Gorakhpur: Famously known as 'Jhadu Baba', Mahesh Shukla of Gorakhpur's Gorakhnath area can be found sweeping the streets daily morning. For the last 15 years, he comes out daily with a broom in his hand and cleans up the streets of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh to awaken the spirit of cleanliness among people.
Sweeping is his passion. He is a businessman and runs a computer and camera shop in the city's Shahi Market. Shukla has been regularly cleaning his locality and surrounding areas since 2008. He cleans different neighbourhoods between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Shukla says that he does not do this for gaining any fame, but it is included in his habit. "Due to the awareness, now about 700 to 800 people are associated with us. I do all this work with my own money."
He further says that the cleaning work is going on in different parts of the city. "On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the cleaning work is done in Gorakhnath, Rajendra Nagar and Shastri Nagar respectively. While on Thursday and Sunday, I clean Ramgarh Tal area," he elaborates.
"So far, around Rs 10 lakh has been spent on this work. There is an expense of about five brooms every week. Apart from this, the kit also includes water bottles. Honouring the cleaning staff of our area is also included in our routine," Shukla adds.
"Actually, about 30-40 families reside at the street where I live. There was an electric pole next to my house. People used to throw the garbage there. In search of food, animals used to scatter the garbage and I used to feel very bad then. When interrupted, people started fighting. Since the garbage was usually disposed of by women, debating with them seemed inappropriate," Shukla recalls.
He further narrates that once he was going to Jaipur when he found a book was lying on the seat next to him. There was some mention about Mahatma Gandhi and cleanliness in the book. Showing the book, Shukla's wife told him that if he wants to keep his surroundings clean, then he should learn it from Gandhi ji.
It worked out, but there were some hesitations in his mind initially, due to which, he used to collect the garbage in late night using broom so that no one should see him cleaning the garbage.
Slowly, people started realising that "Shukla ji picks up our garbage" and about 50 per cent people stopped throwing garbage near the pole. "This inspired me and also reduced the work. Then I bought a big broom and started sweeping the whole street," he adds.
Though most of the people stopped throwing garbage near Shukla's house, 3-4 women still used to throw the garbage there. "Now as soon as they throw garbage, I used to clean it. After which, protests started from their house itself and so they also stopped throwing garbage."
All this took about six to seven months. His street became clean due to the initiative started by him and the efforts of the people. "Then I turned to the main road and the parks," he says.
In the meantime, the government at the Centre changed. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister and he started the cleanliness drive. Symbolically, he himself was seen sweeping and cleaning many places. Seeing him, others also did the same.
"This encouraged me. The hesitation completely went away. People started discussing about my work. I started getting the platform too. I was surprised that the work which I started with hesitation is becoming the reason for my reputation," he recalls.
He made some brooms big enough to get into his car. He also bought a dress, gloves, cap and a mic system to appeal to people to join him. People not only appreciated his initiative but also supported him.
The broom and the rest of the kit remain lying in the car. "Wherever I go by car. The morning routine starts with the broom itself. I have also gone to Indore, which is one of the best cities in terms of cleanliness, to see the arrangement there."
Shukla says that earlier he used to do his work very quietly without any publicity. But, now he posts photos with the broom while cleaning to inspire others with his work.