September 4, 2011

INDIA: “Risk is a part of living a happy life,” muses a road warrior

MUMBAI, India / Harmony Magazine / People / September 4, 2011

By Radhika Raje

Road warrior

Turning a neighbourhood of thugs into one of Mumbai’s high-profile localities is a silver who is allergic to corruption

“Risk is a part of living a happy life,” muses Sanjeev Jatan. And personifying this paradox is this feisty 70-year-old, who has spent exactly half his life ranting and railing, coaxing and cajoling, and crossing swords with politicians and civic officials, just to make his neighbourhood “livable”.

Thanks partly due to Jatan’s unwavering resolve, Yari Road in Andheri (West) is now one of Mumbai’s most sought-after addresses—home to TV stars, film personalities and other celebrities. “I shifted to this area 35 years ago with my wife and daughters,” says the former Larsen & Toubro employee. “Back then, the roads were shoddy, there were no street lights and it was unsafe to move around.”

Jatan returns to a city that many Mumbaiites scarcely remember. “There was an invisible boundary line that stretched from Colaba to Bandra. So miscreants and thugs moved to areas like Yari Road. My neighbours were attacked and women were even robbed on the roads,” recalls our social crusader. But instead of being daunted or fearing for his life, Jatan plotted and planned a better future for his little patch of grey. “All the greenery you see in our area is because of him. He regularly plants trees,” beams his wife Ranjani. Struggling to get something as basic as street lights installed in his neighbourhood was a monumental challenge. “Believe it or not but street lights were installed along our road only two years ago. For the longest time, I used to stand below my building with a torch to help people reach their respective houses,” he says.

Piecing together his plan for Yari Road involved countless trips to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Thus, wrestling with paperwork and sparring with civic officials was an art he finally mastered. “You can’t escape bribery in a government office,” admits Jatan. Our septuagenarian warrior is currently a part of the anti-corruption protests and rallies in support of social crusader Anna Hazare. He says that after witnessing corruption up close and personal, he is convinced that India will progress only if corruption in high places is checked.

Jatan shares an experience that dates back 20 years, one that was an eye-opener. “I was buying some land in Belgaum but the paperwork was taking an age. I must have made at least 20 trips to and from Belgaum to tackle the formalities but without any success. That’s when a government employee advised that I should take the official I was dealing with out for drinks and give him some money under the table. He said I would get my work done in a jiffy,” Jatan reminisces, with an audible sigh. “I often wonder about how the Indian political system is rotting due to corruption. That’s why I support Anna. He is my guiding spirit,” he adds.

Although Jatan admits that corruption is a menace that may never be rooted out, he hopes he can at least change the way things work in his locality. “He is a very tough and hot-tempered man,” says wife Ranjani about her husband’s determination to struggle for civic development, which Jatan says will “end only with my last breath”.

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