Bhagiba 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.

The 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.

Just 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 zeal.

Bhagiba 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 him.

It 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 follow.

Thatha 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.

Bhagiba 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.

Bhagiba 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.

Bhagiba 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.

Today, 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.

Compiled by Late Shri MULJI J. GANDHI

Rarely 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.

Courtesy Sampark – November 1994 to March 1995 Issue