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Remembering Gopal Gurbaxani

Rekha Shahani

Our Father Gopal Gurbaxani, the eldest son of principal Nirmaldas and Kamla Gurbaxani was known as Bhau in the family, school, Samaj and as Pitamah in the Bombay Catering Association. He was a father whom we saw in a different role every time. He could handle education, business, reading, writing, gardening, social work, literature, fine arts, dance, drama, collecting stamps – all simultaneously without neglecting anything or anyone. He did all this very efficiently and effectively.

What we have heard about him is that at a very early age he started helping the family business of cultivation of cotton and wheat near Hyderabad, Sindh. He later took up apprenticeship of salesman at the chemists in Karachi under his uncle Motiram Lalvani. There was a shortage of ink after the World War II and he took up the agency of marketing ‘water dip nibs ”.

Everyone has heard about the movie Sholay made by Mr. G. P. Sippy. Dada as we called our father, joined him as a partner after the partition, in the then R.M & Company that was later re-named as ‘Bombay Provision Store’. Later on he added business of bookshop, laundry, catering, decoration, construction and many more. Till today, when we meet people, we get to hear that ‘I am a famous business man only due to Bhau Gopal or Dada Gopal ” as they addressed him. We also meet people who tell us that we live in a building made by your father. 

He and his friends founded the “Young Cosmopolitan Group in 1945 which carried on its activities for over 50 years with the motto ‘Service and Entertainment’. They held shows to raise money, help the needy, drought and famine affected people in different parts of India. He encouraged young and upcoming artists and writers. He also got into publishing and published many books and due to this we enjoyed 40% discount from other publishers. Dada had organised a cultural show in 1953 where many film stars and personalities were present. This was to collect funds for the present building of Kamal High School.

He told his children that he did not want any prizes, trophies or monuments in his name after his death but had to see that the name of his parents – mother Kamla and father Nirmaldas – should be carried on and under no circumstances they should be forgotten. He told and had it written down too that after his death, ‘the school should not be kept shut, none of us should wear white to mourn and we should go to work the very next day.’

A proud Sindhi, along with Mr. Kirat Babani, he organised the first ‘all India Sindhi Samelon’  at Bombay which was presided over by Jairamdas Daulatram. He loved people and had a large circle of friends. He loved to put across his personal views which were pretty strong at times but it never came in the way of his relationship with his friends and relatives.

As an active participant in the freedom movement of the country he wore Khadi throughout his life. His philosophy was ‘Simple Living & High Thinking’. We remember him as a positive and a staunch Congressman although he had many friends from the RSS, Janta and BJP. Some of them were Keval Malkani,  Hashu Advani, Madhu Deolekar and more. He got the Congress ticket but could not join as our mother felt that this would affect his family life. He encouraged us to join politics because he believed that good people were needed in politics.

Dada was a very loving husband – romantic and full of life. We saw him loving and pampering our mother in all aspects of life. He encouraged her to finish her graduation after marriage in 1945 and saw to it that she read and wrote. He helped her to be an editor of the monthly news paper Saraswati and later Amil Samachar. He helped to published her book and ensured that she pursued her hobbies like music and dance. As ideal couple they went for weekly movies, outings and travelled the world over. They even cruised in the liner Queen Elizabeth II to Hongkong, Singapore, Manila and Indonesia taking me along when cruises were not even heard of.

As a true Brahmo,  he along with his wife attended Brahmo conferences all over India and even represented the Bombay Brahmo Samaj in places like Germany and Holland. His long association with the Prathana Samaj made us realise that we were one big family.  

When David Koff, the German author was writing his book on Brahmo Samaj he would come to our house in Shanti Niketan and interview my parents. When the book was finally released, he came all the way from Germany to give a copy to us and expressed his special gratitude towards my parents in the book. 

My father taught us that Sunday mornings were for our appointment with God and we had to dress up and be in the Mandir latest by 8:15am. He also taught us that by 10:00am sharp the ‘Aarti’ should be over as if we went beyond that time people would not respect us. He believed that Brahmos were famous for being very punctual. His marriage to our mother was solemnized as per the Brahmo rites by Rev Jamini Kant Koar. 

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