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The concise Dabholkar Family History (upto circa 1875) - The Hon. Narayan Vasudeo Dabholkar

Our family originates in Vengurla on the Konkan coast, near Goa. The original family name is said to be Gaitonde, and must have changed to ‘Dabholkar’ possibly on arrival in Bombay. (It is a good thing that this happened since it would not have been enjoyable to be referred to as a “cow face”.) The earliest known member of this family is a ‘Shasba’. It was his son, my great-great-great grandfather Vasudeo, who made the fateful decision to leave the village of Vengurla and head to Bombay. This would have been around 1830 or thereabouts. It is not known what Vasudeo’s occupation was in Vengurla. Considering that it is a fishing village, it is likely that he was occupied in this profession. However, what is known is that he was not well off, and was trying his luck in the big city, like countless others. The family traveled in a small boat with numerous other families and it took them several days to make the short journey.

After arriving in Bombay, they initially settled in the Lohar Chawl in central Bombay. Soon after, in an outbreak of cholera, Vasudeo expired, leaving behind a wife and several children in dire financial condition. My great-great grandfather, Narayan Vasudeo, was the third male child. It is said that his mother worked at various domestic chores to support her large family. The first son was naturally poorly educated, the family hardly having any money to provide for the necessities. In due course, the eldest son also found a job which helped to supplement his mother’s earnings. The second son received some schooling. However, it was the third son, Narayan, who was able to complete his education upto matriculation thanks to the combined income of his mother and brothers. He was a good student and his headmaster considered highly of him, even recommending that he be sent to England to further his education. However, this idea was rejected by Narayan’s mother, as it would involve crossing the oceans, which was forbidden to Brahmin’s!

The young Narayan had developed a love for horse riding, and often rode from the family home in ---- to the sea shore along the stretch of sand which is now reclaimed and known as Marine Drive. During these rides, he was noticed by an Englishwoman, the wife of a Captain Black, the local chief of the Pacific & Oriental (P&O) ocean liner company. Impressed by his horse riding skills, she invited him to give her tips on the same. Thus it was that Narayan and the lady made friends. In time, the lady introduced Narayan to her husband, who was also impressed by the young man, and offered him a job with the company.

It is not known exactly how Narayan’s career progressed in the P&O, but in time he was made the ‘dubash’ or agent for supplying provisions to the P&O ships that docked at Bombay port. Apparently, this was an extremely lucrative business, because it supported his sons, grandsons and numerous other relatives for most of their lives! It is said that he supplied every type of provision to the ships, from pins to meat, with the sole exception of beef. By the time of his death in 1876 at the age of 41, his fortune had ammased to around Rs 40 lacs (which I estimate to be over Rs 250 crores in today’s money). It is quite surprising that someone could amass so much wealth in those times, that too in such a short period of time (no more than 20 years). There is a tale that his jealous competitors floated a rumour of irregularities connected with his business. This finally led to an investigation being conducted by two gentlemen from the company’s head offices in Britain. They found nothing wrong, and gave an absolute clean chit to Narayan Dabholkar! (One is free to speculate that such a large business may also have had its attached share of palm greasing, which would also have helped it to flourish as it did.)

Apart from his business, the ‘Hon. Narayan Vasudeo’ also took part in public life and was a contemporary of other worthies of the time such as Jagannath Sankarseth and Dadabhai Naoroji. He was a nominated member of the Governor’s legislative council. It is said that his oratory skills were such that college professors would sometimes take their English class to the council to listen to Narayan Vasudeo’s speeches!

Narayan Vasudeo died an untimely death at the young age of 41. He left behind ownership over large tracts of land in Matunga and Parel and several mines located here and there. He had also purchased a property on what is now known as ‘Narayan Dabholkar Road’ at Malabar Hill for an amount of around Rs Sixty thousand. (The house that he built is still used today as a government bungalow for some ministers). One day, during construction, he was standing on the balcony along with the architect and builder, when the balcony collapsed. The other two were unhurt in the fall, while Narayan Vasudeo died instantly. Thus ends the saga of Narayan Vasudeo Dabholkar, a great ‘rags to riches’ story, if ever there was one.

