15 April 2016

Forgotten Stories from my Village, Harwai by Hari Govind Narayan Dubey

A precious but forgotten world

One evening a few days ago, sitting on the warm parapet to enjoy the unique charms of Marine Drive, Mumbai, we noticed two buildings across the road: Firdaus and Ganga Vihar. 
Why would anyone name a Marine Drive art deco building facing the Arabian Sea “Ganga Vihar”? As soon as the thought entered my mind, I realised with a pleasant jolt of surprise that I did know who must have done so. It had to have been Lal Singh and Man Singh, the Rajput brothers who had come to Bombay from Mainpuri District in the erstwhile United Provinces in 1910 or thereabouts, to earn their living.
I heard about Lal Singh and Man Singh from Hari Govind Narayan Dubey in the course of working with him to produce his book Forgotten Stories from my Village, Harwai.
The book tells the story of his father’s life and work in and around the Mainpuri District in the decades leading up to Independence. Dubey is a skilled storyteller and his book is more than just the life of Pandit Ram Narayan Azad. It is a tribute to the many brave men and women who sacrificed everything they had to their vision of an India where every citizen would lead a life of dignity and personal choices. Their stories have long faded away, and replaced by simplistic icons such as ‘Mahatma' Gandhi and ‘Chacha' Nehru. Revived here, they offer charming tableaux of life in an Indian village and involvement in various aspects of India’s freedom struggle.

Lal Singh and Man Singh found employment with a wealthy Parsi gentleman who owned one of the prominent jewellery stores in Bombay. Dubey told me that the Parsi gentleman lived in a building of his own, Firdaus, on Marine Drive. However, he hesitated in mentioning the name in the book since he, ninety-two years old, felt it was a risk to put into print any information which he could not verify. What was relevant to the story was that it was through them that Pandit Ram Narayan Azad got the opportunity to meet Jinnah. How this was possible forms one of the many charming stories in the book. 
Lal Singh and Man Singh had arrived in Bombay and in course of time, one of them became the cook of the Parsi gentleman and the other his security guard. The gentleman was old and had no heir. He fell ill and came to the end of his days. The registrar was sent for, to ascertain his wishes regarding the disposition of his assets. When the registrar entered his bedroom, the gentleman stared at him intently, raised his arm and pointed at the ceiling. He then collapsed and was found to be dead.
The registrar sent the subordinates who had accompanied him to the higher floor. There, Lal Singh was in the kitchen. They called him down and informed him that his employee was no more – and that he had inherited his entire estate.
When Lal Singh and Man Singh next came to visit their village, they came as wealthy men. Over the years, they contributed considerably to the development of Mainpuri, starting a training school for trade skills as well as separate intermediate colleges for boys and girls. They also constructed a ten-mile road connecting their village, Bhawant, to Mainpuri town – something that the Government of India had neglected to do. These facts are known to Hari Govind Narayan Dubey. However, was it really Lal Singh and Man Singh who named their home Ganga Vihar?

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