It is just over a month since Mumbai’s railway stations got beautified as part of the Hamara Station Hamari Shaan initiative. 36 stations, across the 7 days of Daanutsav painted by over 25,000 volunteers and supported by close to 100 institutions.
Now, as I sit back, trying to take stock of the month that was, October, or the quarter that was, from June, I still cannot believe that what we have managed to pull-off is,nothing but magical. (beep beep beep grumble the detractors).
It all started exactly four months ago, on a lazy Saturday afternoon at a regular daanutsav (daanutsav.org) meeting. I had been away all of the month of May and, had promised that once back; I would be a ‘regular’. The meetings were crucial and critical as the count-down to the Joy of giving (or daanutsav as it is popularized), had begun. Daanutsav volunteer is one of the many hats which I wear (www.shishirjoshi.com will give you a sense of what else I do). In my full time role, I head Mumbai First (www.mumbaifirst.org) a not for profit think tank, as its CEO).
This time you MUST come, Umesh, Venkat and Shibika had warned me, there is someone we would want you to meet at any cost, they said.
At the meeting, I met a bunch of volunteers of Making a Difference Foundation (www.Makingadifferencefoundation.org) led by its Founder Haresh Shah. Truth be told, after the meeting, if you were to ask me if I remember any of those faces, I would say no. Probably, it would have been the same answer from them as well.
What we all shared around the table (apart from several cups of chai made out of water from a questionable source) was positive vibes and infectious energy.
The MAD team had earned a reputation of having beautified Matunga,Borivali and Khar stations in the past and this Daanutsav, they had offered to beautify one or two more stations. As discussions peaked that day, I remembering offering to lead the project and take up all stations, as opposed to a handful, when conversations had got initiated.
How many? 41, said one, peering into the Dr Google screen.. 22 on the Western Line and 19 on the Central. What about Harbour line? Maybe yes maybe no. The answer remained in suspended animation till we met again.
The core team was quickly formed and the first of the whatsapp groups got formed. (Within a month after that, my phone had nothing less than 44 of such whatsapp groups. Only for the Railway Beautification project. One for each of the railway stations, design teams, core teams, Railway teams, artistes, sponsor teams, etc. just to name a few. ).
The first meeting was scheduled at Matunga, at Haresh’s workplace. That was the first formal meeting and was very constructive. A bunch of us met and drew up an action plan and we all seemed much on target. Design teams were set up for each station with themes gradually getting identified, roles were assigned and a broader structure was laid out. We were still in June and October seemed so far away. We were happy that we were well within our target and deadline.
Then Haresh slipped and injured his knee in a freak accident in his building compound. With Haresh and I front ending the entire initiative, it was quite a blow. All the more because even we were just about getting to know each other leave aside knowing other members of respective teams. But what kept us going, was the common underlying selfless commitment.
Kuch Karna hai boss. Kar key dikhayenge.
Gradually, as the clock ticked, station teams started getting populated. Team leaders. Design leaders. Art work discussions started.
Haresh’s knee injury was (according to him) something minor and he would be back on his feet within a fortnight. That was not to be. As I met him for one of the meetings at his residence, reclined on his bed with a pillow supporting his back, it reminded me of Ashutosh Gowariker, who directed Lagaan, the movie, lying on a charpoy as his back had given way.
Haresh and I were spearheading the project and with him out of ‘action’, the front ending had to be done by me. While the back end coordination was left to him. The most important being, setting up team leaders and design options. (Then there was paint, budgeting, mapping of stations, paper work, communication, branding, PR…gosh. We soon realized there was so much to be done. ).
Critical among them was dealing with the Railways. All I can say here, was that it was not easy dealing with Central Railway. Much of it I can attribute to the constant change of guard taking place at the senior level there.
But I must concede, the Western Railway, be it DRM Mukul Jain, ADRM Saurabh Prasad (who spent early mornings in the control room, afternoons with us and nights at home waking up to his newly born baby) and SRDCM Aarti Parihar (who made it a point to hop on hop off at as many stations as possible before and during the project to ensure work is moving at the desired qualitative level accompanied by our design expert Manisha,) ensured that we believed in the efficacy of the ‘system’.
Permissions started pouring in. We were already inching towards end of August when we realized, time was moving faster. Our actions were not keeping pace. After multiple exchanges (and whatsapp played a huge role), we zeroed in on Hamara Station Hamari Shaan as the title. Then the warrior in Ragesh (his family name is Warrier) surfaced.
He first designed the logo (which went through a few hundred changes thanks to the democracy on whatsapp) before settling into the (almost) final version which got circulated, and appreciated.
With branding gradually picking pace, reaching out through the media was next. And we are grateful to the FM networks and newspapers who were generous in their initial coverage, which soon let to the wave of citizen support and social media chatter.(A big thank you to Mumbai ki Rani and Radio jockey Mallishka, and her team including Meetu, Ankit and Ankur of Red fm, who were our eventual exclusive radio partners for carpet bombing Mumbai with the Agla Station Beautification line).
“I heard it during a dinner conversation and I want to sponsor” said one. Someone whatsapped me a link and I want to adopt a station said another. Heard you on radio, messaged many. How do we register.
Friends came on board. Volunteering. Strangers began calling, Offering all that they could. Money. Time, energy. Skill. Support. Advice.
Soon, (and we realized we were in September) with budgets being structured, As the word started going out, MAD and Mumbai First divided their roles of tasks while Haresh and I played the roles of mentors and chipping in whenever required. Before we knew, more media had begun writing.
The power (and impact) of social media as well as word of mouth got us a tremendous response. (Possibly the only place I concur with Donald Trump.) The commitments came first, cheques and money a little slower but yes it began coming in too.
