– THE MAN WITH A MISSION
became a legend in his own lifetime. His name inspires us on
the path of social, moral and spiritual values. His name instils
strength in our hearts. His work gives us our cultural heritage.
He gave us the legacy of THATHAI BHATIA SHEWA FUND and with
that our proud identity. Bhagiba was a man with a mission.
pioneer of THATHAI BHATIA SHEWA FUND was well known with his
nickname ‘BHAGIBA”. His real name was MAGHANMAL
ASSANMAL KIKLA. A tall and lanky man with piercing eyes impeccable
character, he believed in fellowship of love and selfless service
to the society. He was born at Thatha (Sind) in 1878. He took
his primary education there. Bhagiba had a well-to-do uncle
(mama), Haridas Assanmal, who took fancy for him and brought
him to Bombay for secondary education. It is here that his nickname
struck to him. Haridas had a flourishing business and owned
a double horse carriage. He had a large Kutchi clientale who
lovingly called the lad “BHAGIBA” because of his
love and attachment for horses and the carriage. “BHAGI”
in Kutchi means a horse carriage. However, this dream of secondary
education did not materialise beyond three years. Bhagiba’s
mother died and Haridas’s business also slackened and
he had to leave school to take up a job with Waghan-Ji-Pedi
owned by Late Shri Damodardas Kewalram at Kalbadevi road. His
father re-married and the stepmother was averse to his younger
brother, Gordhan, who was seven years younger to him. Assanmal
got two sons and two daughters from the second wife. This reason
made Bhagiba marry at young age. His wife, Tharanbai (Tarabai)
was wise and helping and took charge of the household. With
his ready wit, dedication and hard work, Bhagiba soon made his
mark and rose to become the manager of the firm. After the death
of Damodardas he served with Late Shri Haridas Kewalram. He
served in Bombay for about twenty long years paying occasional
visits to Thatha and Karachi where he established his home.
close by, at Picket road, a sage Narhari Shashtri (Vishnu Godse)
had his hermitage where he conducted yoga classes and Bhagwat
Gita discourses. Bhagiba was attracted towards him and became
his shishya (student). Here he gained the knowledge and experience
more than what he had missed in formal education. He learnt
Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, English, Sanskrit and possibly French.
He learnt the scriptures, in particular Bhagwat Gita, Patanjali
Yoga Sutras (Raj yoga) and Raghuvansh Kavya of Mahakavi Kalidas.
He became a poet in his own sort. Narhari Shashtri moulded his
character and instilled in him the spiritual, moral, cultural
and social values and inspired him towards service (Seva) with
humility and modesty. “Seva must be done with a missionary
zeal and with all the skills, vigour and knowledge and dedication
to reach out to needy section of society. He considered service
to man is service to God. One should serve with such an attitude
(bhavna) and then God will be pleased with us. Bhagiba justified
this bhavna in letter and spirit. He worked with missionary
desired and envisioned a vibrant Thathai Bhatia community while
in Bombay. He formulated a plan of action for Thathai Bhatias
and called a meeting of some prominent persons who had business
houses in Bombay. The effort failed. Bhagiba did not loose heart
and went to Thatha and pursued the matter with renewed vigour
and determination. He emphasized the need for a modern hospital,
a guest house (Pathik Ashram), a library, higher education for
both sexes and social reformation. His ideas appealed to many
young Bhatias and they extended their full support. Prominent
among them were Parmanand Haridas, Muljimal Thawardas, Ishwardas
Haridas Bhatia and many others whose names appear in his songs.
On 16th February, 1919 “THATHAI BHATIA SHEWA FUND”
came into existence with lofty ideals of service and plans for
hospital building to cater to the needs of the society. His
brother Gordhandas by then had become an advocate with B.A.,
LLB degree and worked relentlessly shoulder to shoulder with
is necessary to mention here that in 1918 the dreaded and killer
plague epidemic engulfed Thatha and many parts of Sind. Bhagiba
rose to the occasion, without care for his own life, he organised
relief committees and collected funds to come to the help of
all and sundry. Many young Bhatias worked as volunteers to mitigate
the sufferings of the people. Many families migrated to Karachi,
Hydrabad, Nasarpur, Rohri and Nathdwara. Some stayed outside
Thatha town with clean surroundings. Some died. His untiring
exemplary efforts and selfless service created great impact
on the psyche of the community. Such a kind of sewa was unseen
and unheard of before. This was a prelude to bigger things to
was a village type town lacking in many facilities we are used
to now. There were no pucca roads, no running water, no electricity
and most improper medical facilities. Water-borne diseases and
malaria were rampant. Smallpox and maternity deaths were common.
