Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Veracious Velkars of Good Ol’ Mumbai

Noted architect, accomplished author and committed activist, Pratap Velkar is undoubtedly one of our most cherished living legends. His first book Lokmanya Tilak and Dr. Velkar is a timeless gem blessed with a discerning foreword by noted journalist and author Arun Tikekar. This is not your everyday biography, it is a treasure trove of invaluable information on Mumbai of Tilak’s time, a vivid account of the city's participation in Lokmanya’s political movement.



The book recounts the essence and significance of the symbiotic relationship between Lokmanya Tilak and the author’s father Dr. Motiram Balkrishna Velkar; it also throws perceptive light on the lives and contributions of several selfless activists and mavericks who toiled under the stewardship of Lokmanya Tilak, including Dr. Velkar, Dr. D. D. Sathe, S. V Lalit, Dr. N. D. Savarkar, and Dadasaheb Karandikar.



At the outset, the author provides a brief history of the Pathare Prabhu clan as also that of the Mumbai metropolis where the Prabhus settled for good. What follows is a fluid description of landmark events and movements steered by legends like Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Lokmanya Tilak, Shivram Mahadeo Paranjpe, and the great revolutionaries Chapekar Brothers as also key happenings including

• the highly potent and purposeful social and political events of Dr. M. B. Velkar’s student days, prime among them the W C Rand and Lt. Ayerst assassination, and the subsequent trial and execution of Chapekar brothers that left a deep impact on Velkar, then a school student.

• the herculean efforts of Dr. Velkar to inculcate nationalistic sentiments in fellow Mumbaikars of his time, especially the people of his Pathare Prabhu clan who, barring some great exceptions, were invariably known for their laid-back and insular notions of well-being and community development, as also their imprudent “more loyal than the king’ allegiances to the powers-that-be (which have sadly resurfaced with a vengeance among their so-called modern-day scions)

• the unconditional faith that Dr. Velkar had in Lokmanya’s vision, mission and leadership, and his tight rope walk as a practicing physician and a fierce social activist & Tilak follower.

• Tilak’s home rule movement and Mumbai’s involvement in it, notably the idea of booking a Tilak special train to participate in the 1916 Lucknow Congress that Dr. Velkar and Dr. Sathe germinated and successfully implemented to the tee (a tradition that continued for the next four years, to attend the subsequent Congress sessions)

• the 1918 special session of Congress and the historic protest during the Willingdon Memorial meet of December 11, 1918 which saw Barrister Jinnah at his nationalistic best.

• Tilak’s 1919 England visit as the president of home rule league which had him and Dr Velkar sharing the same accommodation (60 Talbot Road, Bayswater, London) as also traveling together in P & O Egypt ship that left the English shores on November 6 and reached Ballard Pier, Mumbai on November 27. (Dr. Velkar chose to travel with Lokmanya rather than stay back in England to pursue the coveted MRCP degree, and he made the most of the journey time, relishing every bit of the edifying conversations with the great man.)

• Tilak and Montagu-Chemsford reforms, Tilak Fund, and Tilak purse

• The last days of Lokmanya Tilak at Sardar Griha, Mumbai and life after Tilak

The outcome of Pratap sir's physical and intellectual labour is for all to see, only if we care to open our eyes and look back. In documenting the contribution of mavericks like the doctor duo of his father and Dr Dinkar Sathye, both fierce Tilak loyalists and committed activists affectionately addressed as the Mumbai-based Jai-Vijay duo of Lokmanya, Pratap sir had to preserve several weathered files, documents and notes – his father’s correspondence and newspaper clippings - spanning two generations.

This book also cherishes the work of several lesser known karmayogis of that era, including the two dynamic siblings of the great V D Savarkar (one a literary genius and the other a dental surgeon but both equally active in the national struggle), Tilak-follower Dadasaheb Khaparde, Bhosla Military School founder Dr. B S Munje, 'Sandeshkar’ Achyutrao Kolhatkar, fearless martyr Anant Laxman Kanhere, committed Pathare Prabhu volunteer Dinanath Vittal Rao, only to name a few.

Even the annexures to the book are full of little known but illuminating facts - Tilak's command over language and his astounding people skills, his inclusive approach to public speaking, his sparkling sense of humour, his outstanding liberalism (which defied his 'orthodox Brahmin' image), the sheer diversity of his followers, his journalistic principles and editorial conviction, the clarity of his thoughts and beliefs, and scores of amusing anecdotes and happenings during Tilak's England visit.

Dr. Velkar was no ordinary activist. In 1903, while still a teenager, he formed the Pathare Prabhu Knowledge Improving Society, a body of young minds committed to nationalistic thought and action. The society regularly hosted talks and lectures of great thought leaders to inspire the common people to shun their regressive tendencies and become more holistic about crucial issues of national significance. In 1990, at his behest, a grand Pathare Prabhu exhibition of artistic creations held at Thakurdwar, Mumbai had noted reformer Gopal Krishna Gokhale as the guest of honour, not some Britisher, as was the wont till that point in time. A few prejudiced old timers, unhappy with the new wave, asked him contemptuously "Why Gokhale, why not Tilak, who you rave about in public?" Dr. Velkar's reply was epic "You won't be able to digest Tilak's extremism. Instead, Gokhale's soft ways would suit you fine."

In 1914, Dr. Velkar incepted the Pathare Prabhu Progressive Association for cherishing the teachings of Maharashtra's saints, imparting technical education, and contributing to the national movement. In 1917, he formed the Pathare Prabhu Volunteer Core which helped maintain decorum during Congress rallies and key events and also provided timely aid in difficult times like during the Influenza epidemic of 1918.

As an active member of the Mumbai Municipality, his profound interventions upheld the cause of the common people: whether in the context of First Tenants Bill, Victoria Garden restoration, ensuring regular water supply to Mumbaikars, voting by Ballot, providing sanitary houses for laborers, or the inception of a cooperative bank for South Mumbai merchants. His recurring fear that the ghastly Communal Award will end up dividing India if not arrested in time proved prophetic, immediately post 1947.

Today, Dr. MB Velkar Street of Kalbadevi, Mumbai continues to remind us of Dr Velkar's contribution, albeit not many travel companies and tour operators would include it in their glossy MUST VISIT recommendations.

I consider myself fortunate to have read this book, which was reviewed by my father for Maharashtra Times way back in late 1990s; Pratap sir’s letter conveying his heartfelt sentiments to my dad is a prized bookmark housed within the book's insightful pages, a souvenir for posterity.

For more about this father and son duo - the Veracious Velkars of Good Ol' Mumbai - as also to know about Pratap Velkar's other books, visit http://historicaldocumentsofpratapvelkar.blogspot.com

Sadly, nobody seems to be managing this site, emails to the ID furnished on the site fetch no replies and the information furnished here has unknowingly taken the form of a dump. We hope someone from the family will eventually take the lead in conveying the essence and credence of this rich Velkar legacy to the public at large.

We were indeed fortunate to have a telecon with Pratap sir, and we found him inimitably agile and full of life. His warmth is priceless, which no blog or website can ever think of replicating.

Thank you, Pratap sir, for the highly potent literature you have gifted us. Your contribution, like your father’s, is exceptional.

Sudhir Raikar
www.coastaldelights.blogspot.in