On Saturday, 1st February 1975, some Karyakars of Kalaniketan Shishukunj had gathered at Acharya Travel Agencies, Nairobi. They were discussing the final details of the proposed tour of the play “Amar Halaji” which had met with great success in its two presentations in Nairobi. Because of the Nairobi success, plans were at hand to stage the play in Kisumu, Kericho and Nakuru. It was past lunch time & in about 2 hours, Shishukunj’s greatly respected and loved Karyakars, Vallabhbhai and Devchandbhai, as well as the creators of “Amar Halaji” Dushyantbhai Thanki were leaving for these towns to finalise the details. Vallabhbhai was in a jovial mood, and just before dispersing, he remarked to the other Karyakars, “Take care of Shishukunj while we’re gone”. As if he knew what was coming, he even handed over the keys of the office” where he was the manager, to Mr. Acharya. At home, he had also told his wife, Pramilaben that now she had to take up the responsibility of both dad and mum to their third son, 3-month-old Satyen. That was the last day his family, and his “greater family” (Shishukunj) saw of him. The next day, 2nd February, he passed away in a car accident together with Devchandbhai and Dushyantbhai. He didn’t live to see his 40th birthday.
Vallabhbhai Patel (hereafter referred to as Vallabhbhai as he was affectionately called) was born on 27th June, 1935 to Somabhai and Sonaben. His place of birth was Veraval a small village on the outskirts of Navsari (Surat, India). At a very early age, Vallabhbhai was left in the care of his grandmother, who played a significant role in his development. His parents came over to settle in Kenya while Vallabhbhai spent his childhood days in Veraval. Valiben, his paternal grandmother, was a unique woman for her time and age. Her character and personality had a tremendous impact on Vallabhbhai Uptil his last day, Vallabhbhai always carried a photograph of her wherever he went. He dedicated his one publication, “Bhajan – Baal Manjri” (jointly with Devchandbhai) to his grandmother and in it he mentions that she had taught him the virtues of labour, honestly, love, empathy and fearlessness amongst others. His deep love and respect for her were such that his last words in the dedication were, “I sincerely wish that in my next life, I’ll be born of her”.
Vallabhbhai received most of his primary education in this village of beautiful greenery. As a child, he was given many opportunities to unfold his potential. Valiben made sure of this. Vallabhbhai grew up to be a great sportsman in every respect. In the meantime, his parents had settled down in Nairobi. Vallabhbhai was called over at the age of 13. Nairobi was quite a big change for him but Vallabhbhai was quick and eager to learn. He made Nairobi his “home” within a short time. Primary education was completed in what was then known as Government Road Primary School. For his secondary education, Vallabhbhai joined Technical High School, where he completed his Senior Cambridge in 1956.
Vallabhbhai was quite bright at academic studies as well. He cherished the desired to become a lawyer, but due to circumstances it never materialised. During his years at Technical High School, he came to know about Nairobi sevadal, a very well-known society at that time. Since Vallabhbhai had loved social activities from childhood, he became an active member of Sevadal. Here he came into contact with Shantibhai Raithatha and Vinodbhai Patel, who became close friends within a short time.
A distinct quality of Vallabhbhai was his revolutionary – mindedness. He always seemed to question rigidity, traditions and systems. He was more interested in the practicality of any idea or principle. Most of the people who knew Vallabhbhai since he was in his later teens were impressed by his self-discipline. He stood as a man of principles. Mahatma Gandhi had a marked impact in his early life. To Vallabhbhai, Gandhiji stood as the greatest symbol of “Experiments with Truth.” His revolutionary attitude came to the surface in early 1955 when together with Shantibhai and Vinodbhai, Vallabhbhai strongly felt that Nairobi Sevadal was not keeping up to its principles and its aims and objects. The three of them left the Society as a result, and went on to establish Kalaniketan on 12th February 1955. People like Kanubhai Mehta and Ratibhai Patel soon joined hands.
