Deole on a dream run

Barely a fortnight after being appointed mayor, Mumbai's first citizen, Mr. Mahadeo Deole, has already chalked out a comprehensive plan for changing civic affairs for the better. The focus, he says, is not to beautify the city but to ensure that city fathers do justice to their posts and citizens get their due. "I never dreamt of becoming the mayor but I will now realise the dreams of people of Mumbai," he tells HUBERT VAZ at the mayor's bungalow, his new home for two-and -half-years from now.

His grisly, salt-n-pepper hair and his simple white kurta-pyjama show no trace of elegance...nor do the pair of new, rectangular steel-rimmed reading glasses, that rest upon his humble nose, give him an air of sophistication... For newly-appointed mayor of Mumbai, Mahadeo Deole, simplicity is a way of life. It is something that transcends all earthly virtues and sets a human being apart with a definite mandate, to serve.

Hailing from a poor family from village Palasgaon in Mangaon taluka of Raigadh district, little did he know when he came to Mumbai in 1941, at the age of two, that one day he would assume the most prestigious office of this bustling metropolis. Unable to rise professionally in this cruel city which had only simple and labourious jobs for him, Mr. Deole says he can never forget his struggle in life. Struggle is something which keeps a man ticking, he believes. Settling in a comfortable sofa in his small first-floor parlour, dressed in a simple white kurta-pyjama (not the crispy type worn by politicians), Mr. Deole makes no pretence about his sudden rise to fame. "It all happened overnight. I was hoping for the best but was prepared to take what comes. You know, the final decision is with our party chief and I do owe my elevated status to Balasaheb Thackeray, without whose blessings this would not have been possible," he says matter-of-factly.

We refused to buy that argument, since former Shiv Sena mayors have all been singing the same old song about owing their status to their boss. Do you not believe in destiny, Mr. Deole? Considering the fact that you have not had a really eventful stint in the corporation, this glory was probably only destined to come your way? we asked him. The humble face lost a little colour but it did show signs of lighting up seconds later when he acknowledged the hand of destiny.

"I do believe that I had really good luck to reach this post. In fact, my mother had been awestruck even when I became a councillor in 1992. This esteem of being mayor of Mumbai is something my entire family never expected. In fact, even the people of the village I hail from have been rejoicing that a poor man from among them has risen to such heights. I, too, had never dreamt of becoming mayor but, since this prestige and trust has been conferred upon me, I will now work to realise the dreams of the citizens of Mumbai for better civic amenities in this city," Mr. Deole said summing up his rise to fame.

Deole with his wife Sunanda and granddaughter Ruchi. Mr. Deole's father was one of the millions of people who left their villages in search of a more decent means of living in Mumbai. He worked in Sreenivas Cotton Mill at Lower Parel and brought up his only son, Mahadeo, in the predominantly working class area in a 10 ft by 12 feet tenement. After doing his high school, Mr. Deole, too, took up a job in the mill for a few years. Later, he managed to get a lower rung job in Air India where he stuck on for 37 years till his retirement. Being a sportsman, excelling in 'kabaddi' till the state level, helped him secure the job as well as stay fit till date.

All through the early years of struggle in life, Mr. Deole was known for his kind disposition, compassion and ready-to-serve nature. This led him into social work and he joined the ranks of the Shiv Sena during its founding years. The real test, however, came only a decade ago when his friends and party workers requested him to contest the civic elections since he deserved official sanction. The wave in favour of the Sena went a long way into propelling him into the corporation but, he asserts, "A man's work always goes before him. I don't believe in announcements and speeches. I believe in work, hard work and I am confident that the newly elected corporators will all dedicate themselves in the sincere service of citizens."

Some of the key issues which need to be tackled in the city on a war-footing include cleanliness, asphalting of roads, healthcare, improving water supply and curbing water theft, etc. and Mr. Deole is ready to take up works which his predecessor, Mr. Hareshwar Patil, had started but could not complete. His own ward (number 50) comprises a vast area from Worli BDD chawls through Senapati Bapat Marg to Mahalaxmi race course but now he has the whole city to think about as a whole. So any new venture would have to be part of a greater plan for the city, he said adding that he has drawn up comprehensive plans for implementing his ideas.

Elated at the fact that the mayor's term has not been cut down to 1 year from 2 1/2 years, since the governor has returned the state government proposal to that effect, Mr. Deole said he was happy to have more time at his disposal since it will help in giving good shape to his projects. Another plus point is the fact that he enjoys a good rapport not only with corporators belonging to all parties but also with the municipal commissioner, Mr. Karun Srivastava, who had many a scrap with the former mayor.

To a pointed question about him not pursuing a sound education, Mr. Deole reacted with ease, probably because journalists have been asking him that awkward question time and again, ever since his name figured in the race. "I don't think education is everything. One can prove one's efficiency in many ways. We have so many success stories in the state government itself. There have been chief ministers who never crossed even primary education. So, one cannot attribute all success to education," he asserted. We would not leave him at that. The question was now presented in a different way. Looking back, do you not think you could have done better if you had continued your education. "Nope," was the answer, "I don't think so. Things could've been different had I continued my education. May be I would've never been selected for mayor. One must judge whether I have done well or not only after seeing my performance. Give me some time to prove myself..."

We wished him all success and hoped there was no one out there plotting for his downfall, but suggested that perhaps, he could do with some better dressing, now that he was mayor of a city that finds a place on the world map, being the commercial capital of India. "I prefer dressing simply but, yes, you're right. May be I should revamp my wardrobe, so that it matches the esteem of the office I hold. I'll do that slowly, one cannot change one's public image all of a sudden," he chuckles.

It was now time for some photographs in the lawn adjoining the heritage 'Mayor's Bungalow', facing the Arabian Sea, that is now visible at Lower Parel. And, boy, did he oblige!