Vasant Nagarkar : A freedom fighter, IPS officer, expert on Islam...

Remembering my father on his birth centenary - Part 1/3

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Vasant Nagarkar lived for 66 years from November 2, 1922, to October 9, 1988. This year marks his birth centenary year. He had a beautiful journey full of ups and downs. At the age of 20, he was imprisoned for participating the 1942 'Chale Jao' movement. He completed his education after his release from prison and later became a reputed IPS officer. He served as a senior police officer in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi. While he was working, he continued to help social reformers like Hamid Dalwai. Nagarkar had also excelled in the literary field, where he wrote books such as Genesis of Pakistan, Islam: In India’s Transition to Modernity. This piece is penned by his daughter, giving insights into his personal life and personality. The article is divided into three parts series. This is the first part...

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about my father. To the world, my father Vasant Vinayak Nagarkar, was a freedom fighter, highly respected and decorated senior police officer, political historian, and a subject matter expert on Islam. To me he was a loving father and a simple but principled man.

On his 100th birth anniversary this year, I couldn’t help remembering various aspects of his life and personality. I appreciate him more and more as the years go by. Born on Nov 2, 1922 in Pune, he was the oldest child of Saraswati Nagarkar (Mai) and Vinayak Raghunath Nagarkar (Baba). Mai was the second wife of my grandfather. My father’s joint family consisted of not only his parents, but many siblings, nieces, and nephews.  He was lovingly called ‘Kaka’ by my older cousins.  That set the precedent for both my brother and me. We also called our father ‘Kaka’. Growing up he was a very bright student and had a loving nature, which made him the star of the family.

The Nagarkar family was well educated and well respected in Pune.  There still is a well preserved historic dagadi wada in Budhwar Peth, Pune that bears the name of my great grandfather ‘Raghunath Daji Nagarkar’ on the front entrance.   He was a lawyer and a social reformer.  While watching an episode of a TV serial on the life of Ramabai Ranade, wife of Justice Ranade (Unch Maaza Zoka), there was a reference to Raghunath Daji Nagarkar as being a trusted advocate friend of Justice Ranade.  I was very proud. My grandfather Baba was a doctor and had a significant amount of property in and around Pune.  When he passed away some of his children were still very young. My eldest step uncle Wasudeo Vinayak Nagarkar had a heart of gold. As the oldest son, he made sure that all the younger siblings and Mai, my grandmother, were well provided for.  He and his wife Ushakaku were the pillars of support for Mai all thru her life.  Due to my father’s job, my parents always lived away from Pune, but they never shied away from responsibility of getting younger siblings settled in life.

Kaka was a bright and well-read student.  His school friends from Nutan Marathi high school called him ‘Gaddya’ as in ‘akkalecha gadda’.  I imagine he must have freely expressed his opinion and shared his knowledge with everyone.  Many of his school friends, who also later joined the freedom struggle, were friends for life. Friends like Vasant Bapat, Vasant Alekar, Sharad Marathe, Nanda Naralkar, Anna Gole, were all like a family to him and us too. Later in life, it used to be quite fun watching them get together and reminisce about old days and behave like school kids again. He really treasured his friends.

 In 1942, Kaka and many of his friends from S.P. College, left college to join the independence movement. My grandfather was extremely worried and angry at my father for joining the freedom struggle. He had banned my father from stepping foot in the house. Mai was caught between her husband and her son. My father’s siblings had to smuggle my father into the house in Baba’s absence so he could meet Mai. One time Baba came home when my father happened to be home.  Baba didn’t say a word and went out again, only to return with the police a few minutes later.  My father had escaped by then, but he held a grudge against his father for a long time.  Only when Kaka had a son of his own, did he understand the anguish of his father.  For my grandfather, a son in jail was better than a dead son. 

