Amit Paranjape’s Blog

‘वसंत व्याख्यानमाला’ (Vasant Vyakhyanmala- Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 143 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on April 20, 2017

The 143rd edition of  the month long ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series),starts April 21 at Tilak Smarak Mandir. This lecture series was originally started by Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade in 1875.

I had written an article about this great 143 year tradition few years back, and I am reproducing a version of that below. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series (click on the images at the end of this article). Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! Do note, many of the lectures are in Marathi (a few are in English). Please use the hash tag: #VasantVyakhyanmala or #वसंतव्याख्यानमाला when you tweet about these lectures.

This year’s schedule covers a series of topics including politics, governance, history, civic issues, music, literature, healthcare and many more. Good line up of speakers this year with a variety of different experience.

Some of the interesting speakers to look forward, over the month: Former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, Mayor of Pune, Mukta Tilak, Dr. Madhavrao Gadgil, Pramod Choudhari and many more.


(blog-post from 2012 about Vasant Vyakhyanmala)

In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audience.


Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2017 - Schedule

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2017 – Schedule

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2017 - 2



“The Era of Bajirao” by Dr. Uday Kulkarni – A Book Review

Posted in History, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on January 8, 2017

Bajirao was one of the most significant figures of 18th century Indian History. Unfortunately, many who rely on popular history books and school textbooks would not be aware of his two decades reign from 1720-1740, and his amazing achievements. This is true not just of Bajirao, but of the entire 18th century Maratha History. Often history narratives in India transition from 17th Century Mughal Era to 19th Century British Era, largely ignoring the 18th Century Maratha Empire – an empire which at its peak covered a large part of present day India.


A lot of Maratha History has not been widely translated into English and other languages. “The Era of Bajirao” – Dr. Uday Kulkarni’s excellent new book, which chronicles the life of Bajirao, will hopefully fill in some of this knowledge gap about Maratha History. This book was released in Pune today. The chief guests at the publication ceremony were Babasaheb Purandare, Air Marshal (Retd.) Bhushan Gokhale and Prof. Raja Dixit.


‘The Era of Baji rao” is a proper well researched history book, filled with numerous references and quotes from original letters, treaties, ‘Bakhars’ and other reference books. Unlike many ‘popular’ history books, this book has plenty of hard data, and doesn’t draw too many conclusions. The data, facts from original sources are presented to the readers to draw their own inferences. Dr. Kulkarni was researching this book for over two years. His previous book ‘Solstice at Panipat’ (Published in 2011) about the 3rd Battle of Panipat, was very well received and has had multiple editions/reprints.


A practicing surgeon, a retired navy officer, a journalism graduate, a historian – Dr. Kulkarni has a very interesting background. He has his own history library of over four hundred rare reference books. He has also spent countless hours, researching hard to find references in libraries in India and UK. Three years back, he was able to find a rare original document (Panipat Bakhar) in a library in London, which had gone ‘missing’ for over 150 years. I have been fortunate to have known Dr. Kulkarni for over five years, and it is always great to have long discussions with him on Maratha History.


The “Era of Bajirao” starts with a review of volatile history period in the ‘Deccan’, post the death of Shivaji in 1680. Aurangzeb shifted his base southwards in 1681, with a goal of complete conquest of the Deccan. What began was a 27 year war that ended only in 1707 with the death of Aurangzeb. Shahu (Sambhaji’s son), who was in Mughal captivity, was released after Aurangzeb’s death. Shahu set up his base in Satara, and appointed Balaji Vishwanath as his ‘Peshwa’ (Prime Minister) in 1713. Following Balaji Vishwanath’s death, his son Bajirao was appointed to this post. Bajirao was only 20 years old then. This appointment was not a pure hereditary appointment – Shahu had seen Bajirao in action and was impressed with his capabilities.


Bajirao’s reign began in 1720, and in a short span of 20 years, before his untimely death at the age of 40, he had expanded the Maratha power across Central India. He expanded the ‘Swarajya’ established by Shivaji, into a ‘Samrajya’, and was at the ‘Gates of Delhi’ multiple times. The 1720 and 1740 political power maps of India look quite different. Even though Bajirao built the Shaniwarwada and shifted his base to Pune, he didn’t spend a lot of time there. He was constantly on campaigns. The Shaniwarwada and Pune became much more important during the reigns of later Peshwas.


Dr. Kulkarni’s book goes into good detail of Bajirao’s many campaigns. The key ones being his multiple battles with the Nizam, the Malwa expansion, the ‘race’ to Delhi, and the campaign against the Portuguese in Konkan. Bajirao was constantly on the move, and it is interesting to note the numerous tactical and strategic wins he was able to achieve. Having never lost a major battle, his army’s speed & mobility were often his biggest assets.


