Dhantoli’s inner space

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 22 Jun 2017 13:17:34




Vijay Phanshikar,

As boisterous cadets of the National Cadet Corps, we felt
immediately sobered when our NCC Officer Major Jamshed Gimi (who also taught us Economics in Hislop College) took us to Major Surendra Deo Park in Dhantoli and told us the story of his martyrdom in the 1965 War in the Sialkot Sector. Our heads bowed in reverence, and a paradoxical surge of pride, too, filled our chests. That moment is still etched deep in the memory.

To have known the Deo family beforehand was, of course, a matter of familial connection. But when the young Major Surendra Deo laid down his life on September 16, 1965, in Sialkot Sector fighting, he became the nation’s darling. And on that Sunday morning in 1967, when Major Jamshed Gimi narrated the story, all of us felt a tremendous pride welling up in our beings. He was a Gunner in 86 Light Regiment (which later became 861 Missile Regiment). When he made the highest sacrifice, his unit created a memorial where he was cremated. And one of his unit colleagues, Dasan, ensured that the following words were inscribed on it: ‘He gave his today for our tomorrow’!

Even today, 52 years after the martyrdom, voice of Anuradha Deo (Phadnis) cracks as she recalls the moment when she visited the memorial in Sialkot.

The park in Dhantoli was named after Major Surendra Deo in 1966. And back in his Regiment, Major Deo’s name occupies the top position in the Scroll of Honour. The city of Nagpur also celebrated Major Surendra Deo’s martyrdom by naming two localities after him -- Surendra Nagar, and Deo Nagar. Subsequently, the NCC also instituted a Major Surendra Deo Trophy to be given to the Best Cadet.

As children, we had often gone to the Dhantoli Park to spend evenings. But once we knew of the story of Major Surendra Deo’s martyrdom, we started gravitating to the place as if drawn there by some unknown force. One such evening, three of us -- my two cousins and me -- bumped into a middle-aged man, with thick, black-rimmed specs and a silent glow on the face, who found time to talk to us at length, about so many things, including Major Deo. Softly he spoke on and we listened, without knowing who he was. Later on, to another ‘Uncle’ we happened to know we asked who the man was. And ‘Uncle’ asked back incredulously, “Don’t you know Bhausaheb Madkholkar?”

We were stunned simply. Who did not know the name of Bhausaheb (Gajanan Tryambak) Madkholkar, the founder Chief Editor of Marathi newspaper ‘Tarun Bharat’? But we did not know him in person, nor did we remember his face in newspaper pictures. Madkholkar family lived in Dhantoli and symbolised the best of literary and legal talents.
Such was the attraction of the Dhantoli Park to which gravitated not just the young urchins like us, but also very respectable elders from all walks of life.

Dhantoli also hosted another great name in journalism -- A.D. Mani, the dour Chief Editor of ‘The Hitavada’, who was also a Member of Rajya Sabha and of the Indian Delegation to the United Nations. And in one of the lanes of Dhantoli also lived one unassuming man who later became Editor of ‘The Hitavada’ -- G.T. Parande. In one such lane also lived another person who rose to national eminence -- Vasant Purshottam Sathe. And both these men -- Parande and Sathe -- had one common name: ‘Bapu’. And who can forget the name of another great name in literature -- Purshottam Bhaskar (Pu Bha) Bhave who also lived in Dhantoli for some time, and also the great poet ‘Grace’ Manik Godghate?

One more celebrated name occupies Nagpur’s public memory -- that of Mrs. Anusayabai Kale, who, too, was a Member of Parliament, and gave Dhantoli some of its gravitas. Stories of her influence are still told to youngsters. She was a legend in her own right and a big name in national politics.

Truly, Dhantoli was such a place then, full of serene civility, complete with fine culture. And, in the Nagpur of those days, Dhantoli was only a representative of the whole city whose charm the old timers can never get over even today.
Now that the Police Department has ensured that Dhantoli is one ideal locality whose roads are no longer blocked by senseless abuse by vehicular traffic and parking, one loves to wait for similar action in other areas of the city.

The park, however, continues to be the gravitational centre. It was renovated many times over. Today, it is one of the modern parks the city boasts of. In the thick of the urban chaos around, getting into the park today means stepping into an altogether different world of calmness and assured unpolluted air. Now also, literally hundreds of people visit the park every day for their morning and evening constitutionals. To somebody like me, who seeks something beyond just clean air, Major Surendra Deo Park also denotes symbolism of the inner -- spiritual -- space of a community, so to say. For, its very name ignites an altogether different kind of emotion in one’s heart -- of immense respect, of tremendous pride, of unparalleled surge of patriotic feeling!