20th August 2013 was a bleak day for Maharashtra. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, crusader against superstition was assassinated by unknown assailants near the Omkareshwar temple in Pune. And Jyotirbhaskar Jayantrao Salgaonkar breathed his last at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai. The quirk of destiny (for loss of a better word) and the irony of the events cannot be lost on anybody.That Dr. Dabholkar and Shri Salgaonkar should die on the same day did not seem an irony enough so fate played a game even with locations of their deaths. Dr. Dabholkar, a man of medicine and an atheist was gunned down, reported the journalists, near the Omkareshwar temple; while Jyotirbhaskar left for heavenly abode in one of the most technologically up to date hospitals of Mumbai. The place of their deaths will forever be noted in history.
For all we know these may be random events and it is our compulsion that we envisage a brain or a doer behind every single event. But dimaagh hai ki maanta nahin! We rationalise every event, every single detail of the event. I say even attributing a series of events to destiny is rationalising.
Of the two people, I was acquainted with Jayantrao. My father and he served as trustees on the Siddhivinayak temple. My father is an eminent tax advocate and that was the reason why he was on board as a trustee. He was and continues to be a sort of an atheist. I met Jayantrao a number of times, mostly at cultural programmes. He was a good orator and well read man, in every way a scholar. I remember that I had invited him for the inaugural concert of Jhenduchi Phule, in which I had set to music Acharya Atre’s parodies and satires.
|Jyotirbhaskar Jayantrao Salgaonkar
I, like my father, being sort of an atheist have never indulged in rituals of my own accord. It so happened that the pitru-paksha had just started. Apparently, it is a belief that you ought not to buy new things or start new projects during this fortnight. It is considered to be a fortnight of mourning for ancestors. I was blissfully of unaware of all this and in his speech Jayantrao mentioned that he was surprised that I had inaugurated the programme in the pitru-paksha. He said that normally people don’t embark on new ventures during this time. Then he congratulated me on not being superstitious about it and going ahead with the concert. He dismissed all apprehensions of any ill effects of starting new ventures in the pitru-paksha! And the reason he agreed to come, he said, was to quell this superstition!
Jayantrao was, more than anything else, a successful Marathi entrepreneur. I don’t really know what to make of him as an astrologer as I never looked at him for any predictions. But Kalnirnay as a calmanac and as a magazine was Jayantrao’s great contribution to the Indian ethos. He also sponsored a number of cultural events and encouraged the arts.
|Dr. Narendra Dabholkar
On the other hand I had no personal acquaintance with Dr. Narendra Dabholkar but I was and am in complete sympathy & support of the work he was doing. He was the voice of reason in a society desperate to stay unreasonable. I remember Dr. Dabholkar’s appearance in Khupte Tithe Gupte. He invoked stories of Gadge Maharaj to prove his point. He was an articulate speaker and although passionate about his thought, his voice was never shrill. In fact, when he spoke, he reminded me a lot of Dr. Ashok Ranade. His speech was clear, studious, laced with wit and dipped in wisdom. Even in Khupte Tithe Gupte he expressed his displeasure with the Vilasrao Deshmukh government for stalling the Anti-Superstition & Black Magic Bill. He also expressed surprise that it was the members of the ruling party who actually stalled the bill. But not once did his voice betray a hint of anger or ill temper. After all his voice was the voice of reason in the cacaphony of unreasonable arguments. He told tales of Gadge Maharaj and quoted Tukaram verbatim without as much as a chit of paper in his hand. Dr. Dabholkar, I would say, came across as a very spiritual person. And this is not ironical. Spirituality has little to do with religion and absolutely nothing to do with superstition.
What disturbs me however was that Dr. Narendra Dabholkar’s death was not meant to be. His life was interrupted in the most gruesome and inhuman manner. As Hercule Poirot says in almost all his novels – “I don’t approve of murder.” And Dr. Dabholkar’s murder was not just deeply disturbing, it was alarming.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Assassination is an extreme form of censorship.” I have a gnawing feeling that his murder was not the result of fanaticism; it was the result of a corrupt economic and political order. After all superstition, in any faith, is lucrative business. From the people who travel with naked feet to the Siddhivinayak temple to the Novena at the Mahim church to the public display of spiritual healing there is more money involved than spirituality or even religion.
Aristotle said that democracy is the corrupt form of polity. The degeneration of a democracy is in a public dictatorship – dictatorship of the people, by the people, against the people. Dr. Dabholkar’s assassination proves that. We live in times that has an excess of faith and a shortage of belief – not to mention an absolute dearth of tolerance. There is nobody more relevant than Voltaire today, who said – “I don’t agree with what you say but I shall defend to death, your right of saying so.”
And so while I feel saddened by Jayantrao Salgaonkar’s death as I knew him as an acquaintance, it is Dr. Dabholkar’s death that has moved me and changed something within me. It has been sort of a spiritual awakening. That their deaths came together reminded me that in their lifetimes they existed together and could grow together in opposite directions. Both, in their own ways, contributed to the society. Even today the Dabholkars and the Salgaonkars of our society continue to coexist. And a sane, tolerant society is one where they shall continue to coexist.