“…The difference lay in that he knew when to fight as well as where to fight. More important, he knew when not to fight. Mobility was Bajirao’s forte, like the wind he could not fight without space for movement” – Dr. Uday Kulkarni


The Battle of Palkhed in 1728 is considered to be one of the great cavalry battles of the 18th century, and has been studied extensively by military strategists. The chessboard like fast moves executed by Bajirao against the Nizam culminated in the entrapment and surrender of larger, heavily equipped Nizam army on the banks of Godavari at Palkhed. This battle victory really helped establish the foundation of Bajirao’s legacy. (On a related note – Dr. Kulkarni gave an excellent lecture last year at Vasant Vyakhyanmala in Pune, on this battle).


Bajirao made multiple campaigns in North India, and the 1737 Delhi campaign was an important one. As large Mughal armies were advancing on him, Bajirao made another of his lightning moves, bypassed the adversaries and surprised and shocked everyone by ending at the gates of Delhi. He had no interest in staying there for long, and after the getting the desired terms from the Mughals, headed back as quickly has he had arrived in Delhi. He wanted to make a point regarding his strength. This campaign highlighted the weakness of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi. The Nizam was heading to Delhi to support the emperor, but was defeated by Bajirao at the Battle of Bhopal. This campaign again highlighted Bajirao’s strategy and speed.


Many historians have focused on Bajirao as a great general and military strategist (which he was), but reading the many references (letters, treaties) in Dr. Kulkarni’s book, the reader will realize the strengths of Bajirao as a ‘diplomat’.

“Bajirao had the head to plan and the hand to execute” – Grant Duff (Dr. Kulkarni reference to one of popular quotes by British Historian Duff, who wrote the Maratha History in early 19th century)

Bajirao got great support from Malharji Holkar, Ranoji Scindia, Pilaji Jadhav and others. Chimaji Appa, Bajirao’s younger brother was his key asset throughout his entire reign. They were together on some key campaigns, and Chimaji also led some important campaigns by himself. The top one among these was the Konkan campaign against the Portuguese from 1737-39. The Portuguese were unleashing religious oppression on the local population and there were many calls for help by the locals.


The final battle of this campaign was the attack on the key fort of Vasai. The fort had excellent defenses and was very well guarded by the Portuguese. After a long and hard battle, the fort finally fell in May 1739.


As a result of this battle and the following treaty, the entire island of ‘Sasthi’ (Salcette) (present day North/Central Mumbai), Thane, Northern Konkan area came under the control of the Marathas. The Portuguese territories remained restricted to Goa and Daman.

Only the island of Mumbai remained with the English. Note, the English were largely ‘neutral’ in this battle between the Marathas and the Portuguese.

If not for that this victorious campaign by Chimaji Appa, it is possible that large parts of present day greater Mumbai would have remained with the Portuguese, well into the British Era (just like Goa).


No story of Bajirao can be complete without a discussion about Mastani. The recent popular Bollywood film did generate a lot of good interest about Bajirao. Without getting into the historical accuracies debate, the film did raise some awareness about this era of history. Dr. Kulkarni’s book has a chapter on Mastani and Bajirao’s family issues, especially towards the end of 1730s. Here again, plenty of actual references (not speculations or popular ‘legends’) are provided.


Dr. Kulkarni has made the river Narmada a central ‘character’ in the book and ‘the river’ presents a summary at the beginning of every chapter. The Narmada has been a North-South divide for many centuries of Indian History. For Baji rao, the Narmada was initially a frontier, and later on the starting point of northern expansion. He crossed the river numerous times in his hectic series of campaigns. His untimely death also happened at the banks of the Narmada on April 28, 1740. He was cremated on the banks of the river, and today his Samadhi sits there at Ravarkhedi (in Madhya Pradesh, near Indore).


For anyone interested in serious history, Dr. Uday Kulkarni’s “The Era of Bajirao” provides hundreds of references. There is a good collection of images (paintings from various museums/libraries). There are many geographical and battle plan maps as well – though these maps could have been a bit better. As I mentioned earlier, this is an excellent work of detailed research. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in not just Bajirao, Maratha History, but 18th Century Indian History.


Finally, Some Good News On The New Pune Airport Front!

Posted in Current Affairs, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on October 8, 2016

New Pune Airport – Critical Need for Supporting Infrastructure… Facilitating Development of South Pune Region


A view from the majestic fort of Purandar (image credit: wikipedia)

After waiting for more than a decade, we finally have some positive development on the Pune airport! This week, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced the final site for the new green-field airport.