In the meantime, the pioneer of Shishukunj (children’s activities) to East Africa, Shri Indubhai Davey had come to Dar-es-salaam in early 1955. Within a short time, Shishukunj activities started over there. Later that year, Karyakars of Kalaniketan made a trip to Dar-es-salaam and got an opportunity to observe Shishukunj activities. Vallabhbhai was truly impressed. A new dimension developed in his ideas of social services. After a long thought he decided there could not be any nobler cause than children’s welfare. They are the citizens of tomorrow and our entire future. After a few months, children’s activities, under the name of “Phoolwadi” were introduced in Kalaniketan as a sub-activity. Kalaniketan was established basically to promote cultural and artistic activities. It was, as its name suggests, “an abode of the arts.” Now children’s activities were assimilated. This was done beautifully by Vallabhbhai and other dedicated members.
Navsari, his birthplace, seemed to be calling back Vallabhbhai Therefore in 1956 he took a holiday. He stayed there for nearly one year. During this time, besides enjoying the companionship of grandparents, Vallabhbhai was involved in various projects. He seemed to be a born leader. Gathering some of his childhood friends and other youngsters of the town, he formed “Yuvak Mandal.” The purpose was to promote cultural and sporting activities for the youngsters of the village. While Vallabhbhai was there, the “Yuvak Mandal” performed a variety cultural stage program. The guest at this function was Shri Morarji Desai, former Prime Minister of India, who gave a special medal for his outstanding work. With Vallabhbhai’s inspiration “Yuvak Mandal” also started fighting for removal of class and caste differences.
After coming back to Nairobi, Vallabhbhai started work with the Kenya Police. He continued here till 1959 when he was offered employment with East African Airways. Vallabhbhai remained with E.A.A. for about 12 years and was promoted up to the position of Chief Revenue Officer.
Kalaniketan Shishukunj experienced various phases initiated by Vallabhbhai He made Shishukunj the principle activity of Kalaniketan. Vallabhbhai introduced lots of new activities and gradually prepared a very strong team of dedicated Karyakars. He left no efforts to bring Shishukunj centres in other towns and cities closer. He was determined to establish regular gatherings and meetings of Karyakars from all over. At that time, Dar-es-salaam and Tanga had similar activities. Vallabhbhai maintained close touch with Shri Indubhai Davey and Shri Rameshbhai Parekh. He developed tremendous respect for them. By the late 1950’s Devchandbhai had joined the Institution. He became a valuable asset and a personal co-worker of Vallabhbhai. The Institution went through a lot of ups and down during the late 50’s and early 60’s. Fortunately, both Vallabhbhai’s and Devchandbhai’s commitment to the Institution was too great. Gradually, they managed to regain the Institution’s respect it might have otherwise lost.
Vallabhbhai got married at the age of 26. Till then he used to put off the idea when family members and relatives brought it up. The Institution received his first priority. He went over to India and got married to Pramilaben on 12th May 1962. Vallabhbhai was personally very satisfied with his marriage. Pramilaben followed him to Nairobi later that same year. After marriage his role and participation in the Institution did not change. On the other hand it became more committed. Pramilaben became a wonderful co-worker and contributed to the Institution in every way possible. Kalaniketan Shishukunj records show that she was also taken in the committee at one time. Vallabhbhai leaves behind 3 sons – Pankaj, Sharad and Satyen.
