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   Without my being aware of it... (October 29, 1991)

Without my being aware of it, I have done a faily decent amount of traveling in Maharashtra. The last extensive tour was about ten years back, possibly less, when I was taken along with a group of reporters for a government-conducted tour of the drought-affected areas of the state.

As a reporting assignment, it was a bit of joke. We were driven around in a semi-luxury MSTC bus to various places where we were shown a tube-well being dug or a common-water-tap being inaugurated in the government's efforts to combat the drought. In fact, one or two of the taps. I was asked to inaugurate. And I did so, feeling very foolish.

But otherwise, it was quite an educational tour. The deputy director of publicity, who accompanied us, was a religious man, as were a number of the elderly reporters of Marathi newspapers, so we made detours to several temples along the way, to stop and pray. Some of them were perched on hill, others on river banks, and some of the temples were famous, such as Pandharpur.

We spent half a day visiting the Pandharpur temple, when we were supposed to spend we were supposed to spend that time studying and reporting on the drought-ameleoration efforts of the Pandharpur municipality. Being a government delegation, which technically speaking we were not, we were ushered right into the sanctum sanctorium, jumping long and patient queues of poor pilgrims. Later, a priest opened a cupboard with a key tied round his bare and greasy waist and showed us the jewels and clothes that were put on the deities on auspicious occasion. We were allowed to touch the jewels and handle them and some of the repeaters said it was a great privilege.

Though it was a tour of drought areas, I must admit that we were never starved. The government looked after us very well and for breakfast there was always the Maharashtrian paua and doublefried eggs, srikhand for lunch and chicken for dinner. And we stayed in circuit houses, the smarter and more experienced reporters the plane and grabbing the suite occupied by the chief minister when on tour.

These were all fringe benefits. The main benefit was that we got to see a lot of Maharashtra. Onion fields around Pune, where entire roads and vilages smell of onions; Satara with Shivaji's fort hanging over the town; sugarcane factories in Sangli and Kolhapur, with long convoys of bullock-carts bringing the sugarcane in from the fields; the fancy guesthouses of the sugar cooperatives, where we were treated to local rum and chicken curry; and the various collectors we met along the way, each one a character in his own right.

After that, when we returned to Bombay and our respective newspapers, everybody, except the most cantankerous among us, gave a clean chit to the Maharashtra government for tacking the drought on a warfooting.

 
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