From art to philosophy

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Jul 2017 11:24:15

Vijay Phanshikar

Every morning, at 9:30 sharp, Shankarrao Patwardhan would pick up his trademark umbrella and step out of his home in Dhantoli to go to his place of work -- the Central Museum behind the Council Hall in Civil Lines. He was the museum’s curator, widely known for his skill and a ram-rod straight man, he would also put on his black cap and start walking all the way to the museum that he treated as his place of worship, not just work. That was decades and decades ago. Yet, Dhantoli remembers him still in full vividness. Such was his persona. Such has been Dhantoli’s memory bank. It has been one community whose members kept such a close connect with one another, recalling association, preserving memories, relishing the delicious feel of togetherness.

Of course, today, Dhantoli is a changed place, very ‘hospitalised’, very ‘officialised’, and almost
‘dehumanised’, so to say. For, when a locality starts housing patients in hospitals instead of people in homes, it loses its human charm and starts getting devoid of human emotion. Hence ‘dehumanised’!

Though the physical Dhantoli has changed, the psychological Dhantoli would always remain etched in
memory. There was that great artist -- Bapurao Athawale who founded the famous Nagpur School of Arts where legendary artists like Raza -- who later settled in Paris -- and B. Prabha honed their artistic and aesthetic skills. From the Nagpur School of Arts came generations of artists who brightened up the art scene not just of Nagpur but also of the whole of India.

Another man who added a special theatrical flavour to the community was Baburao Chimote, connoisseur par excellence, the founder of Nagpur Natya Mandir under whose banner he conducted a terrific dramatic activity for decades. To Baburao Chimote, generations of theatre artists owed their existence.

By the way, Dhantoli also hosted many travelling artists who came to perform plays in Dhanwatay Rang Mandir in Nagpur or other places in Vidarbha. They stayed at the Anandashram opposite Patwardhan Ground (now Yashwant Stadium) and generally walked to the theatre.

It was always a treat to see legendary personages like Prabhakar ‘Pant’ Panshikar, Arun Sarnaik, Ushakiran, Jayashri Gadkar, Kashinath Ghanekar, Lalan Sarang, Damuanna Malwankar, Prasad Sawkar, Ram Marathe, Sudha Karmarkar, Vijaya Mehta, Vikram Gokhale, Ramdas Kamat, Ashalata Waabgaonkar, Daji Bhatawdekar, Dr. Shriram Lagu and others in Dhantoli. As a young Reporter, I often hovered around Anandashram to get hold of a few artists for interviews.

Mind darts back to the famous Tikekar Road in Dhantoli time and again. There lived the Tikekar family that often hosted Mahatma Gandhi. Ganpatrao Tikekar was a staunch Congressman and boasted of his close association with Gandhiji. With brother Shankarrao, Tikekar got the contract to build the Ajni Bridge, which is still going strong, let alone
a few repairs.

Just near Tikekar Road was the Mishra Bhavan where Ram Gopal Maheshwari, the founder Editor of Hindi newspaper ‘Nav Bharat’ lived. He launched the newspaper while he lived in Dhantoli. The paper was printed in the press owned by the Tikekar family, as old-timers recall.

Dhantoli has had a wonderful association with journalism. For, the celebrated journalist Tarun Kumar Bhaduri lived there and went to work with ‘Nagpur Times’ from his home in Dhantoli. His daughter Jaya was born in Jalpaigudi, but came to Nagpur and attended the Dinanath School for a while before the Bhaduri family moved to Bhopal as Tarun Da took up the assignment with ‘The Statesman’ as its Special Correspondent. Subsequently, he spearheaded a great and successful campaign to make possible the surrender of the Chambal dacoits before Jaya Prakash Narain years later.

Today’s overcrowding of Dhantoli with hospitals, perhaps, had its origin in the presence of many celebrated medical legends who lived there. A few among those persons were Dr. Pendse near Major Surendra Deo Park, famous Dentist Dr. Deshmukh whose house was next to the Malak home, Captain Dr. Anand Parande who shared his pathological practice with Dr. Kane, Dr. Mrs. Shirali whose skills and knowledge of gynaecology were of a legendary variety, World War II veteran Dr. Bhave, Dr. Mrs. Mulik, and of course, many others.

The community also boasted of a legendary irrigation engineer Arun Kashinath Shenolikar who lived for many years in the same line as the ‘Anand’ Bhavan of the Kales and the Sheorey family on the Dhantoli Main Road. ‘Anna’ to me, as his daughter-in-law Aasawari works with me in ‘The Hitavada’, he enjoyed an impeccable reputation for intelligence as well as integrity.

Dhantoli also had another great name in engineering education -- Dr. V.M. Dokras who was Principal of the Visvesvaraya Regional College of Engineering (VRCE -- now VNIT). An affable man, he loved to stop and talk to people during his evening walks mainly to the market.

Every time my mind wanders on the roads and lanes of Dhantoli, I cannot avoid feeling simply amazed by the terrific quality of human material living within the confines of a small area almost at the same time. Even now, taking a stroll in Dhantoli’s lanes is a happy pastime -- at all times of the day. But late nights are more welcome.

For, in those hours of deserted streets, one can almost get into every home mentally and converse with those men and women many of whom I happened to know personally.
The most enduring memory, however, is of joining Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari on his walks or at his home to listen to various anecdotes from the rich life he lived.

I remember distinctly that evening when Dada refused to attend a felicitation function on his 75th birthday at the Vidarbha Sahitya Sangh. As an ascetic, he did not appreciate the felicitations, which his admirers nevertheless organised. That evening, I tiptoed into his home and waited anxiously to be admitted in. He looked up, smiled and asked me to get in.

That was one evening during which I heard such a wonderful exposition on philosophy of non-violence.
That memory will never leave me.