MADDUR(KARNATAKA): Much before Prime Minister Narendra Modi started the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, mysterious ‘Marathi Amma’ had already completed over a decade of her self-launched cleanliness mission in Maddur in Mandya district of Karnataka. “For over 15 years, she has been devoting herself to keep the platforms of the Maddur railway station spotlessly clean from dawn to dusk,” said M Nagaraj, a Government Railway Police (GRP) constable.
The 65-year-old wakes up everyday at 4 am. After her morning duties, clad in a red saree with green border, she heads eagerly to the nearby railway station. Like every day, she reaches there at around 5 am and begins her day’s chores—she cleans all the platforms there till she is satisfied, and if she had her will she would wipe out every speck of dust possible.
This woman about whom no one knows anything speaks only Marathi, earning her the moniker ‘Marathi Amma.’ A tinge of reverence can be felt when the name is pronounced by regulars, as she is openly recognised as the driving force behind the clean railway station in Maddur (located 68 kms from Bengaluru). The stunning aspect is that this lithe and elderly woman does all the hardwork without expecting anything in return. “She does not ask anyone for money or food or anything at all,” says one of Maddur’s four station masters, Maileshaiah. Railway staff or police offer her `5 or `10 once in a while and she accepts it. Her only other compensation is that when food grains like wheat or rice get spilled over inside this station, a key unloading point for grains, staff hand over some of it to her. H S Raghupathy, who was a station master at Maddur from 2010 to 2013, used to give her a minimum of `50 per day from his own pockets, just to help her meet her daily needs. “Whenever, there is a crowd, Amma gets agitated and behaves irrationally, sometimes pelting stones too,” says Maniayaiah, another station master.
According to Maniayaiah, the woman’s immediate family is well placed. “They came by car to take her along one day but she refused to go with them,” he said.
Some railway staff here call her ‘mad’ or ‘mental’. However, it appears as if she has won the hearts of the public around. “I have seen her here for a very long time, maybe right from the meter gauge days at the station,” says Nagaraj, a canteen employee.
The mysterious Amma chooses to be by herself and does not show any interest in communicating with anyone. On the few occasions she speaks with others or talks aloud to herself, no one seems to understand her language. Her only outing is to a shop located a bit away from the station where she buys milk, tea powder and betel leaf by just pointing out the product to the shopkeeper. At nights, she sleeps on platform one outside the police post or in platform two or three when it rains as these have a shelter above.
GRP personnel, who usually shoo away people hanging around at the station, refuse to evict her from there. “If she causes any problem to anyone or is a nuisance, then we can consider that option. She is really useful here,” said a police officer, adding, “The woman values her self-respect a lot. She will not take money or food from strangers but only from those she knows for years.”
Her belongings, comprising a few clothes and other oddities, are all placed in a corner on platform one of the railway station. She has constructed a small hut with plastic sheets, which has only a sitting space inside, outside the station premises which she zealously guards. She cooks her food outside this self-made arrangement using firewood.
Marathi Amma was handed over twice to government-run homes but she returned to her home turf, the Maddur station.
Today, no one wants her to ever leave. “I am deeply touched and impressed with the lady’s activities. I am examining the possibility of providing her some honorarium from the division to help her sustain herself,” said Divisional Railway Manager of Bengaluru Division Sanjiv Agarwal.