesto, listen to them patiently, hand them pamphlets and petitions and then move on. For the most part, it was an excuse for us to get out of the house and spend time with our friends, but we were also imbibing valuable lessons in civic responsibilities. Sometimes we would face some campaigners from a different party with their loudspeakers and massive banners. We would either get jeered at or intimidated by the hooligans, which we had been asked to refrain from responding.

Needless to say Bhanu Kamdar lost the election to someone from one of the well known and well greased political party. He did not have the funds to solicit the slum dwellers with cheap hooch nor have the hooligans to rig the polls and the means to bribe the policemen. Despite losing the election he would still come around to our neighborhoods to check on the garbage collectors and any other issues that the residents might have. It’s really weird how sometimes the most inconsequential and random events from our childhood gets stuck in ones head, maybe having its effect on some subliminal and subconscious level. I really can’t place my finger on why this particular experience is so ingrained so vividly in my memory, but it just is. Maybe Bhanu Kamdar represents what I wish to remember everything that was good and decent in my life while growing up. Or maybe like a lotus in full bloom in a filthy swamp, he just stood out amongst the other vermin’s that we have seen and heard masquerading as our leaders. Whatever it was, Bhanu Kamdar certainly left an impression on me.

We learnt of Bhanu Kamdars death, of natural causes, a few years after the election. He was in his early 40’s and was survived by his wife and two small kids. Evicted from his home, forced to live with his family on the footpath, Bhanu Kamdar died a broke and penniless man.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Touching article Sourin. Just hope the people in our country also realise the need for clean representatives in our political and administrative system. Its not as if all of them are dirty but the clean ones are too far and few in between.

Your article also reminds me of the harrowing time myself and a couple of my friends had when we were trying to get the municipality to remove the garbage accumulated near the entrance to our colony, back home. I still remember the struggle it was to understand the paan chewing babu's unique dialect, muttered underneath the beetle stained teeth, with specks of red coming out as if he was suffering from some terrible disease. The apathy was sickening, "who cares if some garbage is left around the road?...there is garbage everywhere! me some thing for chai-paani and it will be moved within hours....".

But there was a silver lining in the form of one Mr R K Gupta who didnt seem to mingle with the rest of them and lent a sympathetic ear to our pleadings. Ultimately he was the one who convinced his colleagues to sign the order for the municipal truck to go over to our colony and pick up the garbage. So Thank you Mr. Gupta, for having the courage to become the lotus in our dirty little pond.

But I cant complain about the system sitting 10000 miles away from it. Since I didnt have the guts to join it, but chose to run away from it and earn $$, I dont think I have any right to criticise it. There is only a fervent hope that someday I would have gathered enough courage to go back and try to 'light a bulb' in my own little city.


7:33 AM  

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