The Survivor’s Talehttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/the-survivors-tale/

The Survivor’s Tale

Freedom fighter Maniklal Shah's biography Neere Katche Manik traces his unusual story and his second chance at life

“The mantra is: Do or die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery,” said Mahatma Gandhi,in his landmark speech on August 8,1942. Two weeks to the day,a group of 25 students in Vadodara came together and decided to answer Gandhi’s ‘Do or die’ call,like a thousand other freedom fighters across the nation. After a long day of picketing against British rule in the country,the young students boarded a train to return to their university. A source had told them that the police were searching for them and would look for them at the station at Anand,so the students got off one station earlier,at Adas. Keeping a track of their each move,the police were already at the spot,awaiting them.

“We started to run and the police opened fire on us. People were crying and running. Five people died and many more were injured. One of the students who died fell on me,covering me with his blood. I couldn’t move,and was taken as dead,” says Maniklal Shah,recalling an incident happened decades ago.

“If things had happened differently,I wouldn’t even have been here to see 92 years,” he says. As it happens though,Shah has lived to see several milestones in his life,including the most recent one – a biography of his life,Neere Katche Manik,written and compiled by Dr Chitralekha Purandare and Sharad Bhosale. The book,published by Unmesh Prakashan is available at their Sinhagad Road office and with the Shah family,and has several memories from Shah’s life,including the fateful day at Adas,and even his many meetings with his hero – Gandhiji.

Continuing his narration,he says,“At one in the night,a goods train came to the station,and we were thrown inside and sent to Anand Hospital. In the morning,the news spread,and thousands of people came to see us and offer help. They were very kind,and offered food,fruits,water,money.” But all that the 19-year-old had wanted at that time,was to return to his home in Neera,a small town in Purandar taluka,about 50 km from Pune.

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“When I returned home,I didn’t tell my mother what had happened and hid my bloody clothes. When the maidservant found it and took it to wash,she cried out and my mother was horrified with all the blood,” he recalls. Shah had to tell them about his near brush with death,and his mother began to cry. “She had been against me going to study in Baroda anyway. In those days,it was like going abroad. She was horrified with the thought that I could have died too. But my father told her not to cry,and explained her that I was trying to help Gandhiji and fight for the nation,” he says.

Later,he got a letter from his university,informing him that he had been expelled from his civil engineering programme for participating in the movement. It did little to discourage him though. He attended a seminar in Wai where he listened to Nana Patil,Vasantdada Patil and Morarji Desai motivate younger freedom fighters. Shah continued his education in Pune,with another diploma course in engineering,and got married in 1946. The very next year,India won its independence,much to Shah’s happiness. “I was very glad when we got our independence. Five of my friends had died for it,and I almost died too,” he says.

With his dream of an independent nation complete,Shah went on to fulfil other dreams. He began trading in jaggery,collecting it from Neera and carting it off to Gujarat. “I used to sell 500 bullock carts of jaggery every month,” he says. He even contested the gram panchayat elections in Neera and won. Later,he began a venture in pesticides in Pune,and came to be known as the king of pesticides in Maharashtra.

Now,Shah focusses on social work,raising funds for the underprivileged,an initiative he hopes more people will help with once they read about it in his book.