“Amar Halaji” the play, produced by Kalaniketan Shishukunj had two very successful shows in Nairobi on 24/25 January, 1975. In the same week Karyakars and senior members gathered at the Institution’s premises on Chemilil Road for a farewell party. The Chairman, Keshavlal Sumaria, was leaving for Britain. He had served the Institution for a long time. Devchandbhai Shah, who had worked tirelessly as the Secretary for many years, and who had recently been elected Vice-Chairman, stood up to address the gathering. In his speech he outlined the contribution of the going Chairman and appreciated it. He said that Keshavlal’s going away was bound to be a great loss. “But then,” he said, “there must be people to take over. The Institution and its activities must go on. Today Keshubhai is leaving us. Next week, be prepared to bid farewell to two senior Karyakars.” He was referring to Amratbhai Kanjaria and Prakashbhai Dayal who made plans to settle abroad. The Institution did lose two senior Karyakars the following week but they were not the above-mentioned people. The loss was permanent – Devchandbhai and Vallahbhai had passed away on 2nd February, 1975.
Here was a man who was full of life and vigour. He had become the greatest asset to his family circle, and very precious to Kalaniketan Shishukunj. And then to see him pass away at such a young age was not easily acceptable. This beloved man was born on 6th August, 1942 to Mr. Shamjibhai Virji Shah and Mrs. Paniben Shamji Shah. He was born in Nairobi and his childhood was spent while they were living in a small flat in the city centre. Devchand Bhai was the only son in the family. He had three sisters, Shantaben who was the eldest, and Kanchanben and Shushilaben who were younger to him. Though the family was not really well-to-do at that time, Devchand Bhai recalls that he had a very pleasant childhood. His mother meant a lot to him. Unfortunately she did not live long enough to see Devchand Bhai grow into a fine young man.
His primary education was completed in the famous school then in existence, “Bal Mandir”. He joined Eastleigh Secondary School for his secondary education. Devchand Bhai was born in hardship and this in turn made him appreciate hard work from early childhood. He was determined to make the best use of his formal education. But, as we know, when man proposes, God disposes. Devchand Bhai’s family underwent a grave and tragic incident which left a marked impression on all, especially on him. While he was in Form 2, his mother committed suicide. She had become over-emotional when domestic problems, and mainly financial problems hit the family. She could not take it any longer. This was too much of a psychological shock to his father, Shamjibhai. However, for some time he took up the role of both the father and mother to the children. The financial state of affairs were not at all good and therefore his father also did the cooking and house work. Devchand Bhai had shown a lot of responsibility since early childhood and, therefore, this family sight, became too much for him to bear.
With a short time, Devchand Bhai left his secondary education half-way, since the family could not meet ends. He started working as a salesman for Kenya Clothing Company. After work, he attended to the family and the housework. He had to take great care of his father who was gradually breaking down, both physically and mentally. The sudden death of his wife had affected him permanently. He started losing his memory and mental balance. During this period, Devchand Bhai’s services to his father became exceptional. He performed an admirable duty of a son for his father. There would not be much exaggeration in calling him the contemporary “Shravan.” In the late 60’s and early 70’s his father had literally become an infant. Devchand Bhai used to bathe, cloth and feed him. His father died peacefully much after Devchand Bhai had passed away.
Devchand Bhai was introduced to Kalaniketan Shishukunj in the late 50’s, he became very much attracted to the Institution’s outlook and the various activities. Though he was passing through difficult times at home, he made up his mind to become as much a regular member as possible. Here in the Institution he met Vallabhbhai and Rameshbhai Parekh. Rameshbhai was his ex-classmate. A strong relation developed among the three. In the meantime, Devchand Bhai got engaged to Jayaben. Marriage came along quite early from Devchand Bhai – he was hardly 19 then.
Jayaben seemed to have brought along some good fortune for Devchand Bhai and his family. Firstly, he got a better job with the Netherland Bank in Nairobi City. He continued working for the Bank throughout his remaining life. Honesty and hard work were deep in him and this took him up to the promotion of a broker. He became well respected in the business as well as the social circles. Devchand Bhai regarded his work and the Bank as his personal temple of worship. His work was an opportunity for him to serve the Community.
One the other side, Institution’s Karyakars had seen a mindful of potential in Devchand Bhai. Within a short time he became a very popular Karyakar. He loved children greatly and he became their “hero” Devchand Bhai’s oratorical ability was exceptional. He always felt at home in front of large audiences. No other Karyakar could move the children as he did with his stories. Children would clap excitedly and cheer wildly when they would hear that the next item in their “Bal Sabha” was Devchandbhai’s story. He became the honorary secretary and served the longest number of years. With him around, Shishukunj gathered new heights. Donations, to meet the running expenses of the Institution, became lesser of a problem with Devchand Bhai around.
The bond of friendship between Devchand Bhai and Vallabhbhai became much stronger. Devchand Bhai was greatly impresses by Vallabhbhai’s approach towards life and his social commitment. Vallabhbhai soon became his best friend as well as his “guru” in many respects. Both of them could not do without meeting each other at least once a day. He became the Assistant Organiser of the Children’s activities. He was a strict disciplinarian, and made Karyakars take their duties as well as responsibilities very seriously. Like Vallabhbhai, Gandhiji had a special place in Devchand Bhai’s life. He constantly read books by and on Gandhiji; the knowledge was then passed on to the other members. In the late 60’s he took up the narration of the famous Epic, “Ramayana”, in his “Baudhik” sessions. The Ramayana was deeply engraved in the minds of the children due to Devchand Bhai’s unique abilities of presenting it. Devchand Bhai was also a fantastic cook, and members were able to taste his cooking during the various camps where he took up the charge of the kitchen. His stage acting abilities were exceptional as well. Some of the Institution’s stage presentations are witness to this.
Devchand Bhai’s commitment to the Institution had been helped further by his wife, Jayaben. She had also become his co-worker. They had a very happy marriage. God had blessed them with 3 children: Kiran Kumar, Kala, and Pallavi. Today the family is well settled in Britain.
By 1970, lots of the Institution’s Karyakars had gone to settle over in Britain. For the past decade Devchand Bhai had been working hand-in-hand with Vallabhbhai to turn the dream of “Shishukunj Internationalism” into reality. Since a large number of our people had settled in Britain, Vallabhbhai and Devchand Bhai were looking into possibility of initiating some activities there. In 1973, Devchand Bhai made a trip over there to see exactly how things were and what the possibilities of establishing a Shishukunj were. He spent a lot of his personal money and time to contact various Karyakars who were scattered. With the help of Rameshbhai Acharya and Champakbhai Chapanery, who were in Leicester, he managed to bring over 50 Karyakars under one roof. At that time, Leicester Shishukunj was founded. It was a proud moment for the members of the Institution. This centre is still operational in the Sanatan Dharma Mandir. After the establishment of Leicester Shishukunj Karyakars living in London started working on establishing centres in their city. Today Sarvodaya Shishunkunj has two active centres, one in Harrow and the other in Turnpike Lane.
It was Devchand Bhai’s idea to prepare the Institution’s members for a stage play in collaboration with Shri Dushyantbhai Thanki. This play was staged in January, 1975. Devchand Bhai had contributed his share in this last venture. He died while returning from the Institution’s mission. The bond of friendship between him and Vallabhbhai was so strong that even death could not break it. Both of them and Dushyantbhai Thanki were out to promote “Amar Halaji” but in the process became “Amar Veer”.