Lord help me! It’s vacation time and Lil One is in top form. It’s cricket, 24 by 7. I have grave doubts that he may have completely forgotten me by now and generally identifies me as the screaming woman who is forever telling him to take a shower and look a little more clean. I am thinking of buying a bowler shaped umpire hat to just get his attention and to declare that Mom has “run out” of patience. Sigh!
He wakes up really late and then has a shower that will put the meanest water conservationist to shame (yesterday he emerged from the bath in a record 55 seconds looking dirtier than he looked when he headed in), gulps down breakfast and then literally rushes for his galli cricket. Lunch is but a cricket affair. All of my culinary feats (well, to be fair, that just includes cut mangoes, sigh!) lie neglected in the discussion of Lil One’s runs, his sixes and fours, his amazing new style of bowling and ouch! injuries. “I got that bruise when I dived in order to take that catch, Mom. You should have seen it! And this one is, well, the opposition team didn’t like the fact that I did a hat trick.” I had a mental vision of Lil One running giggling and teasing followed by ruffianish kids holding bats and stumps.
“Please! Do you guys go after each other when someone does a hat-trick?”
He shrugged and rolled his eyes at me as if to say that this is the basic rule of galli cricket 101.
“In our days,” I started, “cricket was called a gentleman’s game.”
“Yes!” snorted Lil One immediately, “and they had to be gentlemen for 5 days! How boring, Mom! Our way is better, more direct. 5 hours, if there’s no hat trick.”
“And if there is one?”
“5 minutes!” he grinned evilly at me.
Gawd! Boys! I don’t remember ever running after another child armed with a bat in all of my childhood. The max damage I guess we girls inflicted on each other was biting or pulling each other’s hair; hmmm, though I remember Mom’s lecture after I had clawed the face of this girl, when I was 6, after she called me a monkey. I also remember that nothing in the lecture had managed to wipe off that vague feeling of …satisfaction I had after that amazing fight. “Genes, my dear” whispered my darker mind to me evilly, but I shrugged off that feeling uncomfortably. And coming back to the present sharply, I ticked him off in my usual Maya Sarabhai tone. “Running after each other with bats” I told him with an upturned nose, “is hooliganistically middle class.”
“Heehee! Mom, can I please have another Rs.20?”
“What! You lost the ball you bought yesterday too?” I looked at him in dismay. You get a rubber ball for Rs. 20 and a tennis ball for Rs. 40 and a season ball for Rs. 150. A single window pane costs Rs. 80 to fix and an entire window, well, Rs. 200. Guess how I know all of this? Sigh!
“Mommy, Swapnil hit a six and it went over the rooftop…his mom won’t get him a new ball, please Mom?”
Lil One suddenly adapted Veeran’s character from the movie Sarfarosh (He’s really good at mimicry). “Yeh bat hain. Lekin agar tumne mujhe Rs. 20 nahi deeye, toh yeh kya hain? Patthar hain, patthar!”
Interesting, thought Econ Mom, that dialogue from Sarfarosh. “Patthar hain, patthar,” is what Veeran says to convince the arms seller that a gun without bullets is as good as stone. Interesting, because I had thought of the same dialogue just yesterday, when I was on a field visit to this remote hamlet in Raigad.
The past month has been extremely taxing. I’m currently working on a project for the State Election Commission and we’ve been all over Maharashtra, talking to Zilla Parishad members and Government officials in remote, faraway Panchayat Samitis. It’s been taxing, but I’m not complaining. The learning’s been so huge that it takes away the physical discomfort of travelling in the burning sun.
Now, as we all know, the spread of a village is not too huge geographically. But this village has some “wadis” or small hamlets included in it, some of which are 17 kms away from the main market of the village! The reason of including these into the village is that the population in those wadis is hardly 150-200 tribals and hence, these wadis have not been granted the status of a separate village.
Now, there was this tribal lady (a Gram Panchayat member) who had come walking 17 kms down the mountains just to meet us and be part of the Gram Panchayat meeting. When I expressed dismay that she had to walk just to see us, she shrugged. “That’s fine. We do this everyday anyways.”
Our team was there to understand the dynamics of a gram panchayat with reservations for tribals. One point led to another and we were soon asking the villagers what their plans were for the development of the village. “We really want to get the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the next couple of years,” said their Sarpanch.
For the uninitiated, Nirmal Gram award is given to villages that completely stop open defecation and achieve full sanitation.
“We built toilet blocks last year itself in our wadi!” declared the tribal lady, who’d come walking down from her wadi.
“That’s amazing!” I said. “So is your wadi completely sanitized?”
“Madam, we built toilet blocks because there was a scheme under which we got funds for it. But there’s no water supply. Our wadi is in such a remote location that water supply is a permanent problem. So all the community toilets are extremely dirty and no one uses it. Open defecation is…normal.”
There you go. It’s such a shame. In the past one month, I’ve come across such umpteen horrors from the field, where you see how hotch-potch implementation creates really bad issues. Whoever said that India is a poor country? We are spending money by the crores, literally be the crores, on thoughtless, hopeless, badly implemented programs, so that next year people will come back craving for more from corrupt officials who don’t care a damn.
“But you are an elected member of this Panchayat. How did you contest elections if you do not have a toilet block at home?”
“Madam, there are only 2 houses in our wadi that have attached toilets. Ours is one of these and hence I could contest.”
“But then, how do you get the water for your toilet facilities?”
Now here, the lady looked distinctly uncomfortable. What she said next really tore at my heart.
“See Madam, we are relatively well off in our wadi. We have a bullock cart. So we fetch water by loading pails into the bullock cart. I tried telling the other people in my wadi that they too should get water from the river and use it to keep the toilet clean. But no one else has bullock carts. And when you walk 3 kms in one direction just to get 4 pails of drinking water in this hot sun, Madam, there’s not enough life left in you to walk another 6 kms to get water for sanitation. No one is willing to do this. I’ve antagonized all other women in my wadi by telling them to get water for the toilet blocks. They believe that rich people like us do not understand their problems. So now you tell me, how can the Nirmal Gram Yojana help my wadi in which water supply is itself an issue?”
Nirmal Gram cannot happen in a suspended framework. Water has to reach the villages. It has to be stored properly. Only then can the funds for building toilets be sanctioned. Also, someone will have to also look at the feasibility of maintaining the toilet facility once it’s ready. And that someone is supposed to be the elected member in the Gram Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad! Where the hell are these people? And why is no one working for these outcomes? This is just going to become another yojana, under which we build toilet facilities which in fact create more sanitation and health hazards than a scenario under which there are no toilet blocks.
I thought of not only toilets without water, but also of the pathetic quality of politicians who have not been able to drive this change in the past 70 years since independence and my mind said passionately, angrily, in a Veeran tone, “Patthar hain, patthar.”