It's past 11 in the morning on Friday and a motley group of fish sellers braving the scorching heat are waiting outside the fish market in Crawford Market in South Mumbai to receive Milind Deora, their Lok Sabha candidate. Most of them know him only as the son of Congress leader Murli Deora and have not met him earlier. ``Mee baghitla nahi (I have never seen him)'' one of them confides in Marathi.
Milind is young (In fact the youngest candidate in the fray in the country today) and also a successful businessman. But perhaps this is the first time he is walking into a fish market and he tries to strike up a conversation with the fisher folk from the Koli tribe. He seeks their blessings but stays at a safe distance from a Koli woman who, with a huge fish held high, poses for photographs with him.
Milind's constituency has a mix of the crème de la crème of the country and the lower middle classes. Milind tries his best to be at ease with these Marathi speaking people from the lower strata of society but he is more comfortable with `Thank you' and `OK'. At his meetings he begins his address in Marathi only to switch to Hindi, a language he is comfortable with to initiate a dialogue with his voters.
Most of the areas he choses to visit on Friday are the strongholds of the Congress or its allies. In his door- to-door campaigns he is greeted by Maharashtrian women in the traditional way by applying of `haldi-kumkum' on his forehead and he never forgets to seek the blessings at small temples that dot the chawls. In a Republican Party of India stronghold, Buddha statues replace the idols and he never forgets to pay his obeisance to Dr B.R Ambedkar.
Most of the voters in his area might be meeting him for the first time but they remember Murli Deora. And the Deora connection helps. ``We have to repay Murlibhai by getting his son elected,'' says 55-year-old Sulochana Kamble. Like father, the son has also raised the issue of dilapidated houses at his corner meetings. Deora Sr has been a fighter for tenants' rights for long. At times, Milind gets the pulse of the people right. Like while addressing the families of police constables, he harps on the free computer training centre set up by his family at police stations. ``I exhort all the students to make use of it.''
At the end of the four-hour campaign in the parching sun before they depart for lunch, one remark by Milind Deora reverberates and hangs in the air for long : ``One has to go through this grind before getting to serve the people.''
The ``bachcha'' is learning ? `child' was how his rival and Union Minister Jaywantibehn Mehta of the BJP dismissed his candidature. But child for not much longer. This is the newest politician on the block and this time round it might be the virtues of the father that will visit the son, counting time.