While many Puneites are well-versed with the history of famous city-based structures such as Yerawada Jail, Aga Khan Palace and Kesari Wada, not many are aware that the city also has some lesser-known structures that share an equally fascinating past. Newsline revisited four such historical structures:
Vasudev Balwant Phadke Smarak
Originally from a village called Shirdhon in Konkan, Vasudev Balwant Phadke came to Pune during his late teens for higher studies. According to Mohan Shete, president, Itihaas Premi Mandal, Phadke was ‘aadya krantikarak’ (the first revolutionary). “When he found out how Britishers were ill-treating the Indians in their own country, he started a ‘revolution’ at his own level. Wherever there were British offices, he would light them. He and his associates would loot their arms,” said Shete, adding that Phadke also propagated the swadeshi movement. In the form of a cave, the smarak for him on Sangam Bridge was made by the Maharashtra State CID. Phadke and his comrades had been held and tried on the premises. “The Smarak houses an original manuscript of Guru Charitra Pothi, written by Phadke. Some of the letters written by him in Modi script, are also present at the Smarak,” said Shete.
Whenever Vinayak Damodar Savarkar would visit Pune (then Poona), he used to stay at Kesari Wada. He went to a nearby saloon situated opposite Peru Gate Police Station. While the owner of the saloon knew who Savarkar was and his fight for the nation, the workers didn’t. “Savarkar would visit the saloon with a bag full of goodies for the barbers who worked there. One day, Mahadev Mate, the owner, asked Savarkar to write something for the saloon. He willingly wrote a note in Marathi, wherein he referred to the saloon as ‘Kesh Kartanalaya’,” says Shete. Although the name of the saloon has been changed to High Class Hair Dressers, the laminated certificate is still in possession of Mate, now in his 70s.
Theosophical Society Lodge
Inaugurated by Annie Besant in 1926, The Theosophical Society Lodge behind Fergusson College Road, was started for learners to study comparative religion, philosophy, science and nature, with no distinctions of caste, creed or sex. Among several people who studied theosophy, a subject introduced by Besant, was Narayan Sadashiv Marathe. He was associated with the Lodge for over 40 years. Shrikrishna Madhav Bhave, secretary, Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal, stated, “During World War-I, Marathe was in Germany. He was asked by the German Intelligence to carry a message from German King Kaiser to Bal Gangadhar Tilak. They also handed over a dozen diamonds to him and asked him to raise money and pass on the amount to Tilak, who could use the money for revolutionary activities in the Indian military.” Tilak decided against using the diamonds because he wanted ‘swarajya’ without the help of the Germans. He added, “Marathe gave back the diamonds to one Bhave, who was from Tilak’s party. He used the diamonds to raise capital for his business with the consent of everyone.”
Bhau Rangari Bhavan
Bhau Rangari was a famous businessman. In 1893, Rangari and Tilak decided to transform Ganeshotsav into a larger festival. His house had a unique lock system, which could be opened by only a few. “Rangari had made a Ganpati idol out of waste paper. Unlike traditional idols, the statue showed Lord Ganesha in a fighting avatar. It was made done to motivate people to fight Britishers, depicted as demons. The statue is still there at the bhavan,” said Shete.
According to Kshitija Pande, who works as a project co-ordinator, for Janwani, only people who stay near such structures, are aware about their association with the freedom struggle.