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Unsung Matheran's Warrior Set To Bounce Back

A Draft Correspondent | Matheran

Today, Janardhan Parte is overcome with gratitude. The usually-belligerent tourist guide and tea stall owner in Matheran spoke about how the hill station and its residents have been fighting the COVID battle and are now beginning to win the war. “For months on end, everything was shut down in Matheran … businesses, restaurants and shops. It was a challenging time for all of us,” says the guide as he reminisces the “difficult days” during the lockdown.

While COVID-19 pandemic affected Mumbai, located barely 83 km away, drastically wreaking havoc in its wake, before mellowing down now, Matheran had its share of heroes who rose to the occasion to help the needy, despite the risks, yet remained ‘unsung’.

THIRD GEN: Janardhan Parte with wife Shaila Parte at their tea stall in Matheran
Janardhan Parte, active since years in raising issues affecting the local populace, recalls the days of the lockdown and hopes that no one must live through that ever again. Tourism being the only source of revenue, Matheran was hit hard by the pandemic. “After the lockdown, tourists stopped coming and all businesses shut down in Matheran. It was important to close as health comes first but the closure impacted many and rather badly,” recalls Mr Parte.

From the time his grandfather, Dhondlu Parte arrived to Matheran from Mahabaleshwar to make a living as a caretaker of British-owned bungalows to Dhondhlu’s son Shankar Parte continued working as a watchman and caretaker, Janardhan has had a close relationship with Matheran. “My family had to keep the bungalows clean and manage the property. In return, they were given a place to live (quarters).” Shankar Parte married Parvati from Pali, Khopoli in Maharashtra.

A third-generation resident of Matheran, among the few old-timers, Janardhan Parte has taken it upon himself to clean up the whole of Matheran, on his part. “In 1985, I opened a tea stall at a spot allocated by the municipality. It was a small tapri that I converted into a stall over time.” He also works as a tour guide and helps tourists find appropriate accommodation. “I make small earnings through such commissions also.” But, most important of them all is the task of cleaning up Matheran, says the guide.

During the lockdown, apart from the stoppage of tourism-related activities, Janardhan was forced to also shut his tea stall and remain indoors. It meant a loss of income and that was worrisome. But, at 65 and with hypertension, he had to take precautions to ensure his own safety and that of his family. “I tried to stay in as far as possible and would do steam inhalations thrice a day. Even today, I do the same at least once a day,” says Mr Parte, now out and back to work.

His wife of 35 years, Shaila Parte was fearful yet hopeful during the lockdown. “Dar to tha hi but maloom tha ki sab theek ho jayega,” says an ever-so-optimist Shaila. Their two children, son Gaurav and daughter Sheetal based in Pune, could not drop by to visit them, owing to the situation. “I haven’t met them till now and was really worried for them. With network issues in Matheran, it was difficult to stay connected with them too. Thankfully, they were close to each other, so things weren’t that bad,” maintains Shaila.

Even today, since shops and businesses have reopened in October, after Ganeshotsav, Matheran has not been able to revive its tourist-based economy to pre-COVID levels. Janardhan maintains several members of the community shed their personal differences and stepped forward to help those in dire straits. There were COVID-19 casualties, albeit a handful in Matheran, and several residents who tested positive to the scourge and were taken to centres in Mumbai and Panvel where they received treatment, recovered and returned to the hill-station. 

“There were many who helped with finances while others helped the needy by offering food grains. “It was wonderful to see everyone united to fight the situation,” says Mr Parte getting ready to serve a small group of tourists, the first among the trickle arriving to the hill station, and only on weekends. “This too will pass,” says Janardhan Parte.

This story is part of #TheUnsungProject series. 'Unsung - The Film' captures the selfless dedication of those Indians whose contributions during COVID-19 times, would otherwise go ... unsung. The film was created by DraftCraft Films in conjunction with The Draft. Team Unsung spread across 20 States, 5 Union Territories and over 100 Cities and Villages in India, to document stories of hope, hard work and dedication of thousands, in the time of COVID-19. Watch the film here.

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