The Jijamata Express sped along the Pune - Bombay route, considerably faster than the Deccan Queen.
And, 'GBMR' - Greater Bombay Metropolitan Railway, was a gentle reminder of British oppression.
Professor Gangadharpant Gaitonde requested to see a certain Mr. Vinay Gaitonde.
The English receptionist, however, shook her head in dismay and exclaimed that the Professor might have been mistaken and there was none there by that name, whom Professor wished to see!
This was a blow, not totally unexpected.
If he himself were dead in this world, what guarantee had he that his son would be alive?
Indeed, he may not even have been born!
Professor, however, grabbed a quick lunch and made his way to the Town Hall.
Yes, to his relief, the Town Hall was there, and it did house the library.
He entered the reading room and asked for a list of history books including his own.
His five volumes duly arrived on his table. He started from the beginning.
Volume One took the history up to the period of Ashoka, Volume Two up to Samudragupta, Volume Three up to Mohammad Ghori and Volume Four up to the death of Aurangzeb.
Up to this period history was as he knew it.
The change evidentlyhad occurred in the last volume.
Reading Volume Five from both ends inwards, Gangadharpant finally converged on the precise moment where history had taken a different turn.
That page in the book described the Battle of Panipat, and it mentioned that the Marathas won it handsomely.
Abdali was chased back to Kabul by the triumphant Maratha army led by Sadashivrao Bhau and his nephew, the young Vishwasrao.
The account elaborated in detail its consequences for the power struggle in India.
Gangadharpant read through the account avidly.
The style of writing was unmistakably his, yet he was reading the account for the first time!
Their victory in the battle was not only a great morale booster to the Marathas but it also established their supremacy in Northern India. The East India Company, which had been watching these developments from the sidelines, got the message, temporarily shelving its expansionist program.
For the Peshwas, the immediate result was an increase in the influence of Bhausaheb and Vishwasrao, who eventfully succeeded his father in 1780 A.D.
The trouble-maker, Dadasaheb, was relegated to the background and he eventually
retired from state politics.
As he read on, Gangadharpant began to appreciate the India he had seen. It was a country that had not been subjected to slavery for the white man; it had learnt to stand on its feet and knew what self-respect was.
From a position of strength and for purely commercial reasons, it had allowed the British to retain Bombay as the sole outpost on the subcontinent.
That lease was to expire in the year 2001, according to a treaty of 1908.
Gangadhar could not believe how the face of India had changed in the blink of an eye!
How did the Marathas win the battle?
To find the answer he must look for accounts of the battle itself.
He went through the books and journals before him.
At last, among the books he found one that gave him the clue.
It was Bhausahebanchi Bakhar.
He found one in a three-line account of how close Vishwasrao had come to being killed...
... And then Vishwasrao guided his horse to the melee where the elite troops were fighting and he attacked them.
And God was merciful.
A shot brushed past his ear.
Even the difference of a til (sesame) would have led to his death.
The librarian intervened at that very moment!
The library had to close for the day...
She requested him to leave, politely answering his query for the opening time, the next day.
Before leaving, however, he gathered his notes and absent-minded, shoved the Bakhar also into his right pocket.
The historian, after his meal for the night, ventured into the Azad Maidaan for a stroll.
In the Maidaan he found a throng moving towards a Pandaal.
So, a lecture was to take place.
Force of habit took Professor Gaitonde towards the Pandaal.
The lecture was in progress, although people kept coming and going.
But Professor Gaitonde was not looking at the audience.
He was staring at the platform.
The presidential chair was unoccupied!
The sight stirred him to the depths.
Like a piece of iron attracted to a magnet, he swiftly moved towards the chair.
The speaker stopped in mid-sentence, too shocked to continue. But the audience soon found voice.
“Vacate the chair!”
“This lecture series has no chairperson...”
“Away from the platform, mister!”
“The chair is symbolic, don’t you know?”
What nonsense! Whoever heard of a public lecture without a presiding dignitary? Professor Gaitonde went to the mic and gave vent to his views.
“Ladies and gentlemen, an unchaired lecture is like Shakespeare’s Hamlet without the Prince of
Let me tell you...”
But the audience was in no mood to listen. “Tell us nothing.
We are sick of remarks from the chair, of vote of thanks, of long introductions.”
Rajendra was dumbfounded by the narrative. It took him a while to reply.