As a child, Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde thought nothing of committing petty thefts and picking up sweetmeat wrappers people flung by the roadside. So what if he was poor and could not afford a sweetmeat? Licking a discarded wrapper gave him an idea how sweets tasted.
But this lasted only till the mithaiwala (sweet shop owner) discovered what he was doing: “Your father,” he told young Shinde, “fed others and you are behaving like a beggar”.
Shinde’s father Sambhajirao was an affluent businessman. He married four times, all for a son. Sushil was the fourth child of his fourth wife.
Things changed after his father’s death: the business collapsed and they turned paupers.
Like multiple roles in his life, Shinde had several names. His father named him after Saint Dnyaneshwar. In school, he was Dagadu Sambha, later distorted to Dhonda.
After he performed in plays, he became Hero Sushil. Before his debut in a male role, he played what he calls “Ladies roles”, alternating between Shanta and Gulabo.
Beginning as a petty thief, he sold toffees in Solapur till he landed a job as a babysitter. His first employer was a doctor, the second a matron. Both, working at the Wadia hospital in Solapur, needed someone to take care of their kids while they did shift duties in hospital.
One day he asked one of his mothers: “Why am I not allowed to eat with others or share their utensils?” When they said it was caste bias (Shinde belongs to a Scheduled Caste), he could not figure out why pets were allowed where he was not.
Having failed several times, Shinde’s sole aim was to get a good job. He managed one —what he calls a “boy peon” (underage peon) in courts. His job: hollering “…hazir ho” (appear). When his friends found out he was doubling as a “chaprasi” (peon), he vowed to move from “stool to seat” (peon’s stool to the judge’s chair).
Shinde did this till Sharad Pawar handpicked him to join politics. “Shinde,” said Pawar, “has a special place in my heart. What has impressed me is his magnanimity in maintaining decorum despite political differences.”