At this point, it is interesting to speculate on the fate of Narayan’s brothers and sisters. As mentioned earlier, there were two elder brothers and possibly some younger ones as well. Also, he had several sisters. To several of these, Narayan bequeathed substantial amounts in his will. Their descendants must still be alive and kicking today, possibly some of the other ‘Dabholkar’ families in Mumbai that one comes across.

Another interesting aspect of Narayan Dabholkar’s business was that being an ‘agency’, it was highly person dependent. Hence, the business died with Narayan. Thus it is that inspite of such wealth, the Dabholkar name is unknown today, since the following generations merely spent the wealth that was created, but no one added much to it. Who knows, had the business been something tangible like a factory or a trading company, the Dabholkar name and riches would have had a greater life span!

Another great mystery to me is what happened to the large tracts of land and mines....My father still possesses maps of the various properties. I wonder if half of Matunga/Parel is unauthorized construction on Dabholkar land? If so, I may spend a large part of the remainder of my life going around Matunga and Parel serving notice on the residents to immediately vacate the premises. 

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A concise Dabholkar family history (continued) – The Hon. Shantaram Narayan Dabholkar

The Hon. Narayan Vasudeo Dabholkar met an untimely end at the young age of 41, as mentioned above.  My great-grandfather – Shantaram Narayan Dabholkar was a child when his dad expired, and hence his mother was the guardian for his share of the property, until he reached adulthood. The property of the Hon. Narayan Vaudeo upon his death was divided amongst his many children, viz. 2-3 daughters and 2 sons.  The elder son, Anandrao, was my great-grandfather’s ‘half brother’ (i.e. brother by a different mother).  I am told that there was some friction between him and his step-mother (my great-great-grandmother). I don’t know much about what happened to Anandrao’s side of the family. All that I know is that there is a building called “Anand Bhavan” somewhere on the Babulnath Road at the end of Marine Drive, built by him. My uncle once informed me that Anandrao’s descendents were wastrels and ‘good for nothings’. Possibly, this is quite erroneous and also possibly, they may think the same of our side of the family. Anyway, as I mentioned, this side of the tree is not known to me and hence I will not dwell on it further in this history.

Coming to the Hon. Shantaram Dabholkar, he built a big mansion behind Wilson College at Girgaum Chowpatty name “Anand Kanan” and lived there with his wives (sequential, not concurrent) and children till his death in ___.  (I am not quite clear on why the name  “Anand” crops up so frequently in his generation. Possibly, they were all extremely happy about the amount of money they all had!)

The property extended from behind Wilson college till the corner of Hughes Road where the Westside store now stands.  The main mansion stood where Bharati Vidya Bhavan now stands. In the middle of the property was the garden, and then followed by the stables, horse carriage garage, a small bungalow and guest houses. Adjacent to the property was a building given out to tenants, which later became Ajinkya Hospital (and still later, it has been torn down and a monstrosity is coming up in its place).  The Hon. Shantaram earned his bread and butter mostly from rents on the various properties he owned.  I am told that there was a Dabholkar-wadi at Kalbadevi from where also rents were forthcoming.  (At that time, there wasn’t any stock market (to speak of) and so rents were the main source of income for the landed classes.)

By all accounts, the Hon. Shantaram was an extremely large hearted man and gave much of his wealth away during his lifetime (weep!) – a precursor to Buffet and Gates. A friend of Tagore, he is said to have given Rs 1000/- per month to Shantiniketan, this in the early years of the 20th century. There is a story of how Mr Scindia (the raja of the princely state of Gwalior), who had called upon him one day much appreciated one of his cars. The car was immediately delivered by my great-grandfather to the raja at his Mumbai residence.  This wasn’t much of an issue for him, I guess since he owned quite a bunch of them. I am told that the Dabholkar family was one of the first to import motor cars in Mumbai, at the turn of the century.  