Society was conservative and lax. Girls were mostly uneducated
and males had little education. There were many social stigmas.
Bhagiba’s vision was to tackle all the problems with a
single perspective, ‘SHEWA FUND”. He adopted a novel
method to collect funds and bring enlightenment to the people.
This brought awareness in the community. Some scoffed at his
ideas, ideals and means but he resolutely marched on regardless
of opposition from some wealthy quarters. He put a drum round
his neck and went from house to house to sing his own compositions.
“KIKLE-JO-DHOL” and “Bhatia Niyati mate prishno”
are still well remembered. He was forceful orator. Soon he started
Pathik Ashram, a library and temporary dispensary. A plot of
land was bought and the foundation stone of the building was
laid on 16-04-1926.
toured Sind, U.P., Punjab and N.W.F.P. for collection of funds
and larger Bhatia contact, interaction and unity. His efforts
bore fruit. After toiling for twelve long years, on Gokul-Ashtami
day, 6th September 1931 the opening ceremony of the hospital
building was held with great pomp and gaiety. His close confident
and the president for the year, Shri Naraindas Mulchand Shroff
unlocked a silver lock specially made for the occasion. The
long cherished dream and goal was fulfilled. The tapasya of
many people who had supported Bhagiba came to fruition. Smt.
Kuvanbai, a widow had left a fortune of Rs. 24,000/- through
a will that the money be used for charitable objects. Shri Gordhandas
was one of the trustees of the Kuvanbai trust and the funds
were released to Shewa Fund from time to time. Shewa Fund was
ready in the service of all. After two years, on 12-09-1933,
Shri Gordhandas passed away. This was a blow to Bhagiba and
the entire community.
was instrumental in arranging the first ‘All India Bhatia
Conference’ held at Karachi in the year 1913. More than
1500 delegates attended the same. This was graced by Mahatma
Gandhi, Maharaja of Dharbhanga Pandit Narhari Shashtri and many
prominent including from Jaisalmer. He also attended subsequent
conferences held at Bombay, Lahore and Calcutta for better interaction
of total Bhatia community. Bhagiba actively participated in
freedom movement and swadeshi Andolan and many times British
government used to restrict his movements because he could inspire
people t action. He was also instrumental in construction of
Dharamshala at Karachi.
was married to Tharanbai (Tarabai) who extended her helping
hand to him. He got three daughters but two died in childhood
and only Devkibai survived. In 1942, his son-in-law, Vallabhdas
Jangla suddenly died of heart attack in Muscat leaving behind
his widow and seven children (5 sons and 2 daughters). Bhagiba
supported the entire family. He worked as a translator in the
small causes court at Karachi. After partition of India 1947,
Bhagiba migrated to Baroda in 1949 and after sometime moved
to Ahmedabad. His eye sight was impaired but still he used to
visit prisons to deliver lectures on Gita to the prisoners in
order to reform them. He had joined Theosophical Society of
India. Then he came to Bombay in 1957 and stayed in Shanker
Lane near B.K. Society. Here he lost his complete eyesight.
On January 8, 1960 Bhagiba breathed his last at the ripe age
of 82 years.
his cherished legacy – “THATHAI BHATIA SHEWA FUND”
stands proudly at the entrance of Shanker Lane on Swami Vivekanand
Road at Kandivli. It is a magnificient monument. The dedicated
Bhatia Brothers and Sisters have kept the flame of service alight
with diverse socio-cultural and charitable objectives. Shewa
Fund is the heart of the community. It is our proud identity.
Hail Shewa Fund.
by Late Shri MULJI J. GANDHI
in the wide open spaces of time, comes along a man who sees
life on a larger canvas; who holds the future by its reins;
who tames visions and translates them into reality; who inspires
every man to achieve, to share. The tide may turn, but he lives
on ………….. in everything we do.
Sampark – November 1994 to March 1995 Issue