13, Awantikabai Gokhale Cross Lane

When I was asked to concentrate on covering Samyukta Maharashtra special, it was a reporter’s instinct that told me I am likely to meet some real true unsung heroes, besides getting good stories.

It truly was a daunting task to sift through the files in the archives nearly everyday because I felt as if I was frozen in another time zone. I got a few names from the files but I wasn’t prepared for the total unavailability of records or lack of documentation of the people involved in Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.

Many who participated in the movement are not alive anymore. Many textile mill workers have gone back to Kokan and many more have moved out of Girangaon. However, what was more challenging was to find out addresses of those still around. My search for history and faces to match it was challenging. Among the first few people I needed to contact was Roza Deshpande, comrade SA Dange’s daughter. Dange’s old house has given way to a shopping centre.

One late evening I began searching for Deshpande’s address. I was confident that Dange’s house was in Dadar as a Maharashtrian I would find her new house easily. When I enquired at the spot no one had ever heard of Dange, forget Deshpande. “Kon Dange? Mahit nahi,” was the reply I got everywhere. The police station was not near, the post office was shut being late and despite scanning every floor of the two surrounding buildings I had not hit upon the right source.

It was sheer journalist’s instinct that I decided to speak to a small tapri shopkeeper. Raju has a tiny stall and sits behind hanging cellphone covers, jackets and other accessories. The minute I enquired whether he would know Deshpande. Raju was forthcoming and gave me all the details of “Roza tai.” And he added, “Please tell her Raju directed you to her.” I thought that was nice. Deshpande was another person who directed me to many others.

Deshpande also gave me addresses of places and told me some do not exist anymore like Laxmi Cottage, which was pulled down and a building has come up there. Many houses of many mill workers or even mills that now have given way to sky scrapers. The initial phase was frustrating to get to the right people, but once I did there was no looking back. This reminds me of my school days when a renowned film maker out of the blue was directed to our residence by few neighbours from Girgaum.

The film maker planned to make a film on Raghunath Dhondo Karve, a visionary social reformer. Karve was pioneer in family planning and birth control. Karve’s views seemed blasphemous at that time and according to my father and old residents Karve was even ostracised in society. They lived a lonely life. The filmmaker was only informed that Karve ‘reportedly’ stayed near Opera House. Then began his search, he thankfully met an old resident who knew my father said he was among the oldest residents here so to check with him. Till I too wasn’t aware that our family for over 70 years has lived in the apartment right above Karve’s. Later after Karve’s death, his flat was bought by a spiritual person who became more famous than Karve.

The filmmaker wanted to capture Karve’s house, books, his instruments and arte facts. Today, there is no Dange’s or Karve’s house or documents indicating where they lived. I realised through my years as a journalist that I didn’t even know I have always lived above history!

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