Sweet Smell of Success

7 Jul

THIS post was part of the TimeOut Mumbai cover story of the June 17-30, 2005 edition, “Local Heroes: Small people making a big difference.” See my other post in this story here.

Name: Rahamim Jacob Chariker
Claim to fame: Subedar Road used to be called “Sandas” Road till he came along.

Trash litters the coast of Mumbai

Trash litters the coast of Mumbai

There were mornings when residents of Subedar Road in Worli would hold their noses to avoid inhaling the stench of excreta and garbage rising off the streets. The neighbourhood, a mix of slums, low-income buildings and posh housing, had a clutch of underutilised public toilets, and roads were used as commodes as well as garbage bins.

“The gents and ladies used to perform their morning duties on the road,” said Manohar Gokhale, a long-time Subedar Road resident. “The area was so much-ridden that the municipal corporation had stopped sending their trucks in here.” The stench was derogatorily called “Sandas Road” until four-and-a-half years ago, when Babuji, a former government employee, stepped in, got down on his knees and cleaned shit himself to set an example.

Babuji’s effort is especially commendable given Mumbai’s enormous sanitation crisis. The municipal corporation says that 71 percent of the population has access to sewerage services, but a walk by the city’s coast any morning makes that claim questionable: the rocks are occupied by tens of thousands of people using the beach as their toilet. The city of approximately 13 million people has only 1,300 public toilet blocks. When a senior municipal official spent the day outside a public toilet in Mahalaxmi’s Dhobi Ghat recently, she found that each seat served 917 people—in conditions she described as “stomach-churning.”

A Jew whose children live in Israel, Babuji’s real name is Rahamim Jacob Chariker, and as he is fond of reminding you, his real name has the cadence and magic of Amar Akbar Anthony. Chariker has used his name as a connector to plug into the various communities that live in the neighbourhood—when he meets a Muslim, he calls himself Rahamim, he’s Chariker for the Maharashtrians and Jacob for the Christians. He first decided to act on the stench that hung outside his window when some guests from Israel whom he had invited for dinner reached his building, took one whiff, and rushed back to their hotel.

Chariker hired a bunch of workers to clean up the roads, but when they refused to touch the human waste, he grabbed a shovel and set to work himself. He started persuading the adults through their kids: he would bribe the children to clean up the roads by handing them chocolates and bottles of phenyl. When the parents started quizzing the kids about where they were getting the chocolate from, the line of inquiry led to Babuji. The next step was to start cleaning the garbage. Chariker hired a 25-member team to remove upto 550 loads of garbage, with some help from the BMC’s dumper trucks. Over time, he has also managed to persuade the residents to start using the toilets and stop defecating on the streets.

Chariker claims to have planted close to 90,000 plants and trees in the 10-km radius from his home, using money sent to him from Israel. Today, the area bears no trace of its earlier, stinky avatar. Subedar Road is clean and is lined with trees bearing bananas, cherries, coconuts, sugarcane, mangoes, badams, tomatoes and Ayurvedic plants. “I bought whatever looked good,” Chariker said. He sends fruits from the trees to officials in the municipality. “They say, ‘It’s difficult to get fruit to grow even in an orchard, but you manage to coax them out of the footpath.”

2 Responses to “Sweet Smell of Success”

  1. Irfan Parihar 16 December 2011 at 10:11 AM #

    Jayati, why am I getting an email today about this story that was written on July 7?

    Anyways, I remember this road, and yes it was an awful drive through this area. I wish I had known about all this when I made my trip last month, I would have stepped out of my AC Car comfort and taken in some fresh air.

    Btw…we had a similar problem at my house in Mahim, the kolis who had a small colony not too far would carry out their business on the beach and the stench was beyond bearable. It got so ridiculous at one time that our building hired additional people who would sit at the wall and pelt stones at anyone who ventured on the beach for their morning business. Anyways, the problem was obviously too big to be resolved by such a childish approach and finally about 20+ buildings spanning from mine all the way to Shivaji Park along the beach hired contractors to clean the beach up which took months, had toilets made for the kolis through months of laboring in the BMC and finally the matter was resolved.

    • Jayati Vora 16 December 2011 at 10:35 AM #

      It’s an old TimeOut story that I loaded up recently. Been wanting to load up some of my earlier stories for a while, as they’re not available online anywhere else. You might see a couple others up soon as well. It’s great to hear about citizen’s initiatives like these, though this is what the government should be doing. What I really liked about the Chariker story was that, with the help of the local kids, he actually changed the sanitation habits of his entire neighbourhood through education — what a victory! Now if only we could build toilets and spread the movement everywhere else!

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