Union Minister Vilas Muttemwar cannot pronounce ‘technology’. But it is the one word he has to use frequently as Minister of Non-Conventional Energy Resources.
“We are very lucky. Our country has great potential. The sun visits us everyday. No CL (casual leave), no ML (medical leave),” he says. Apart from listing the advantages of India going solar, Vilas shows off the windmill replicas that are prominently displayed on his desk. “Sun and wind to get power,” he rambles, constantly tripping on ‘technology.’
Muttemwar is bent on plugging India’s energy deficit. His own experience of deprivation during his formative years makes him harp on self-sufficiency. Muttemwar started life as a coolie in Nagpur’s bhaji mandi (vegetable market). He carted sacks of onions on his back, writhing in pain when iron hooks pierced his flesh. But the day he actually sobbed was when his son slapped him because he did not have money to buy him a bicycle.
Muttemwar also earned a living selling calendars by the roadside and through singing. “After the markets closed, the shopkeepers would sit around and ask me to sing. My favourite was Mohammed Rafi’s O duniya ke rakhwale…. Years later, he entertained Congress leaders Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru during election campaigns. “Vilas, gao,” Gandhi would often say during long drives from one meeting to another. That he never got paid for it is another matter.
He learnt music on the bulbul tarang, which he did not possess. It took all his savings to hire one for a few hours. His claim to fame: “Being asked to perform at the Youth Congress convention in the Eighties.”
Muttemwar’s marriage to Chaaya had its own set of problems. His family opposed it because she came from a lower caste. Worse, her family were bootleggers. They also dismissed him as a vagabond who would ruin her life.
Consequently, friends funded the wedding. Muttemwar bought the cheapest sari and mangalsutra he could find and headed for a temple near Nagpur. His legal background forewarned him of the need for proof of marriage. A photographer was hurriedly arranged, but the priest was the stumbling block. Cashing in on their desperation, he refused to solemnise the marriage in the absence of Chaaya’s parents. He relented after Muttemwar agreed to dish out a Rs 200 ‘fee’.
Post-marriage, Chaaya’s father arrived, threw away her mangalsutra and dragged her into his car. When his friends intervened, Muttemwar counselled, “Relax. She is an adult and legally my wife.”
His strategy: influence his father-in-law politically since he was desperate to contest a local election. It worked. Chaaya was sent back, but Muttemwar was not forgiven. It was only after he became father to three children that there was a thaw, which Muttemwar attributes to his “children’s beauty”.