Tag Archives: Railway

A DASH OF COLOUR TO OUR STATIONS..

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).hshs2016-272hshs2016 435.jpg

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.

Ends

 

 

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THE TOUCH AND FEEL OF THE CHIEF MINISTER

 

(A fictional account of the Chief Minister’s travel to Mumbai. I mean, to the city beyond the airport.)

One year back, I had urged the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (https://shishirjoshi.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/open-letter-to-the-chief-minister/)

to some day  try travelling towards the Mumbai which exists beyond the domestic/international  airport and experience  life on the moon, with all craters intact. (Clichéd and sic, but true).

Last week, Mr. Chavan finally agreed. Here is his touch-and-feel account.

Mr. Chavan was to attend a bhoomi poojan ceremony of a mall promoted by a fellow politician who had joined hands with two others; a suspended cop and a reputed builder. This was to be held at Andheri east, closer towards the Sahar international airport. The scheduled time of the event was seven pm.

One option was to take a chopper, but since that would  have meant taking to the skies after sunset (not permitted by  DGCA laws) , that idea never took wings. The other option was to hit the road. With four pilot cars and an equal number of escort vehicles behind him, the joy ride would have taken not more than 25 minutes to reach Andheri. (Peak traffic time rules do not apply to lal batti gaadis) . It otherwise takes nothing less than 2 hours on a normal day from Church gate to Andheri by road. Mr. Chavan dropped this idea too as, in the wake of growing unrest against public servants, he wanted to prove a larger point.

How long will it take me to reach Andheri?, he asked his man Friday, 45minutes, pat came the reply from an eager beaver, “just 45 minutes sahib, our public transport  shystam is very paarfect. “By train, he hastily added.  It was 4.30 in the afternoon and there was still a full 30 minutes for Mantralaya, the state administrative headquarters to officially stop work for the day. “Sahib you leave at 4.40 pm saheb, so you will get a direct ladies special bus from Mantralaya to Churchgate station. We all leave office early anyways to catch that bus. So nothing wrong in you doing it”, he said.

 The conscientious leader did not want to be seen sneaking out of Mantralaya before time, least of all, into a ladies special. So he covered himself under a burqa, and leapt into the ladies special bus, reaching Churchgate in a jiffy.

He was shocked to see so many trains. Never known to take instant firm decisions, he dithered, once again. He lunged to a public assistance booth. It was unattended. He was running late so he scampered to the Railway police chowki. Two uniformed cops were busy entertaining someone at the other end of the line. After a three-minute wait, one of them asked the burqa clad leader if “she”had lost a child or a mobile.  If not, don’t waste my time, was the look he gave her.

Ändheri key liye train kahan sey?”  enquired the burqa PRC (Prithvi Raj Chavan ). 
“Mere chehre pe 197 likha hai kya?” (Does my face have a telephone enquiry tattooed on it??) bellowed the cop and  told PRC to take any train, since  “they all go via Andheri”.

PRC ran towards a train inching out of the platform, managing to cling into the gate rod and footboard in the nick of time. It was the general (read MALE) compartment of a Virar fast.

Even before Prithvi bhau could catch his breath, there seemed men in all shapes and sizes offering theirs. At every station, the number of hands, fingers, palms, groins, thighs, paan-stained faces and knees played doctor-doctor with Prithvi bhau. Periodically, a wave of people surged in, or were pushed out, a fresh pairs of hands made it a point to explore the unexplored. With renewed vigor.

Prithvi bhau had once seen an award-winning  newspaper  photograph of a man sandwiched  between two BEST buses. Fear painted on his face. Those images came flashing in front of Prithvi bhau’s eyes, as a stock man inched deeper and closer into him, softly humming, Jaata kahan hai deewaaney…sab kuch yahan hai sanam..(where are you trying to escape my love, all that you want is here…)

It was the longest Churchgate to Andheri ride that Prithvi bhau had ever undertaken.

As the train neared Andheri, he sensed a light at the end of the over-bridge. His relief was short-lived. First, Virar loyals refused to allow an Andheri Indian to disembark. When Prithvi bhau finally did, his farewell it was not without the accompaniment of a few pinches, blows, touches-feelies, slaps and choicest of gender abuses marked his harried and hurried farewell.