The Hon. Shantaram’s first wife (Shantabai) died when my grandfather (Laxmikant Dabholkar) was still a child. Although the family deity was originally Shanta Durga at Goa, (the temple gate of which has been contructed by the Dabholkar family), my grandfather’s mother found relief during the last year’s of her illness at the temple of Dattatreya at Sanquelim. It was her dying wish that her’samadhi’ be made in a place where she could hear the temple bells in the afterlife.

The story goes that the Hon. Shantaram was at a loss as to how to fulfill this wish, as it would not be possible to build a Samadhi in the temple premises. However, just after his wife’s death, a person who owned land adjacent to the temple came forward offering a distress sale of his property. Thus, my great-grandmother – ‘Shantabai’s ashes today lie in a ‘samadhi’ made on that plot, which is now accessible from the temple.

The Hon. Shantaram became a devotee of Lord Duttatreya from that day, and built a ‘dev-kholi’ (small family temple) on the area behind his mansion. The temple was constructed in around 1911. The ‘devara’ i.e. the structure surrounding the God’s statue, was designed by my great-grandfather, and the same was constructed in Italy out of black Italian marble and imported to Mumbai.  He also wrote a booklet of ‘abhangs’ in praise of Lord Dutta.

This temple is closed to the public on all days except Dutta Jayanthi. On this day, it is open from morning to night, and receives a veritable flood of devotees flocking to rid themselves of their sins.

The Hon. Shantaram also built ‘Laxmi Baug’ at Girgaum in honour of his mother. Several generations of Gaud Saraswat Brahmins have gotten married at this place, including your truly. Recently, the place has given in to modernity and installed an AC.

My great-grandfather was a strict vegetarian, not eating even garlic or onion. He must also have been a strict disciplinarian to his kids. This is evident from the fact that till he was alive, my granddad didn’t touch alcohol or non-veg. But the moment his dad died, my granddad started enjoying his fish, brandy and pipe!

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A concise Dabholkar family history (continued) – Mr. Laxmikant Shantaram Dabholkar

My grandfather was born (in 1896) with a silver spoon in his mouth, but there weren’t too many silver spoons around by the time of his death!

Being the eldest son of one of the richest men in Mumbai at that time, he enjoyed all the luxuries of the time. He was privately educated at home, by an Englishman, although he did attend Davar’s college in Fort for his graduation.

My great-grandfather had willed much of his property to his several children and relatives and also a large part was to be donated to charity. Apart from that, death duties at that time were also phenomenal. The problem was that on his death in ___, there weren’t enough liquid assets to fulfill all his wishes. Thus, my grandfather took the call to divide the property and sell off whatever assets were there to satisfy my great-grandfather’s will. The main mansion behind Wilson college was sold off to the fellow (whose name eludes me) who built Bharti Vidya Bhavan on that spot.  The other half of the property (which consisted of the temple, stables (converted into garages) and guest houses were taken over by my granddads younger brother Mr. Sitakant Dabholkar. His son, (my uncle) Satchit, still lives there to this day and looks after the Dutta temple.  The small bungalow was occupied by my granddad’s step-mother who lived there with her three other kids (Umakant, Radhakant and Padmini).  (Note – apart from my granddad, all the other siblings were children of Shantaram’s second wife - ___)

It seems that my granddad also spent a large part of his life fighting court cases with the Tatas and others over their ownership claims on some of the mines and land. I am told that although not a trained lawyer, his legal skills were equivalent to that of a professional, such was his education and ability.

By virtue of being the son of a rich man (and also possibly because of his own capabilities), my granddad also enjoyed the good fortune of being made director on the board of half a dozen companies owned by other stalwarts of the time such as the Walchand Group (founded by Walchand Hirachand Doshi), Dena Bank (founded by Devkaran Nanji), Maharashtra Sugar Mills (owned by the Dahanukar family) etc. He retired as executive director of Dena Bank. My father tells me that their house was the entire top floor of the Dena Bank building at Horniman Circle. One room even contained a Billiards Table! (Which was later donated to the Orient Club on Marine Drive). On his retirement from the bank, he was given ownership of the Dena Bank printing press (also located in the Dena Bank building) as a parting gift.

