'We call her wadar, the wind'

Published: May 08, 2011, 10:52 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury |

Wrinkles tell a story. Little tales of mirth, pain and struggle. Indu Khanolkar has enough wrinkles, and stories to keep you engaged for a whole evening.

Indu Khanokar, Mumbai

Mother to: social and environmental activist Medha Patkar

Wrinkles tell a story. Little tales of mirth, pain and struggle. Indu Khanolkar has enough wrinkles, and stories to keep you engaged for a whole evening. The force behind one of India's most fiery activists, Medha Patkar, she is up and about even at 82. Patkar's mother answered the doorbell when we dropped by at her Chembur home for an interview. She walked through a passage, in slow steps to the kitchen, straightening the pallu of a saffron cotton saree, to get us a glass of water.

Pic/Suresh KK

"My son is in Australia so there is nobody at home," she said, throwing a glance around. The brief vacant look in her ageing eyes disappeared the minute we addressed her as "Indu tai", pumping her with the energy of a 30 year-old. Ask her how old she is, and she played a guessing game. The "are you 70?" guess invited a guffaw from her, and she whispered, "Eight two", her eyes twinkling. A student of King George school, Indu was a competent student who enjoyed reading Marathi and English literature, a habit she picked up from her mother and one she passed on to Medha ("she once read more than a hundred books while studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences") and later, her nine year-old grand daughter.

As a student of Economics at Matunga's Ruia College, Indu would juggle voluntary social service, and academics. Later she worked for the central government and retired as a post master after 38 years of service.
Since she retired in 1987, Indu has been involved with Swadhar, a not-for-profit organisation fighting for women rights. Her husband, a trade unionist who passed away in 1999, is a man she remembers fondly. "It was love that brought us together. A man of simple living and high thinking... that's what attracted me to him."

Indu, who decided in favour of an intercaste marriage, went against her parents' wishes to marry Vasant Rao Khanolkar. "Ma baap ko problem tha par maine decide kar liya tha (My parents had a problem but my mind was made up)."

Other than reading books, especially on Ambedkar, Indu says she is fond of cooking -- "I make good Rasagullas and Besan ke laddu" -- but she keeps the pace slow now that diabetes doesn't allow her to stomach all that she can whip up. It's hardly surprising that mother to the woman who took up the Narmada Bachao Andolan cause, making the issue of a controversial dam in Gujarat, global, is troubled about the indifference India's youth exhibit towards values.

And although her daughter's endless fasts and fight for the underprivileged leave her puffed with pride, she is worried about her health and safety. Rarely aware of Medha's schedule, Indu says, "We call her wadar (wind); she doesn't stay in a fixed place." Running her hand over a black and white laminated frame of a young Medha holding up her kid brother, Indu wishes she had someone by her side. "Sometimes, it gets lonely, you know."

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