Our dear friend and contributor Havovi Gowadia writes in…
A notice was put up on our community WA group. The Municipal Corporation of Balaghat and the Mullan Trust had invited the Parsis of Nagpur to come to Balaghat to celebrate the 153rd. birth anniversary of Diwan Bahadur M. M. Mullan on 25-10-2021. The Nagpur Parsis were very familiar with the name of Mullan since the Nagpur Dar-e-Meher known as Mullan Dar-e-Meher was built and consecrated with the donations received from Seth Naswanji Mullan. My interest was aroused to know more about this other charitable Mullan, who incidentally was the nephew of Naswanji Mullan.
My friend Shiraz Doongaji who had also gone to Balaghat for the function to commemorate M M Mullan on his 149th birth anniversary, willingly accepted to take me. To me, what started as a piqued interest turned to a revelation which left me amazed and proud by the end of the day.
Balaghat is a small township 205 kms. away from Nagpur in the State of Madhya Pradesh. We set off early in the morning for the 5 hour drive. The third person to join us at Balaghat was Jehan Bhujwala who runs a beautiful resort called Shergarh at Kanha, the well-known Tiger National Park of MP.
We were respectfully received by the Organisers and offered a light breakfast. After freshening up and donning our traditional Parsi attire, we were accompanied to the Parsi Cemetery, the land for which was donated by late Diwan Bahadur MM Mullan and where he rests today. It was a small but well-kept cemetery. We were told that recently, they have started planting flowering shrubs as well as trees and greening the whole place. Along with the other invited VIPs like the Collector and the DSP we were made to plant neem trees. The grave of Mr. Mullan was the most elaborate and decorated with flowers for the day. On the grave, besides other details was inscribed ‘Daddy of Balaghat’. On inquiring about the strange epitaph, we were told that at the first sign of cold, all children were taken to him for the good old Parsi cure for colds – a lick of brandy! Accompanied by the other invited guests we were again given the honours of putting flowers and wreaths on his grave.
The whole morning till lunch was packed with a lot of other activities, but before I elaborate on that, let me introduce you to this enigmatic man, popularly known as the ‘Daddy of Balaghat’ and whose memory is honoured with so much reverence and enthusiasm after more than a century and a half.
Manekji Meherwanji Mullan OBE (1868-1957) was born in Bombay and completed his education in Nagpur’s Morris College where he studied law. His practice took him to Balaghat. He made his mark and earned a name for himself, after he had successfully fought and won a case for a prominent Zamindar of Balaghat named Chandanlal Bhau in the privy council of London. He was gifted land by the grateful Zamindar and was urged to settle in Balaghat and continue his practice there. He held many important posts and was associated with all Educational, Medical, Co-operative and Village uplift work.
For his selfless public service, he was honoured with the title of OBE. Consequently, during the II World War for his help to the British Government, he was conferred with the titles of ‘Khan Bahadur’ and ‘Diwan Bahadur’.
A man with a vision and a philanthropist at heart, he donated liberally to Educational Institutes, which included the Nagpur University and the LAD Women’s college at Nagpur. During his lifetime, he used to send generous donations to the Nagpur Parsi Punchayat. Upon his death in 1957, he bequeathed Rs.3.70 lakhs to NPP for educational and medical help to the needy Parsis. There is a two-storeyed building In Tata Baug in Nagpur which bears his name.
His vision and philanthropy were all permeating and visible in Balaghat where he had spent most of his life. He had a lot of empathy for the tribals and the common people and he contributed large heartedly for their upliftment and well- being. In his Will he left his bungalow, the surrounding land, all his wealth and shares he owned to the people of Balaghat. Incidentally, one of the trustees of his Will was Sir Sohrabji Pochkhanwala, the promoter of Central Bank of India.
From this munificent donation, Balaghat Water Works supplying pure running water to the town came into effect. Pumped water in their taps was in fact his first gift to the citizens of Balaghat. He also gifted a Polytechnic College imparting engineering and vocational courses which even today is benefitting all the young students there. A Stadium and Sports complex have been erected for development of all sports and encourage sporting activity amongst the youth. Sports and Educational Scholarships are awarded both to the needy and the talented. In short, he has touched the lives of the entire population of Balaghat.
From the cemetery, we were taken to the Town Square, where all of us garlanded his bust. We were again pushed ahead to do the honours, giving us the status of family members. Then the whole motorcade headed to his old bungalow besides the Polytechnic College. The old rundown bungalow had been spruced up with fresh plastering, a new coat of paint and a new roof. Being the only lady amongst the invitees, I was asked to cut the ribbon along with the local minister who had also graced the occasion. There are plans to convert the bungalow to MM Mullan Museum, showcasing his life. One room has been converted to library cum computer room. The furniture as well as 2 computers have been donated by a Rotarian Sikh businessman.
All of us were then led to the stage erected especially for the day and welcomed with flowers. All the guests on the dais right from the Collector, SP and others gave short speeches eulogizing the life and times of MM Mullan. Mr. Vijay Verma, Secretary of Mullan Trust gave a short report on what they have been doing with his donation as well as their future plans. He requested the Minister to change the name of the Government Polytechnic, which was established from DB Mullan’s donations to MM Mullan Polytechnic. He reported that a bag full of old shares have yet to be de-matted and a substantial amount will again be added to his kitty of donations.
The SP gave an introduction to the Parsi community, right from our advent in India to our contribution to our adopted land. Shiraz thanked the Organizers for inviting us and lauded the splendid work the Trustees of Mullan Trust have been doing over the years, giving shape To MM Mullan’s dreams for the upliftment of Balaghat. This splendid work is being done without any political or community intervention and showed their love and esteem for their donor.
We were then gifted a plaque commemorating the momentous day along with a shawl and coconut. Then everyone trooped in for lunch.
It was a memorable day. The day filled us with pride as well as humility. Pride to see the achievements and largesse of our forefathers and humility that we were singled out for this singular honour, due to the good deeds done by one of our community member in the distant past. We hope the baton is passed down to the coming generations so that they would experience what we had experienced today.