As indicated earlier, after his dad’s death, my grandfather became quite anglicized, and the image one has of him (based on photos) is a man who dressed up daily in a suit, with immaculate bow tie, sipping brandy and smoking his pipe, spending his evenings leisurely at the Radio Club (Apollo Bunder) card room playing a game of Bridge.

My granddad was also active in the community, playing a part in setting up the Saraswat Colony at Mahim. He was also involved in managing the Dabholkar Scholarship Trust that provided scholarship to poor students from the Konkan for pursuing studies in Mumbai.

On his retirement from Dena Bank, he moved with his family to a ‘small’ 2000 sq foot house at Churchgate. The house has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a large passage, 5 balconies, a large dining room, a store room, large kitchen, a servant’s room, servant’s bathroom and servant’s balcony. But the family found the house claustrophobic after their flat on top of Dena Bank! There was no space for the Billiards table. The dining table had to be cut in half, and is now only 8 feet in length.

My granddad died in 1977 at the age of 81.

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A brief note on other Dabholkars

My paternal grandmom – Her name was Indumati (changed after marriage.) Prior to marriage, her name was ‘Ganga’ and was so referred to be all the relatives on her side of the family. (She had many-many sisters, all named after various rivers). She was quite well educated, and knew English well. She helped me with my maths homework during my early schooling years! She died when I was in college.

My grandmom was my granddad’s third wife. My dad’s ‘full’ sister is Suniti, married to Mr. Desai (now deceased). She lives at Santacruz with her son Mihir and his family. By my granddad’s first wife he had two daughters –Ahilya and Anusuya  and by his second wife, he had a son – Shrikanth (married to Vinodini). Anusuya was married to Mr Khot of Belgaum, and they had 2 kids - Meena and Nitin. Ahilya was married to Mr. Sukhatankar, and they had 3 sons – Ajit, Abhay and Atul. Shrikanth did not have any kids.

My granddad’s younger siblings were as follows:

The second brother was Sitakant, who lived at Anand Kanan till his death. His son, Satchit continues to live there till this day and look after the temple. Satchit also keeps a 1 day Ganpati each year and most of the family members land up meeting each other on Ganesh Chaturthi each year at his place. He studied at the JJ school of arts and also did a course in arts in London. Thereafter, he joined J Walter Thompson in Mumbai. His next job was in Telco and finally he spent many years in Air India.  His wife, Lata, died of cancer a few years back. His daughter, Sujata is a successful banker, being the India head of a German Bank.  His son, Rajesh was in O&M in Dubai, where he died some years back in a sad accident in a sport while driving his car over the sand dunes.

The third brother was Umakant. Umakant had 2 children, Mangal and Pratibha. Mangal married Dilip Nath, a successful lawyer who then changed tracks and became a successful software entrepreneur starting a NASDAQ listed company called Kanbay with some foreign partners, which he sold recently to Cap Gemini. They have 2 kids – Sanjay and Sameer. Pratibha is in the US. I think she is a professor in some university. She had a girl named Julie who died a few years back of cancer.

The fourth brother was Radhakant. He and his wife Vijaya still live at Walkeshwar in an old bungalow that had originally been taken on rent by my great-grandmother, when she moved out of Anand Kanan with her 3 youngest kids. He has one child – Bharat. Bharat is reasonably famous in the Mumbai theatre and advertising circles. He used to work for the advertising firm D’cunha Associates where he is most famously associated with the Amul commercials and hoardings. Thereafter, he left to form his own advertising firm – Zen Communications, which he later sold to some other firm. He is also well known for ‘Bottom’s Up’ and other ‘Hinglish’ plays, and he also plays bit parts in various Hindi films, usually as a villain! (The bald fellow with the goatee and the growl). His daughter, Urmila is a pioneer of sorts, starting one of the first (or ‘the’ first) pet salons in Mumbai.

Last (but not least) was a sister – Padmini. She was married to Mr Palekar (now deceased) and lives in Cuffe Parade.  Her daughter Madhuri lives in the US. 