The response from Volunteers was like an avalanche. Before we could say Hamara Station…our otherwise quiet office resembled that of a call centre. Incessant calls, several queries, requests and more contributions to volunteer and enroll.
Everyone, someone and their relatives wanted to be part of this MOVEMENT.
There were the skeptics and there were the Optimists. There were the Opportunists and there were the Philanthropists. There were those who said it cannot happen. There was Haresh and I who always believed it could.
Then almost by quirk of fate, a chance attempted meeting with the Chief Minister in Mantralaya, led us to a few of his key aides. On their offering, suggestion and guidance, we were back in Mantralaya the following day. It was a janmashtami holiday. Our purpose, to present the HSHS logo to the Chief Minister. How, we had no clue.
We were ushered into a closed door ‘By invitation’ meeting. Chaired by the CM himself. Flanked by his senior cabinet colleagues. And. Industry captains. And. Bankers. And. Experts. AND Anand Mahindra, Dr Abhay Bang. AND Amitabh Bachchan. AND Ratan Tata.
Just close to the end of the meeting, I was invited to speak about the HSHS initiative and on our request; a gracious Chief Minister unveiled the logo, as the august gathering stood to applaud this initiative. This picture (of Haresh and me offering the logo to the hon. CM in the presence of the various ANDs ANDs went viral. (I must concede, much to the annoyance of the Railways who felt we had planned this but had not kept them in the loop). The real story, you now know. We had no role to play except pray. Rest was Luck by Chance.
Much of the last week preceding the October 2 launch went in a tizzy. So much happened. So much materialized. So much fell through. Many of the committed sponsors opted out. Many new ones came on board. Jotun came on board offering paint. We accepted. Manish and Manisha Rangnekar took charge of the designs. We were grateful.
Then old friend and colleague Akhil chipped in to handle the facebook profile of the initiative while Aloka Syam helped in the outreach. Harshit came in with support for the painting equipment and Rajyashree Kshirsagar, Sridhar rao, Utkarsh Mishra and Isha Jhunjhunvala put in their might to ensure the history and design boards at every station became a reality.
In all this, the back-ends of both offices remained 24×7. Be it Amita Shah and Alpa Haresh Shah at the MAD end, Shibika at the Daanutsav end or Rosaline, Ronjyoti, Ashwini and Madhukar at the Mumbai First end.
The cavaliers (Enfield bikers) thundered across Mumbai for us from Dahisar to Churchgate and Thane to CST. Gratis. The drummers charged the atmosphere. The team leaders started working to the countdown.
In the interim, the inauguration ceremony had to be planned. It had to be grand. But work had to continue. Last minute planning and mapping continued as Rail Mantri agreed the disagreed and then finally, chose Bandra station. Member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan took charge to ensure the inauguration in her constituency goes flawless. Thanks to her, the Chief Minister made a last minute surprise entry at the inauguration. Catching even the Railway police off-guard. The heritage precinct of Bandra station turned jhakaas with Anil Kapoor taking the mike and walking down memory lane, and his local train stories.
I recall every moment of October 1, 2, 3, 4,5,6,7, and 8. How time went by. How volunteers worked hard. How the paint almost never came and then it came and how. The designs. The spitting the cleaning and re-paintings. The pain and the agony of a defaced art work. The welcome rains which sadly delayed work.
By this time, even the core team had become large. Everyone was playing a significant role. Everyone had a story. Of joy. Of agony. Of Frustration. Anger and then satisfaction. Of ego crushes. Of applause. Of joining the wave as strangers. Of departing as friends.
In the end, we had managed to pull of the unthinkable. 36 stations. 7 days. Over 6000 volunteers on day one and 5000 on the last day. Young, not so old and the not so young. Abled and differently abled.
There were so many of them whom I wanted to thank. Many of them I managed to. Some, I still try to reach out to. I wonder if I will ever get to thank all of them personally. There are so many. Large-hearted. Mumbaikars. Most of whom, like Royston of Jubilant foods, who often called to say, listen is there anything more we can do?
A brief moment I did get, at the closing ceremony. Attended by hundreds and thousands of our volunteers. Our heroes. Champions as our guests of honour. Held at Bhaidas hall in Juhu, it was a memorable morning of celebration dance and bonding.
For many, it was time to put a face to the faceless whatsapp messages and friends.
They say fortune favours the brave. Yes, brave ones we had in the form of over 25,000 volunteers.
Let’s reach out to the Guinness Book of records suggested someone.
Did it really matter?
We did not create works of art comparable to the best stations in the world (which some of our critics expected us to and I am sorry to have disappointed them). What we did manage was, to bring people of this city together. And for them to believe that it is Possible. Yes Which did.
I always believe everyone has a good bone within them. As leaders of this pack, Haresh and I, Shishir Joshi, were plain Fortunate to be offered the good bone of so many warm- hearted citizens who helped bring colour to commuting in Mumbai.
Hamara Station Hamari Shaan is a joint initiative of Mumbai First and MAD Foundation, supported by the Central and Western Railway to celebrate Daanutsav.
I would have loved to mention the names of all those (and there are so many un-sung heroes) who entwined their fingers into ours, creating a stronger bond.
The least I can say here is THANK YOU.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
If I do get the chance to meet you all again (and there is a project round the corner where I for-see us meeting again) I will personally come across and shake your hands with gratitude.
By the time you read this, I would be back from Spain having presented the Hamara Station Hamari Shaan citizen initiative as a model of Public Private People Partnership best practice, before a gathering of city leaders from across the globe.