PUNE, June 14: I came to know Pune or the Poona of old, first through its books, its writers, and the fascinating literature it produced in Marathi over the years, when I was very young. In faraway Madras, where I lived and grew up with my parents, my mother taught me my first verse and poem in Marathi and introduced me to its prose. I still remember the first verse of the little piece written by the Rev. Narayan Waman Tilak, the well-known Christian poet of Maharashtra, now forgotten, entitled Priyakara Hindustan Amucha Priyakara Hindustan. It was an unforgettable poem taught to me by my mother through music and song. The spirit and the contents of that poem still haunt me. We children loved it and it gave us our first concept of a Hindustan, of a country of which we were all a part.
Then there were the equally simple verses of Moropant and others, contained in a slim little volume entitled Navneet, published by the Nirnaya Sagar Press of Bombay, then owned, I believe, by Dadaji Oak, who contributed not a little to the growth of the Marathi language by the printing of books in that language. Ramdas Swami's Manache Shlok was another piece which we learned by heart. Then came the long range of graded Marathi readers, used as text books in schools published by Messrs Macmillan and Longmans Green and Company which introduced me more to the prose and poetry of the Marathi language. Came one Gopalrao Panse, a part time teacher in Marathi who got me involved in the prose and writings of Chiplonkar's Arabian Nights' Entertainment, Hari Narayan Apte, Shivram Mahadev Paranjpye, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and many others of that time and age, who have all gone with the wind, but whose memory still lingers and whose writings have enriched the Marathi language, in no small measure. I read withavidity the Marathi magazines and weeklies which my father used to subscribe for. They included the Karamanuk of Hari Narayan Apte, the Manoranjan of Kashi Nath Raghunath Mitra, the Kesri of Tilak and the Balbodh of Oak. I used to devour their contents, the tales, the tidbits of Maharashtrian life and culture in them and came to long for the day when I could visit Pune and Maharashtra.
That opportunity to come over to Pune came sooner than later, following the visit to Madras of Lokmanya Tilak, who landed in Madras in 1917, after his release from Mandalay jail. It was his first visit to the city and the local Maharashtrians spared no pain to make his brief stay in that city as memorable as they could. The lead to honour him and receive him was taken by Dr Annie Beasant, the indefatigable Irish woman, who had made India her own, who came to believe in its gods, its people and its spiritual background.
Earlier, she had founded the Indian Boy Scouts Association, a rival at that time to the government sponsored Baden Powel Scouts association, and had appointed the enthusiastic V K Krishna Menon as its first Commissioner, after F G Pierce, an English theosophist.
I became a boy scout and somehow became a favourite of Krishna Menon with his craze for personal and public discipline, his erudition and his zeal to make the Indian Boy Scouts a real, good scouts body. One of our city troops of which I was a member, was deputed to be in attendance on the great leader, provide him with a scouts guard of honour and conduct him to the several public functions to which he was invited by the people in Madras.
I remember the Bal Gangadhar Tilak of those days well. It was obvious he had undergone a great deal of physical suffering in the Mandalay jail following the harsh six-year jail sentence he had been awarded by the then Bombay Government. His natural physical bend has accentuated with the years, giving him a stoop. But the fire in his eyes was blazing; he spoke with candour and courage and repeated his right to swaraj and enjoined every one of the audience to help win that swaraj of his dreams. After a short stay in Madras he left for Pune, having first invited the people of the South, to Pune and after having pleaded that they, in the South, where the Marathas had once colonised and founded a Raj at Tanjore, should not forget Pune and the Maharashtrians over there. In fact the first leading article he wrote in his Kesri was about the Marathas of the South and the Tamils, after they arrived back home in Pune.
Soon after his visit, Krishna Menon had a brain wave so to say. He taught a scout camp in Maharashtra, somewhere near Pune, which was an ideal means to get his boy scouts to get know about Maharashtra. So it was decided to have the first scout camp in Lonavala, near Pune. I was selected as the head of a small advance party to make and to see to the arrangements for the 10-day camp at Lonavala and asked by Menon to leave for Pune in the first instance, break my journey there with my group, contact D P Joshi of the Pune scouts and Hari Bhau Patwardhan of Ahmednagar, father of Rao Sahab Patwardhan and get to know from them the necessary details and arrangements for our Lonavala camp.
So one balmy, September day we left for Pune and Lonavala and reached Pune 36 hours after our departure from Madras, in 1918.I had reached the Pune of my dreams.
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.