The Indian Express, November 06, 2003

A green revolution
Snehal Fernandes

Mumbai, November 5: AS THE cheerful 75-year-old walks down Worli Hill Road, kids call out to him. ‘‘Babuji, Jai Hind!’’

He waves and walks on, picking up plastic bags, paper covers and chocolate wrappers. Then, he makes another round, this time watering the plants. Finally, he heads for his ‘shed’ — a makeshift bamboo structure housing a bench from where Rahmen Jacob Charikar (75) watches over his road.

Rahmen Jacob Charikar Known better as babuji, this retired Central government employee is a local favourite, ever since he transformed Worli Hill Road from a stinking mound of garbage and filth into a spotless stretch, with lush plants swaying along the edges.

And all this in a span of just 10 months.

‘‘We’d have to hold our breath while passing through Subedar Road. And with all that filth and excreta on either side, the monsoons were a nightmare,’’ says V Mahajan, a resident of the area. ‘‘But with babuji’s intervention, all that has changed,’’ he says.

For as long as the residents can remember, they were ashamed of their locality. ‘‘We tried patrolling from 5.30 am to 7.30 am, but it never worked. The moment we’d turn our backs, garbage would be strewn all over,’’ says Anil Shah, a resident.

For Charikar, it all started after an embarrassing experience. The devout Jew was entertaining friends from Israel, who wouldn’t even enter his building, leave alone have a meal. ‘‘The area was stinking so badly that they just drove right back to the Taj Mahal Hotel, where they were put up,’’ Charikar says. That did it, he decided something needed to be done—at once.

Having made up his mind, he went straight for the jugular. He began visiting slumdwellers’ homes every day, lecturing them laboriously on what their unhealthy lifestyles could lead to.

‘‘I’d tell them their children would suffer. I’m glad they took my suggestions,’’ beams a proud Charikar.

His favourite compliment? The slumdwellers have asked him to build a toilet for them. ‘‘What can be better?’’ he asks.

Solitary warrior
Dressed in white kurta pyjamas and sporting worn Kolhapuri chappals, it doesn’t seem that this cherubic man could afford the Rs 6 lakh that the metamorphosis of Subedar Road cost.

‘‘My children are well settled, three of them in Israel. They’re willing to send me the money,’’ he says. The enterprising Charikar also managed to get a friend to foot the bill for the security guard.

He’s on his feet for nearly 16 hours every day, inspecting every lane and bylane. There’s been no helping hand—until now. ‘‘I’m sure people will come forward and join me in my drive. It’s only a matter of time,” he says in an optimistic tone.

How this road got a green facelift
The footpaths were once open toilets. Subedar Road was called sandas road. Every morning, children from a local slum would settle down in a row along the footpath. Now, there’s lawn grass bordering the road
There are flowering plants and crotons growing in an enclosed grown on the pavement. Some women make offerings to two banana trees. ‘‘I planted those on purpose. It used to be a favourite spot to urinate, but no more,’’ says Charikar
The walls along the road have been whitewashed. The rows of plants have been fenced off
Four cleaners and a security guard have been employed, to ensure that the spirit does not flag
Local residents have been persuaded not to litter. Shafi Shah (20) says, ‘‘Bandicoots used to walk with us here.’’ With no garbage strewn around, the rodents have gone too
The slum kids have changed too. They are plied with chocolates almost every day, from Charikar. ‘‘Tell me which kid messes the area,’’ he’ll tell them. ‘‘Giving them a responsibility ensures that they don’t defecate here,’’ he chuckles

© 2003: Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd. All rights reserved throughout the world.