In great pain, Prithvi bhau managed to take the foot over-bridge, clutching on to what remained of his burqa.

In the surging crowds, Prithvi bhau was surprised how many people, especially men, suffered from what he thought was a “temporary elbow problem.”  “From a distance they seemed fine, as soon as they came closer, their elbows would jut out”, he told a friend later. “Ï wonder why?” he questioned. He also never understood why most women who negotiate these bridges hold their purses and bags in front of them, cross-armed.

About to take the steps down, his eyes popped at the sight of an elevated  runway. Paused long enough to notice very few people walking onto it. Most others choosing to wade through the sea of human miracle. “That is a sky walk”, shouted out a vendor, responding to the quizzical look. Before he could say thank you, he had been knocked by another wave of people coming from the next train.

 It took Prithvi bhau twenty minutes to come out of the railway station. Another fifteen to wait for a bus stop before giving up and choose to stand in line for an auto rickshaw.  He had left Mantralaya at 4.45 pm.It was nearing 7 pm.

After three auto rickshaws had turned him down and a fourth ran over his leg,  bhau finally managed to get a shared rickshaw, sandwiched between two men.

He had no energy to fight back. He just let the guys help themselves. Too tired even to take heed to what Aasaram bapu preached on Monday. (For the uninitiated and unaware, Aasaram bapu in a public discourse blamed the victim of the Delhi gang rape for what happened to her. He said and I quote from television news clips, the Delhi gang rape victim would have saved her life if she had pleaded and made the alleged rapists her brothers”.)

Prithvi bhau was beyond  new relationships.

He somehow managed to reach the venue. Clothes intact but dignity in tatters.

It was 7.45 pm. It had taken three hours for him to reach Andheri East’s Sahar locality.  “Tumcha chehra  itka utarlela kasa? Amhi roz ashech ghari pohochto  saheb”. (Why are you looking so pale sir? This is how we travel and reach home every day”, one of the women at the venue told him.

The event got over in ten minutes. One of the middle-class Mumbaikars was planning to take a train back to Churchgate. “Nako rey baba”, pleaded Prithvi bhau, when they asked if he would like to join them. He chose a taxi drive back.

Prithvi bhau was drained. He somehow managed to send a text message to Madam ji in Delhi, to tell her how he braved Mumbai’s commute and hoping she is now proud of her as he has finally identified with the “Marathi manoos”.

One is not sure if it was Madam ji or chottey sarkar. But, orders were given for every Congresi  leader to follow suit.

One local leader  said she wanted to emulate Chavan saheb. No, not by travelling in the Delhi metro. 

Last heard, she was seen at one of the deserted bus stops in an old Delhi by lane. .. You don’t want to hear what happened next….Do you….?

ends

 

 

The Larger Picture…..

A little boy, his skin darkened by hours in the sun, dark skinned. Visibly unkempt. Clasping the grills of a tiny unlit room. Cage.

 Caged?

“How inhuman can anyone be? ” Barbarians. ” “Can we report this matter to someone”? “Is there no other way to treat a child but this way”?

I have heard many-a-reaction when people accompanying me first set their eyes on him. The reactions have been no different when I have shown pictures, like the one posted here on my facebook page.

The intensity of the reactions vary.

From outrage to concern to disgust to sympathy. In favor of Sonu. It is but natural to feel so. We all think with our heart. First. And then react. Almost spontaneously.  To ask if the reaction is justified, I have no answer. But one can concede that the reaction is not entirely unjustified.  Same same, but different. We are after all, human.  

But having said that, isn’t the reaction a very micro approach?  Are we not reacting by just one point of view that we have? So, is the reaction then justified?

What could the larger picture  be? If one were to ask. Is it important to look at the larger picture? I think so,  yes.

Because, the moment we begin to look at t it that way, the picture changes. The reaction does too. Reluctantly but yes, Gradually.

Take Sonu’s case for instance. Indeed he was in a caged. No denying that. But, Sonu has a story.

What is Sonu’s story?

Sonu is a little-over-six years,  naughty boy. As naughty as a six year old can be. If not more.

 He is the apple of the eyes of residents of Somnath, a project set up by Baba Amte, in Chandrapur district in Maharashtra. Somnath is an extension of Baba Amte’s leprosy eradication project in Anandwan.

Sonu though, is not here for leprosy treatment.