Finally, coming to my immediate family. My father, Vinay, went to Cathedral (my school) and then did his college in Elphinstone, graduating in Physics. He then did his masters in 'Solid State Physics' (whatever that is) from The Royal Institute of Science (at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai). He worked for some years at Semiconductors Ltd in Poona. He came back to Mumbai some years before my granddad's death to take over the printing press in Dena Bank. (The press was called 'Sadbhakti Prakash Printing Press' for god-knows what reason). He did a course in printing. He also tried to bring in some modernity into the press. I remember that he once went to Germany when I was very young to Hiedelberg to import some or other printing machine! The press wasn't doing very well and was finally sold around 1990. Around the same time, due to a combination of a Herpes attack affecting his nerves, and the stress caused by the press related work, he has a stroke which paralysed the right side of his body and affected his speech. 21 years later, his speech and right leg are semi-fine, but his right hand never improved. He has led a retired life after his stroke. 

My mother, Sulabha, did her schooling at several schools (since her father was transferred from place to place.) Mainly, she went to Saint Mary's in Poona. She got married to my dad at the young age of 19. When I was a kid, she worked as the PA of Ms Mithu Aloor in the Spastic Society of India. Thereafter, she left to join a subsidiary of Siemens (called Kraft-Werk Union), also as a secretary of a German chappie. Her knowledge of German, which she learnt at the Max Mueler Institute came in handy. Finally, she joined a company called India Oil Tanking (a JV of Indian Oil and Oiltanking of Germany) as the secretary to the MD. She has now retired from full time service although she does spend her day working in some or the other NGO.

My elder brother, Gaurang, stays in Poona with his wife Sonali (a practicing dentist) and 2 kids, Damini and Isha. Gaurang is an engineer from Walchand Institute of Technology. (He came second in his university in engineering). He initially worked in Kirloskar Pneumatic Ltd. Thereafter, he joined Sulzer and is now in Kirloskar Chillers, as the second in command. Over the years he has become an 'air conditioning and refrigeration' expert of sorts and in the unlikely event that any of you has a query on this topic, you may address your queries to him!

Second last - my wife Amruta, who is exactly 1 year, 1 month and 1 day younger than me (that is how I remember her birthday). We married in 2006 December. She is an MBA in Marketing from Devi Ahilya University, Indore. She worked as a market research analyst in Nielsen, Synovate and other firms, till she took a break to have a kid. She is on the cusp of resuming full time work, consequent to the laziness of her husband.

Last (and definitely least) - my son Sidharth. Right now, there is nothing much to be said about him, except that he is the last of the Dabholkar males (from Shantaram Dabholkar's side of the family). Also, he is certifiably the cutest baby that I have ever seen. Those experienced in these matters tell me that he is the second cutest baby of all time, after me. I am sure that there will be much more to tell of him in the future, but for that he will have to have his own web-site.

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A brief history of my maternal ancestors - My maternal Granddad - Mr. A G Rajadhyaksha

My maternal granddad's father was known as 'Tatya' to one and all, although his real name was Ganesh. He and his family lived in Girgaum, when my granddad was a child. It is not known exactly how the surname 'Rajadhyakasha' came about. However, the family is originally from Kolhapur. 'Tatya' also took care of his 2 younger brothers, since I think his parents had died when the brothers were young. His second brother ____ (known as 'Anna' in the family) became a doctor, while the third brother, Govindrao (known as 'Gondu kaka'), became a lawyer and worked in the government services. I am told that 'Tatya' himself worked as a clerk in what was known as the 'Bombay Company', which I think is slang for Bombay-Burmah Trading Company (now a Wadia enterprise). 

'Anna' had 2 kids, Arun & ___. Gondu kaka had quite a few daughters and one son. The most well known of his children is Shobha De, who needs no further introduction.

Tatya had 3 sons and one daughter. (He had a couple more sons, but they died as infants.) My grandad - Anant, was the eldest. Second was ___, third was Jayant (known to all as 'Nanda' kaka) and last was Ramesh (although very few know him by that name. He has always been called 'Jimmy'.)

