‘Sahastrabhojani Kaka’, the man at Mt Pleasure

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 12 Oct 2018 09:26:39


By Kartik Lokhande,

Years ago, in 1943, a young Shripad had won a cash prize of Rs 15/- in an elocution contest and was given an option to choose between a cup and a trophy. However, he wanted the prize in cash. Soon after getting it from the organisers of the contest, he went straight to his ‘Harijan’ friend’s house. Handing him over the tightly clutched currency notes, Shripad asked his friend to pay the fees for Matric examination.

Years later, after crossing 90 years of age, a matured S G Sahastrabhojani went straight to Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister, to pursue an almost lost cause of protecting a public utility land from turning into something else. The respect he had earned in between 1943 and the present time, made sure that his attempts to pursue a cause of the people yielded positive results. Thus, in Friends’ Colony near Pratap Nagar, one can see a garden with compound wall on the said public utility land.

Between the youth with deep black hair and an elder with flowing sagely white beard and hair, is the life of S G Sahastrabhojani with all its shades of glory. Popularly referred to as ‘Sahastrabhojani Kaka’, he is a man of merit. Blessed with a sharp memory, clear diction, and purity of persona, this man retired from Government of Maharashtra’s service as Chief Director of Information and Public Relations. Since he is born in 1925 in Nagpur, he quips, “I am as old as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).” It was quite obvious for the youngsters of his age to get drawn towards the newly-formed organisation. He worked as a Swayamsevak and served in various parts of the country.

A good reader, Shripad Sahastrabhojani has an excellent command over various languages including Sanskrit, Marathi, English, and Hindi. In 1950s, he even worked as a journalist with ‘The Hitavada’. As luck would have it, he got every job by invitation. “In 1953, Madhya Pradesh Government called me for a job in Department of Information and Public Relations,” he recalls. It started his journey through time. He worked as a District Information Officer in bi-lingual Bombay, later as Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Maharashtra State Electricity Board. He also served as Deputy Director in Maharashtra Government’s Department of Information and Public Relations.

The Chief Ministers of Congress Government knew well of his RSS affiliations and held him in high regard for his honesty and integrity towards his job. As he recalls, “Once, the then Chief Minister A R Antulay sought me as his PRO. However, when despite his orders in this regard, my department wanted me to stay on where I was, Antulay called my superiors at midnight and got me relieved to join his office.”

Sahastrabhojani, who turns 94 on Friday (today), had a special bonding with Vasantrao Naik, the then Chief Minister. Sharing the memory of that period, he says, he had told Naik’s successor Shankarrao Chavan about this. “I told Chavan that I would maintain cordial relations with Naik, who had treated me like a son. I appreciate Chavan’s large-heartedness. For, he never objected to it,” he adds.
During Emergency, he faced some situations because of RSS affiliations. But, his integrity won him trust of his superiors. Chavan appointed him as Chief Censor irrespective of other ‘suggestions’ from New Delhi.

A man who always kept his promises, and still does, Sahastrabhojani made it a point to join Shivajirao Patwardhan at the latter’s Leprosy Asylum at Amravati. ‘Even before the flowers given on farewell’ from the Government service had wilted, he had reached Amravati. He served there selflessly. Five years later, he joined a World Bank project on rehabilitation of slum-dwellers in Mumbai. His creative approach and commitment towards improving life of slum-dwellers won him praise.

A sensitive soul, he was disturbed when Sikhs were massacred following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He prepared a list of Sikh households in the area he lived in in Mumbai and personally visited them ‘to seek forgiveness on behalf of Hindus’. “A Sikh man was so touched that he asked his son to touch my feet,” he recalls. Obviously, one can sense emotions welling up in his voice.

Here comes a moment of silence pricked only by the ‘tick-tock’ of the clock. A question about social tensions of today deepens the silence for a while. Then he speaks up. The wrinkles on his face go into a huddle at certain spots. Then anotherb turn: the experienced white flowing beard smoothens that huddle: “Sometimes, a section of society gets agitated over some contemporary happenning. It is not bad. But, when such agitation is organised into something dangerous by people with political interests, it turns bad.” Completing the context, he adds that there exists another feature in today’s society -- People wilfully ignoring things. This makes desired change seem difficult. “The society has awakened but not on all counts,” he observes.

A man who has earned the position of a light-house for youngsters, ‘Sahastrabhojani Kaka’ also shares his observation about youth. “During our times, there were only a few openings for youngsters to go astray. Today, there are multiple openings and the youngsters are increasingly going astray. A larger initiative is needed to bring about a change,” he says.

For someone who has seen multitude of changes in media over the years, Sahastrabhojani is the right man to comment on present-day scene in this regard. He is pained that media is taking sides more often. “Media decides who should rise and who should fall. Impartiality is gone. Of course, television boom has added to this. In the process, people get confused. Then, they read more than a couple of newspapers, watch television channels, refer to magazines to reduce confusion,” he rues. At the same time, he appreciates availability of multiple segments in media catering to different audiences at a time.

A question about the ‘secret’ of his fitness and sharp memory lights up his face again with the familiar bright smile. “I reflect upon the past, but do not think of distant future. This keeps me happy in present,” he replies with a hearty laughter. While talking of happiness, he glances at his wife Vasudha sitting in a chair near the dining table, across the room. Obviously, one asks a question about her, and Sahastrabhojani says, “Sometimes, we gain from the neighbourhood.” This is enough for one to infer that Vasudha Sathe’s family was neighbour of Sahastrabhojani family, when Shripad was a smart young chap.

Today, the couple’s son Harshad is working as an Architect in Qatar, and daughter Mangala Naik has settled with her husband in Abu Dhabi. The couple here lives in the company of happiness, greenery in the courtyard and in heart, and infusing meaning into moments.
As Kaka turns 94, he stands on a pedestal where self-interest has melted into warm selflessness, a mature sweetness has defeated any bitterness. The man has reached Mt Pleasure, having conquered Mt Pride long back.