Somnath is often the venue for a annual youth camp where thousands from all walks of life converge for social work.

Little Sonu was rescued a couple of years ago, off a railway track where he was reportedly thrown by his parents . He was bundled in a sack and wrapped in barbed wire. Left for dead. A bunch of youngsters enroute Somnath had seen the bundle and brought there. For treatment. Initially, just to see if he could live.

I met Sonu the first time in 2010,  during an educational visit to Somnath. 

He had  warmly hugged me, then, clutched on to me. He was bare-chested. Not for want of clothes, but, the barbed wire wrap had left bitter scars on his mind and every time he was made to wear a shirt, he would tear it off.

But he roamed about freely, chatting with strangers and following every warmth that got extended. too.Almost like a cute little pup,

Following people by sound and smell. Because Sonu was blind. By birth. One of the key reasons he had been abandoned by his parents and left on the tracks. For dead.

When  he met Sonu first, in 2010, he could barely mumble a sentence in full.  One year later, in February we met Sonu again. 

A little older. More naughty than last year, He had stopped tearing off his clothes. He had begun wishing people politely and would engage them  in conversations. Talking nine to a dozen.

He had also begun eating. On time.

Somnath incidentally is a large expanse of land, splattered with a few homes here and many a fields there. But, skirting a massive jungle.

Somnath is in the middle of almost nowhere, and the residents  spend their day in the fields cultivating  or in workshops. Night time, people rush indoors, because among the uninvited visitors are jungle cats and others from the wild.

Till Sonu was finding his ground in Somnath, last year, his soft fingers never let go of any adult hand. His insecurities getting the better of him. Today, he is older. Wiser. And naughtier. More confident.

He seldom holds on to a finger for long. His handicap of vision notwithstanding, he zips around the village. Often, making it impossible for the not so young residents of Somnath to catch up or catch him.

And hence, they keep him occasionally in this little room.

We  see it as a cage. From where we have come. They see it as their own little way of keeping little sonu safe. From the wild. Or uncertainties which loom around.

Till the time they return and spend their meaningful time with him. He is their tomorrow.

Following  our heart, it  is so easy to react. Impromptu.

The sight of a little boy in a cage is enough to pick up the phone to alert “social vigilantes” and little Sonu would have been taken to a remand home.  For what we would have thought is a better life than  he is currently leading.

Is it really so?

Have you even wondered what life in a remand home could be like? Would it not be better to spend an evening with Sonu and hear him squeal with laughter at the sound of feet returning from the fields. Rather than jumping the heart-gun and remanding him to ‘official’ custody? Just because you felt that was right?

Very often, we jump to conclusions. Seldom  stepping back to look at the larger picture. Being judgmental. Being the judge. Not realizing whether the statement or our reaction is a qualified one or not.

We react to a situation, verbal or non verbal, without realizing how it may impact or affect others. An immediate reaction need not always be harmful. But, at times, can be harmful. Because the impact can be cascading.  Sometimes, just a sorry never works.

As I said earlier, it is not unjustified to react the way we do. But, look at the larger picture and think. Is it justified either?

We are human and to feel a high or go through a low is but natural. But, our reactions also impact so many other lives. Those are collateral damages that we are liable for. My view.

The next time we are about to react hastily, think that your hurry may result in one  Sonu being sent to a remand home. Maybe, it will help you sit back and look at the larger picture.

ends

post scrpt (ps)

Here is to clarify and due credit to a reader who commented and hence brought to my notice.

Sonu has been caged behind an iron grilled room. The reasons are two. The option of a wood (or softer) structure could have been there but it has time and again been found unsafe from a strongly built wild cat on the prowl. Hence, the iron grilled option.

Secondly, this is not a cage ‘built’ for little Sonu. It was a sort of a room/storage. It faces the road within the Somnath campus where lot of people pass constantly. So, rather than keep Sonu in a secluded room (in isolation) all day, he is now in a room where he can talk and chat with passersby and his extended family aross in the fields.

Lastly, this is not a room where he is kept from dawn to dusk. Anytime any of his “local guardians’ are back during the day, he joins them again.

Please also remember that Somnath is not a urban hot spot. Resources are scarce. Residents are largely senior citizens. Few young people opt to go there for a living.  Hence, the residents have not much choice  but to make do with available options.