My granddad did his schooling at Wilson High School (located in Girgaum) and did his college from Elphinstone. He was a brilliant student, a topper in both his matriculation, as well as a Bombay University Gold medalist in his BA. After his graduation, he was wondering what career to pursue, being advised by different stalwarts to pursue different paths, as is usually the case. One of the first entrance exams to happen after his BA was the Indian Police examinations (IP). In those days, the IP and ICS (Indian Civil Services) were different exams, although currently all services exams are clubbed under the UPSC. He gave the IP exam, and as was his habit, was one of the toppers of the exam that year. (I don't recall whether he topped or stood second.) Thus it was that he entered the police service. 

He spent his early years in Gujarat (Ahmedabad, Bharuch etc.). As a result of this posting he picked up good knowledge of Gujarati, and was also able to read the script. As was the culture in the services, he also took to smoking (pipe or cigar) at an early age. He also had a habit of having a glass or two of whiskey every day. In-fact, I remember that my grandmom would also accompany him with a glass herself, during my childhood days. He continued smoking till his death in 2004 at the age of 89. I think he gave up alcohol at the age of around 80, that too due to an attack of spondilitis. For well over 50 years, alcohol and smoking didn't do him much harm! The only time he had to give up alcohol during his career was during the days of prohibition as enforced by Morarji Desai. Apart from his postings in Bombay State (which later became Maharashtra and Gujarat), he was also posted to Delhi for many years as a result of being deputed to the Intelligence Bureau. (When I had asked him about how interesting this assignment must have been, he shrugged it off and said that it was highly boring, mostly consisting of reading large number of newspapers on a daily basis and highlighting items of interest. As a result of this conversation, I am always a little skeptical today when I read about the activities of the IB and the RAW).

After his IB stint, he was posted as Police Commissioner of Poona. Thereafter, he became Police Commissioner of Bombay between ___ and ___. Finally, he ended his career as Inspector General of Maharashtra between ___ and ____. I guess that this long tenure makes him one of the longest serving IG/DG's of Maharashtra. (This post is now known as Director General, and now there are lots of IG's). During his IG days, my grandparents lived in the Rocky Hills police flats at the end of Narayan Dabholkar Road at Malabar Hill! One aspect of his tenure as IG, relevant to many of us today, is that when auto-rickshaws were first introduced in Bombay, it was my granddad that took a firm stand on not allowing them south of Bandra/Sion to avoid traffic congestion and pollution in the main part of the city (i.e. the main part at that time, not now). This decision, it appears, has not yet been reversed till date. 

As a small kid, I always thought that one enters the police first as a havaldar and then makes ones way to the top through one's efforts and abilities! I always imagined my granddad wearing blue half-pants standing on a pedestal at a traffic junction, guiding vehicles while blowing lustily on his whistle! 

After retirement, my granddad and grandmom lived in a one-bedroom apartment as tenants, living off his pension. At around the time of his death, the pension was around Rs 25,000 per month. Whenever I think of my granddad, I feel assured that it is possible to enjoy immense power, yet remain spartan in ones approach, while maintaining the highest degree of ethics and honesty. Like spiderman's uncle said - "with great power comes great responsibility".

As a sad sub-story to that of my granddad, I mention here also the brief story of the uncle ('Mama') that I never had....My mother's older brother - Ravindra. Ravindra did most of his schooling in Scindia School, Gwalior. He was always sure that he wanted to become an airforce pilot. When my mom would ask him if it was dangerous, he would laughingly say that crossing the road was more dangerous. Ravindra did his graduation from the National Defence Academy. He was a good sportsman and loved boxing during his NDA days. He was undergoing pilot training after passing out of the NDA, when, a day before his twenty-first birthday, the plane in which he was flying developed a snag. He bailed out, but was too close to the ground, and hence the parachute did not have time to open. My granddad instituted a boxing trophy at the NDA in memory of his son, which I think is still around to this day.  My mom was around 13 when her brother died. My grandmom never really recovered from this incident and developed depression which lasted for most of the remaining years of her life. My aunt Sujata was born a couple of years after Ravindra's death.

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