Behind the Roads Most Travelled
What’s in a name? More than you might think, especially when you walk down Puneri streets, most of which are named after legends. Look around you; Senapati Bapat Road, Laxmi Road, Shankarsheth Road etc. are not just names of streets. Some people were interesting and important enough to be awarded this road to immortality. This is why an analysis of these names proved to be a revealing exercise.
The existence of a street is not limited to its name or a date; they have the same function as branding. They tell us a story about a city, its character, fondness for a particular religion, social stigmas and the historical way of life. So let us tell you the story of some of Pune’s streets named after people who made a difference in various walks of life.
1. Senapati Bapat Road, courtesy Pandurang Mahadev Bapat, an ardent and daring revolutionary in India’s struggle for freedom.
Pandurang Mahadev Bapat led an ordinary and difficult early life. His parents were poor and to make matters worse, his father quit his job as a clerk and retired to a nearby temple till his dying day. Having struggled through his childhood, Senapati Bapat had a terrific survivor’s spirit and hardliner opinions when it came to India’s fight for freedom. During his education at Deccan College in Pune, he took a solemn oath to fight for the freedom of his motherland till death. He soon went to Edinburgh College in London on scholarship and there he learned the formula of making Russian bombs and how to shoot a Queen’s Rifle (which, of course is not what he originally went there for).
He returned to India with a few rifles and the bomb formula to attempt an ambush on the British soldiers but before he could execute his plan, he was betrayed by a co-worker and had to go underground for almost 5 years. But he emerged from it stronger and started writing for Tilak’s English weekly, “The Maratha”.
Most notable achievement: When the Tata Hydroelectric Project was launched in 1921, he moved heaven and earth to get thousands of displaced villagers their rightful compensation. His incomparable lead and four imprisonments during that time earned him the title “Senapati”.
He wrote a good deal and was proficient in English, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit. His most noted book is the “Samagra Granth”, which he wrote when he was in prison. He died of a heart attack at the age of 77. Our current Senapati Bapat Road was named after he passed away.
2. Karve Road, courtesy Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve; A social reformist who believed that charity begins at home.
Perhaps born ahead of his time, Dhondo Karve was always uncomfortable with the plight of women, especially widows, who were supposed to renounce all worldly pleasures on their husband’s death. He married a widow, in times where he could have easily gotten a wife half his age and got ostracized from Pune by Brahmins (incidentally, he was a Brahmin too). He went to live in the city of Hingane and travelled by foot everyday to Fergusson College to deliver lectures on Mathematics and collect paltry donations for starting a school for girls and women. Something that he always wanted to do.
Most notable achievement: He managed to collect donations summing Rs. 1.5 million from the Thackerseys of Mumbai and established the SNDT University, as it stands till date.
During his lifetime, he established several colleges for women and schools for girls. Besides this, he stood for abolishing the caste culture and untouchability in India. He outlived his son, a controversial social reformist himself, and passed away at the age of 97.
3. Tilak Road, courtesy Lokmanya Tilak; the founder of “Ganeshsotsav” and a flaming journalist for “Swarajya”
There is a famous story that showcases the personality of Lokmanya Tilak. It took place when he was a boy of about 12 in school. Someone ate peanuts and threw its peelings on the floor. Since Tilak was standing close to where they had been thrown, the teacher assumed it was him who did it and asked him to pick up after himself. Tilak famously said, “I didn’t throw it so I will not pick them up and neither will I tattle and tell you who did it”. While the outcome of this impasse is unknown, it shows us what a rebel he was since childhood.
Tilak is famous for his line, “Swaraj is my birthright and I will fight for it with my life”. He not only was a brilliant thinker and a writer-journalist, but his articles in his newspaper “The Kesari” were labeled inflammatory by the British and he was thrown in prison of Mandalay in Burma. He continued to write in prison and wrote the famous “Geeta Rahasya” on numbered pages provided by the prison so he couldn’t sneak out inflammatory articles on Swaraj.
Most notable achievement: Lokmanya Tilak was always in favour of working for the advancement of India. He conceptualised the “Ganeshotsav”, which we still celebrate today. But the main goal was to get people from all communities together and talk about policies, reforms and cultural revival. He is believed to have said, “Religion and practical life are not different. To take Sanyasa (renunciation) is not to abandon life. The real spirit is to make the country, your family work together instead of working only for your own. The step beyond is to serve humanity and the next step is to serve God.”