One of the significant stories of Kaka’s leadership, bravery and resolve comes from his account of Mahad Shetkari Andolan in his article ‘Mahad te Nasik’.  In 1942, a large crowd of farmers and young students without any weapons descended on Mahad taluka offices.  They captured the offices for a few hours but could not hold on because of the police firing.   Kaka’s dear friend Vasant Date fell victim to the shooting.  All of them had to withdraw.  That night he and his student friends (some injured) ran from Mahad all the way to Pune with the police chasing them.  Imagine travelling on foot, without any maps, in pitch dark, defeated, hungry, tired, and having just lost a close friend.  What a state of mind they must have been in!  But that didn’t stop them.  Back in Pune he continued the activities of the freedom struggle.  In 1943, he was arrested under the pseudonym ‘Vishwanath Gopal Damle’.  After a year in jail, he was released only to be arrested again a couple of months later.  This time under his real name.   He was in Yerawada jail for two years along with many other famous leaders.   Shirubhau Limaye was one of them.   Shirubhau mentions, fondly, meeting “teen bahaddar vasant” in his book ‘Nivadungachi Bonde’. They were Vasant Bapat, Vasant Nagarkar and Vasant Date.  The same threesome were also a subject of Sane Guruji’s article ‘teen vasant’ in his ‘Krantikari’ patrika (as mentioned in Vasant Bapat’s article ‘maza jula bhau – Vasant Nagarkar’).  I always wanted to ask Kaka; did he ever lose hope in jail?  My father probably didn’t lose hope.  He was an eternal optimist!   

After Kaka was released from jail, he rejoined the S. P. College to complete his B.A and M.A. in Economics.  He also became the General Secretary of Pune Student’s Union. My father met my mother, Kumudini Tulpule in college.  She was the Secretary of S. P. College Student Union. They soon got married.   My father didn’t have a job yet, but my maternal grandfather didn’t object to the marriage.   His own son Bagaram Tulpule (who later became a well-known labor leader), was also in jail during the freedom struggle and knew my father very well.   

My father’s first job was in the Bombay State Secretariat in Economics and Finance wing.  My brother Ravindra was born in Mumbai.  Although Kaka was working in Mumbai, he was always in contact with his friends and mentors in Pune.  One such mentor, Kakasaheb Gadgil persuaded him to appear for the Indian Civil Services exam. He appeared for the exam and was selected for the Indian Police Services.  He became an IPS officer in January 1950. Ironically as a police chief, he was able to see all of the prior (British) government records against him.

- Sucharita Tilak

(The writer Sucharita Tilak is the daughter of  Vasant Nagarkar, Sudhir Alekar provided assistance in writing heartfelt piece on her father)

Marathi translation of this article has published in the December 4, 2021 issue of Sadhana Weekly. 
Part 2 Vasant Nagarkar Bravely Stood Against Political Emergency & Its Mighty Leader
Part 3 Kaka was True Freedom Fighter and Well-Wisher of his Country

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Ravindra Bhate

खूपच छान. उषा नगरकर माझी सख्खी आत्या आणी तीचे यजमान दादासाहेब यांचा उल्लेख वाचून खूपच धन्य वाटले. नाशिकचे कमिशनर काका असा उल्लेख बरेचदा कानावर पडला होता पण त्यांचा सविस्तर इतिहास वाचून पुढचा भाग वाचायचा लवकरात लवकर

Subodhini Karnik

With great pride, I commend my long time dear friend Sucharita for highlighting the legacy of her father in this well written biography. I could not imagine my life without my basic right to freedom. I am eternally indebted to freedom fighters like Kaka Nagarkar for their sacrifices during the freedom movement of India of which I am the beneficiary.

Ravi Sarpotdar

Very clear & Vividly described Memories of her Childhood Images of a Father, who was Legendary Freedom Fighter. Longing to see the 2nd part. Keep on writing Sucha.

Dilmohan Singh Aneja

This is such a fascinating biography. Reminds me of some of the episodes from my own father and grandfather's lives. Thanks for sharing.

सौ. लता वसंत मेहेंदळे

लेख खूप छान आहे. यांच्यासारख्या महान व्यक्तीची काहीच माहिती यापूर्वी नव्हती.ती माझी शाळेतील मैत्रीण विनया देशपांडे जोशी हिने शाळेतील मैत्रिणींच्या व्हाँटस्अप ग्रुपवर पाठवल्यामुळे वाचायला मिळाली. याचे पुढचे दोन भागही वाचायला नक्कीच आवडेल. मराठी अनुवाद वाचायला जास्त आवडे

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