The need for an independent civilian green-field airport has been identified for a long time. With a population of over 6 million, the Pune Metro Region is the 7th largest in the country, and growing fast. The population is expected to touch 10 million in the next two decades. The present Lohegaon airport at Pune is a defense airfield and this places numerous restrictions on commercial flight operations (number of available flying hours, adequate land for passenger terminal expansion, lack of a longer runway, lack of two parallel runways, etc.)

Many projects for the new airport were proposed since the last decade, but with no progress. It was a long wait. Some old timers on twitter will remember my regular tweets (since 2010) about the new Pune airport progress (or lack thereof).

Multiple sites in the Chakan-Rajgurunagar area (North Pune) were considered, but rejected due to land acquisition and other constraints. Finally, this last week the Maharashtra Government has finalized on the site near Purandar. The ‘Chatrapati Sambhaji Raje Airport’ (as it will be called) will come up near the Pargao-Memane villages, located to the South East of Pune, near the town of Saswad and the Purandar Fort. A big thanks to the CM Devendra Fadnavis, the Pune MP Anil Shirole and other authorities for pushing through this long pending critical project!

An aggressive 2019 deadline has been proposed. This is great, but will need extremely good execution.

This new airport can be an excellent catalyst to drive the development of South and South East Pune Region. Over the past two decades, a lot of the manufacturing and software/IT growth of Pune has been concentrated in the North West/North/North East corridors. This new airport will act as a magnet to attract development on the South/South East side. This is good for the long term balanced growth of the Pune Metro Region.

It is critical that a 5-10-30 year plan is created for this area. I believe this area (and development planning associated with it) will come under the newly formed PMRDA (Pune Metro Regional Development Authority). There are many lessons that can be learned from other areas development in Pune, as well as from other cities.

First and foremost, it will be critical to build a good road access to the new airport. At present, the accessibility of this area is not great. The routes through Dive Ghat, Bobdev Ghat and via Katraj Ghat – Khed Shivapur are all not ideal, given the current condition of these roads. The Ring Road project for Pune is another long pending project, and completing this project (at least certain sections of it) before 2019 is imperative for good access to the new airport. A ring road connection from the NH4 near Khed Shivapur to the new airport would be a good first access point.

Here we need to learn from the Bangalore and Hyderabad examples of the past decade. The new Bangalore airport was built in 2008, however the access road (widening the highway, flyovers, etc.) took a long time to build. Hyderabad on the other hand built good road access to the new airport from early on. The goal should be to have excellent road access infrastructure ready before the airport completion deadline.

Looking at the next few decades, it is also important to consider a good fast rail connectivity to this new airport, from the city center. Rail connectivity (public transport access) to the airport is critical.

As I mentioned earlier, the new airport will act as a prime catalyst to develop South/South-East Pune. Proximity to the airport will drive many businesses, industries, education/research institutions, tourism centric facilities to locate to this area.  The long-term plan for this area should include setting up new IT/Software, Business and Research Parks in this area. The existing manufacturing areas (MIDCs) at Jejuri, Shirval/Khandala (Satara district) need to be expanded. This airport will have good proximity to Satara and Baramati as well, and manufacturing infrastructure in these areas can be boosted. A Delhi Aero-City type area should also be planned to locate hotels and businesses near the airport complex.

One important infrastructure piece that is lacking in Pune today is a good international standard expo and convention center. This should be ideally build near the new airport as well.

In addition to Pune, Panchagani and Mahabaleshwar will have very easy access from this new airport (less than 100 km). Similarly, the majestic forts of Purandar, Rajgad, Torna and Sinhagad are also nearby. If a good plan is developed, this airport can drive more tourism in the Pune region (including neighboring districts).

Pune has been lagging behind all the other metros on many of the key infrastructure projects (Airport, Metro, Ring Road, etc.). We have a lot of catch up to do, and fast execution is going to be of paramount importance. Whether that happens or not …. it remains to be seen. But at least as far as the airport is concerned, I am more optimistic this week, than I was at any point in the past 10 years!

‘Bal Gandharva’ – A Nice Tribute To The Legend

Posted in History, Pune, TV, Entertainment & Movies, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on May 9, 2011

The ‘Bal Gandharva’ movie opened this week. I was eagerly waiting for its release, and managed to catch this afternoon’s show. I normally don’t blog about cinema; unless I am really impressed (or extremely disappointed) with a specific movie. ‘Bal Gandharva’ clearly falls in the former category…hence this brief blog post.

