I never did like the exercises we had to do in Physical Training at school, and I thought that I was finished with them when I started college. Imagine my dismay when I learned that physical exercises were mandatory during the first year of college.

I don’t know if this was also the case in other cities, but I went to college in Poona (as it was called then), and Poona was, well, different from other cities. Mandatory meant mandatory and there was no getting out of it.

But I found out that it was possible to avoid Physical Education if we took part in the NSS- National Service Scheme activities. So a couple of my friends and I signed up for that.

For the first project we were given the job of cleaning up Shaniwaarwada. Every Sunday morning for a couple of months we had to report at the Shaniwaarwada main gate, and for the next four hours help to clean the grounds and gateway areas.

The first Sunday we started work there. We were a group of thirty/thirty-five students and we attacked the grounds with enthusiasm. We wielded brooms and cleaned the driveways. We picked up every piece of paper and the stray plastic bag ( plastic bags were not so commonly used then) that tourists had thrown on the lawns. We even washed out some graffiti that youngsters had written on the buttresses. And we left, feeling very proud of ourselves.

Next Sunday morning we reported there again. Entering the Shaniwaarwada grounds, we got a shock. There was no sign of the work we had done a week earlier. There were papers strewn on the lawns. And the stones we had lined on the side of the pavement had been kicked to the middle of the pathway.

But we were no quitters, and once again we went to work. In four hours, everything was tidy again.

This happened every Sunday for two months. After that we were told to start on another project. By that time we had all become attached to the historical Shaniwaarwada and were sad to have to move on. There were, of course Municipal employees whose job was to keep Shaniwaarwada clean. But we were convinced that no one could do it as well as we could!

I learnt a couple of lessons from that experience.

One was that garbage is perpetual! Cleaning is a process that goes on forever.

The other- If you really care for something and try to maintain it, you obtain a proprietary right to it. Maybe not a legal right, but definitely a moral one!

Even today if I a catch a glimpse of the Shaniwaarwada in a historical movie or a documentary film, I always think to myself- That’s MY Shaniwaarwada!

[Shaniwaarwada Grounds photo courtesy- Wikipedia]