Sai Bangoda Pada Powai, Using Judgment in the Face of Illiteracy, Uncertainty

Karishma Iyer, Hindustan Times

Sai Bangoda Pada is a little neighbourhood in Powai, seemingly cut off from the rest of civilisation. It holds around 172 houses based on the chawl model — Sachin Sawant (28), the census enumerator tells you it’s nearly impossible to know the exact number of houses here. “When the children get married, the parents quickly construct a new house next door,” adds Sawant, who has finished around 122 houses.

Sawant is accompanied by Asmita Parab (42), a BMC Public Health nurse and supervisor. Manisha Urade (15), now in Class 10, is home alone when Sawant knocks at the door. He fills out the form, asking Manisha for the ages of the family members, and their professions. Manisha, who can barely recollect her own birthday, struggles through a bunch of papers to help Sawant with the information.

Every day, she walks for 30 minutes to get to school. The Urade family consists of five people – Manisha, her two siblings and the parents. Prabhu, her father, works as a watchman with the BMC.

Manisha’s younger sister Usha (13) left school three years ago because of recurring fits. Their brother Manoj, who couldn’t clear his matriculation exam, does odd jobs.

The family has been living here for more than 40 years now. All the information Sawant records is based on his sense of judgment. Many of the locals here are farmers, some work as watchmen.

“Is the government planning to demolish our houses?” asks Kamala Aheda (60). Sawant tells us the locals are not easily trusting of outsiders. He needs to talk to the headman of the Pada beforehand to gain enough trust to conduct the census.

Aheda says everyone in the Pada are tribals, who have lost a lot of their land to a private developer — which is why they are apprehensive when an outsider comes asking them questions.

Aheda doesn’t remember how old she is, when her children were born, or when she got married. What does Sawant do in such conditions? “We try and ask them which season they were born in, or if they were born during a festival,” he explains. Sawant and her husband Ratan (70), who once worked in the municipality, are both uneducated. Sawant thinks she probably got married when she was 14.

Her older son Ramesh (30) is handicapped. Two of her other children, Poonam (15) and Ramesh (13) go to school while Pinky (22) manages to land odd jobs. The houses in the neighbourhood are spacious and all seem to have a television set and a sewing machine. In the middle of the Pada is the single tap used by all the 172 houses.