It is amazing how much work Vallabh Bhai used to do. He can be regarded as an ideal example of “a Jack of all”. A volume could be written about his abilities and achievements. In a nutshell, he was an intellectual, family man, society man, sportsman, writer, child psychologist, organiser of activities, and leader in every aspect, musician, a life-long “Student” and above all, a very humble and loving human being. The personalities that had a great impact oh his life-style and thinking are Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Gijubhai Bhadheka and Dr. Maria Montessori. And he possessed a powerful tool – the Bhagavada Gita. Like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai wanted his life to be an experiment with truth. Secondly he was determined to make his life on open book. Anybody could read it anywhere anyhow and in anyway. Swami Vivekananda was Vallabhbhai’s idol. Vallabhbhai was fascinated by this man’s energy and his courage of steel. Since Vallabhbhai had vowed to dedicate his life for children’s welfare, both Gijubhai Bhadheka and Dr. Maria Montessori won his heart. Dr. Montessori was an Italian woman who created a revolution in the 19th Century, as regards man’s outlook towards children. Gijubhai is famous for his contribution to children’s welfare in India. Above all, Vallabhbhai had made Bhagavada Gita his spiritual guide. For years he had taken up reading of the Gita every day. His guide line for living was the second chapter verse: “But thou hast only the right to work, but none to the fruit there of. Let not then the fruit of the action be the motive; nor yet be thou enamored of inaction. “Here it is interesting to note that Vallabhbhai did his best to dissolve his ego as much as possible. The last thing he was concerned or wanted was publicity. When writing his name he used to put down “V. Somabhai Patel” He had actually stopped writing his own name lest it would inflate his ego even in the smallest way.
The 1960’s saw Vallabhbhai working towards establishing an international spirit of Shishukunj. His dream was to see Shishukunj members throughout the world becoming members of a large international family. Today it is a reality to a great extent. Mombasa Shishukunj was established in 1965. On the other side, Kisumu Shishukunj came into existence. This was a wonderful development. Vallabhbhai maintained regular contact with Karyakars of these Shishukunj. A few camps and seminars were kept with the intention of gathering under one roof members of the various Shishukunj. Vallabh Bhai was an effective organizer and in time he became the convener of the East Africa Shishukunj activities. A publication by the name of “Setubandh” was started with Vallabhbhai as editor-in-chief.
By late 1960 Kalaniketan Shishukunj had 4 centres in Nairobi under Vallabhbhai’s guidance, the members participated in various colourful activities. Four-day camps were organized more regularly and members staged variety cultural programmes annually. “Bal Kala Darshan” stage programmes used to be taken to various East African Towns.
Vallabhbhai introduced Wednesday evening meetings for Karyakars and Senior members. His idea was that the Karyakars must be given regular food-for-thought so that they would be better equipped to handle the Children’s activities. He used to bring along various personalities to deliver talks at these meetings. Whenever he felt the necessity Vallabhbhai organized training sessions for the Karyakars. During his years as organizer of children’s activities he handed over volumes of study material to his fellow workers. He loved writing, and was very good at it. Diary-writing was a regular habit of his. He had numerous files of correspondence as well. He also became an East African correspondent for a well-known newspaper of India “Janmabhoomi Pravasi”.
Shishukunj had a noble cause – that of children’s welfare and their character building. Children who became members benefited from the activities. Vallabh Bhai knew this was not enough. There were hundreds of other people in genuine need about whom we might never come to know. Therefore B.S. thought turned into a sub-activity. “Sevaniketan”. This looked into matters of domestic nature – ration aid, accommodation/rental for poor families, and school fees for children. In 1968, Vallabhbhai with Devchandbhai and other Karyakars, took up a fight for injustice against the existing British Governmental System. The British had introduced quota voucher system to restrict the number of “coloured” people (holding British passports) from entering Britain. Since these people were out of jobs for a long time, they were helped by Sevaniketan financially.
Up till 1971, the institution had its registered office and activities centre at Patel Brotherhood premises. This was sold and therefore Shishukunj had to move somewhere else. Vallabhbhai and other senior Karyakars thought about buying the Institution’s own place. This became possible in early 1972 with efforts of Vallabhbhai Devchandbhai and our past Chairman, Keshavlal Sumaria. A small and very old residential house became the Institution’s headquarters. It is the same plot on which our New Building stands today.
“Amar Halaji” was the last endeavor Vallabhbhai personally participated in. This was a play produced by the Institution and directed by Dushyantbhai Thanki, in January, 1975. This play was very successful, and would have been staged in various other towns, hadn’t it been for the unfortunate car incident of Vallabhbhai Devchandbhai and Dushyantbhai. The three of them passed away on 2nd February, 1975.
The name of Vallabhbhai has been carved deep in the hearts of hundreds.