The Kesari Wada in Pune was his abode and still stands testimony to his days of glory.
4. Bhandarkar Road, courtesy Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar; a distinguished scholar, academician and an orientalist par excellence.
Bhandarkar always had an inclination towards academics. He was particularly proficient in English literature, History and Sanskrit. But what was most remarkable about him were his ideas on reforming religion. All his life he worked hard to separate true religion from customs and rituals. He was a forward thinking man. He gave University education to all his children at a time when a girl child and her education was not even a question that deserved a passing thought. He let his children choose their own spouse when they were mature enough to choose for themselves. He allowed his widowed daughter to remarry. He passed away in 1925.
Most notable achievement: His gift of rare and ancient books and manuscripts to the Bhandarkar Institute of Oriental Studies, which was started by his admirers.
He preached against untouchability, but warned people not to do it out of pity, but out of the knowledge that every man was created equal by God.
5. Laxmi Road, courtesy Dagdusheth Halwai’s wife, Laxmibai; wife to philanthropist and social reformer Dagdusheth Halwai.
We are all familiar with the Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Temple and its grandeur. But what is relatively unknown is the fact that Dagdusheth built the idol of Ganapati when he lost his son to plague. At that time his Guruji Shri Madhavnath Maharaj asked him to build a Ganapati idol and love it like he would his son. And, in return he would get the same love and fame which he would have gotten from his son, had he lived. Thus, the famous Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Temple came into existence. He later went onto create a Temple Trust, which carried out philanthropic work from the donations.
His wife’s name was Laxmibai, and the current Laxmi Road was named after her.
6. Tanaji Malusare Path, courtesy Tanaji Malusare aka “Sinha, The Lion”; a fearless Maratha warrior who won Sinhagad for Shivaji.
Of all the stories behind Pune’s streets, Tanaji Malusare Path from the city to Sinhagad, is the most adventurous and heart wrenching. Legend has it that in the quest to win back the fort from the Mughals, Shivaji sent an army led by his commander Tanaji Malusare. Tanaji planned the attack to take place in the dead of the night from the backside of the fort, which was a dead drop straight into the forest below. A slope so steep that it was impossible to scale it. He used a monitor lizard, known for its vice like grip, with a rope tied around its waist to send his army up the steep cliff. After 342 Maratha warriors had climbed, the rope snapped and plunged 60 warriors who were mid-way to their death.
Undeterred, Tanaji ambushed the Mughal army of around 5000 with his 342. They had the element of surprise on their side. Unfortunately, Tanaji was fatally wounded and succumbed to his injuries, but not before killing Udaybhan and winning the fort.
Shivaji, upon hearing of the victory and Tanaji’s demise is believed to have said, “Gad Jinkla, Pan Sinha Gela” (We won the fort, but lost our lion). Later Shivaji renamed the fort Sinhagad after Tanaji Malusare, who was fondly called “Sinha” by everyone.
7. Shankarsheth Road, courtesy Jagannath Nana Shankarsheth; a visionary and social reformist who made a difference to the society
Fondly known as “Nana”, Shankarsheth was born in a wealthy Brahmin family in Mumbai. But his family originally belonged to the Konkan region. His acute business acumen was soon noticed and he became quite an authority on investments for merchants from abroad.
He quickly became actively involved in the betterment of education facilities in Bombay. He is known to have donated funds to form a school for girls much to the dismay of some of the members of the Hindu community. He also formed the Indian Railway Association with Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, which was instrumental in designing and running the first train between Mumbai and Thane.
He funded the Jagannath Shankersheth Scholarship for promoting Sanskrit. This is a highly sought after scholarship even today, with students preparing for it over a year in advance. He is known to have donated generously to Hindu temples and to Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. He passed away in 1865, aged 62.
8. Vithalrao Vandekar Road, courtesy Vithalrao Vandekar; a social reformer and a strong spokesperson for the downtrodden Bahujans.
Vandekar had a huge following in Mumbai with supporters for his social reforms for the socially backward class. He worked tirelessly along with the likes of Jyotiba Phule, Narayan Lokhande and Sayaji Rao Maharaj of Baroda. Vandekar was a part of the “Satyashodhak leaders”, who were on a mission to empower women and improve the general rights and living conditions of the Bahujans. He celebrated Jyotiba Phule’s 60th birthday by bestowing on him the title of “Mahatma” for his work on upliftment of women.
He is best remembered for his selfless work and ability to get the wealthy involved in his fight for equal rights.