It was with sadness that I read this morning of the passing of Mrinal Gore, the famous Paniwali Bai of Mumbai. I had often wondered as to what had happened to this feisty fighter of the 1960s and 1970s. Now I know.
When we moved from the political backwater of Madras to Calcutta in 1976, it was an awakening of sorts for me, then all of ten. In Madras, the Congress was still the party that all Brahmins voted for and then you had the DMK and the AIADMK. And the Emergency was believed to be all to the good though the Indian Express and Ramnath Goenka were leading the fight from our very own Mount Road.
It was in Calcutta that I came to know of the excesses of the Emergency, of Turkman Gate, the compulsory vasectomies etc. And it was also in Calcutta that I came to know of the Paniwali Bai -The woman who had fought for potable water for the locality of which she was Councillor in the 1960s.
In 1972, Mrinal Gore did the innovative – thereby demonstrating that Gandhian protests were and shall always remain in vogue. Wishing to highlight the issue of price rise, she along with hundreds of women marched to the Azad Maidan in Bombay, brandishing rolling pins and metal plates which they then proceeded to beat. The enthusiasm was infectious and it is said that in Raj Bhawan, Maharashtra, the wife of the Governor’s cook would religiously clang the plate and rolling pin each evening much to the embarrassment of her husband.
In 1977, Mrinal Gore fought the elections on a Janata Party ticket and won hands down. It was also when Mrs Gandhi lost badly and so Bombay resounded with the ditty – Dilliwali Bai pani mein, Paniwali Bai dilli mein (the Delhi woman in water and the water woman in Delhi). It was so inspiring to read Mrinal Gore’s profile which was done as a cover story by Sunday magazine.
Sadly, the dream of Mrinal Gore and several others failed to materialise. Thanks to in-fighting and plain greed, the Janata Party fell and Mrinal Gore returned to Bombay. Her lifestyle always remained the same – the trademark white saree and the shoulder bag. She had I understand from the obituary notices, continued to remain a fighter – taking up cudgels on behalf of Dalits, people displaced by the Narmada’s dams and female infants.
May she rest in peace.