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26 February 1998

Mrs MP rolls up her sleeves for poll battle

RACHNA BISHT RAWAT  
PUNE, February 25: While Leela Vithal Tupe confesses with a laugh that living in the same house, she has not seen her husband for the past 15 days, Meera Kalmadi has to make an effort to remember if Suresh had his routine breakfast of dosas this morning. Though we try to locate her desperately for an interview, an apologetic Poornima Dharmadhikari returns the fifth call from her personal computer, saying she has still not completed the layout for an advertisement which has to be released in the press tomorrow, and has to reach newspaper offices before a 3 pm deadline.

In their starched cotton sarees, heads covered to beat the heat, tirelessly on to padyatras and corner meetings and visits to jhuggi-jhopdi clusters, the wives of the three main election hopefuls from Pune are proving more than a match for their worse-halves where vote-gathering goes.

Routines have changed dramatically for these erstwhile housewives, with husbands and children put on the back burner, whiles homes are swarming with khadi-cladguests these days. Kitchens have turned public langars while they themselves eat from paper packets under village trees. With dinner at 2 am and daybreak at dawn, the race is as tough and as close for the next Mrs MP, who certainly can't be blamed for not trying.

Says Leela, ``My day begins at 6 am when I finish making breakfast and tea.'' She says she churns out as many as 100 cups of tea in the morning, the house being filled with campaigners. Handing over the kitchen reins to her daughter-in-law and the two cooks they have hired for the election period, she moves out with the women of the neighbourhood for house-to-house campaigning and village padyatras.

2 pm is time for the packed lunch of `puri-bhaji that the campaigners carry from home and partake sitting in the shade of a tree in whichever locality they are campaigning. From 6 pm to 10 pm is time to meet friends and hold corner meetings before returning home tired, yet ready to face yet another day. She is asleep by 4 am when her husband returnshome.

For Meera Kalmadi, it is routine to return home for lunch in the afternoon. ``The only difference campaigning has made to my family life is that I am not cooking and not travelling out of station,'' she says. Instead of the usual 8 am, she says she rises at 6.30 am, and is ready in an hour to start work for the day. Playing `Priyanka' to her is young daughter Payal, a collegiate, who was most visible in the open jeep that carried Chandrachur Singh through the University.

With the tension building up to a peak as campaigning ends tomorrow, the ladies have pulled up their socks and rolled up their sleeves for the final battle. May the best wo-man win.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.



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