This movie provides a great snapshot into the life of the legendary Marathi Theater artist and singer Narayan Shripad Rajhans (popularly known as ‘Bal Gandharva’).

[Do read this great speech by Pu La Deshpande (from 1988) describing the greatness of Bal Gandharva. I will quote a few of lines:  “महाराष्ट्राने तीन व्यक्तींवर जिवापाड प्रेम केलेलं आहे. ही महाराष्ट्राची सांस्कृतिक दैवतं आहेत असं म्हटलं तरी चालेल. पहिले म्हणजे छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज, दुसरे लोकमान्य बाळ गंगाधर टिळक आणि तिसरे बालगंधर्व.”

Roughly translates as: “Maharashtra has given undying love to three great individuals. These three can be referred to as the cultural/historical gods of Maharashtra. First one is Shivaji Maharaj, second Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and third Bal Gandharva.”]

Coming back to the movie, Subodh Bhave in the lead role of Bal Gandharva is terrific. The screen-play, the sets, the direction are all excellent. At times, the movie has a slight documentary like feel and the viewer is transported to Maharashtra in the early part of the 20th century – an era that represented the golden age of Marathi Theater. The movie is thoroughly entertaining and engrossing. Music is an integral part of the movie and Anand Bhate has does an amazing job of singing the original Bal Gandharva classics.

‘Bal Gandharva’ presents many of the key events and periods in the life of Bal Gandharva, in a balanced manner, often leaving the interpretation to the viewer. His early years with the Kirloskar Natak Company…His amazing potrayal of female roles… Setting up his own Gandharva Natak Mandali… Struggles with his personal family life… His constant desire to leave no stone unturned to create a grand production for the audience, at any cost… His utter mismanagement of finances and resulting huge debts… The waning years of his career when theater audiences started defecting to the new medium of cinema… and through all this, his total perseverance and steadfast devotion to his primary love – Theater.

From a historical perspective, this movie shows many important characters and events. Lokmanya Tilak listening to a young Narayan (aged 10) and referring him as ‘Bal Gandharva’ for the first time, Anant Kanhere shooting Collector Jackson at a theater in Nashik, Ram Ganesh Gadkari at his death bed, Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, Maharaja of Baroda, a young V Shantaram convincing Bal Gandharva to switch to this new medium called ‘Cinema’,…and many more. I personally like historical movies and Bal Gandharva scores really well in this area as well.

Do watch ‘Bal Gandharva’ if you are a fan of theater, history or music. The movie has English sub-titles.

I will close with this line (by Ga Di Madgulkar?): “”असा बालगंधर्व आता न होणे!”

American Sports & Business Jargon

Posted in Current Affairs, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on June 26, 2010

Sports jargon is an integral part of the American business language (especially so, in the Sales Department). For someone who is new to the American business world, terms like ‘Basic blocking and tackling’ or ‘Hail Mary’ may not make any sense. These terms are derived from American Football, Basketball and Baseball (there are few from Ice Hockey and other sports as well). Here is an attempt to explain some of these terms … Please do add more terms as well as better explanations! I will expand the blog post with the additions.

 Brett Favre’s recent ‘Hail Mary’ pass

Drop the ball” (Origin: Football). Meaning: Make a (often silly, and avoidable) mistake. Usage: “Please, don’t drop the ball on that one <important project> !”.

“Hit it out of the park” (Origin: Baseball). Meaning: Register a big win/success. Usage: That was a terrific sales quarter… he just hit it out of the park!”.

“Basic blocking and tackling” (Origin: Football). Meaning: Taking care of the basics in any engagement/project. Usage: “You need to focus on the basic blocking and tackling here for this project .. forget all the fancy and cool stuff! “.

“Full Court Press” (Origin: Basketball). Meaning: Well planned, steady, aggressive plan of action. Usage: “Let’s get a full court press on this one…”.

“Punt it away” (Origin: Football).  Meaning: Just push it out for now..avoid it. Usage: “Just punt that away. We are not going to get involved in that opportunity”.

“Just take a wild swing at it” (Origin: Baseball) Meaning: Just venture a wild guess/try at something. Usage: “I have no idea! Just take a wild swing at that one.. and see what happens”.

“Hail Mary” (Origin: Football) Meaning: Try a near impossible long-shot attempt at something. Usage: “That’s a real tough opportunity… Oh well, let’s just try a Hail Mary!”

“Double Play” (Origin Baseball) Meaning: Get two successes in one attempt.

“Home Run” (Origin: Baseball) Meaning: A big win/success.

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