Balaghat is a small township, 205 kms away from Nagpur, in Madhya Pradesh. Every year, on the 25th of October, the Municipal Corporation of Balaghat and the Mullan Trust celebrates the birth anniversary of Diwan Bahadur Manekji Mervanji Mullan. In 2019, Vijay Verma of the Mullan Trust contacted Shiraz Doongaji and extended an invitation to the Parsis of Nagpur to partake of the celebrations in honour his memory. Four Parsis attended the celebration at Balaghat. Enthused with his experience, this has become a yearly pilgrimage for Shiraz, who has been urging the Nagpur Parsi community to attend.
The Nagpur Parsis are 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. So, in 2021, I joined Shiraz and went to Balaghat to commemorate the birth anniversary. What started as a piqued interest turned out to be a revelation which left me amazed and proud by the end of day. This year, again through Shiraz’s enthusiasm and efforts, a record contingent of 12 people went to Balaghat to honour D B M.M. Mullan.
Vijay Verma and the team of dedicated citizens of Mullan Trust lay out the red carpet to welcome any visiting Parsi, honouring you as a as a family member of Manekji Mullan all through, with a packed schedule comprising activities honouring this great, generous philanthropist. We start with a visit to a small but well-kept cemetery where M.M. Mullan rests. His grave is most elaborate and decorated with flowers on the day. On the grave is inscribed, ‘The Beloved Daddy of Balaghat’. On inquiring about this peculiar 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! The Kadam Sanstha of Balaghat have beautified the cemetery with flowering shrubs and trees. Every year, guests plant trees in his honour. A compound wall was built to protect the property.
Next stop is the Town Square, where after garlanding his bust, everyone heads to his old but spruced up bungalow besides the Polytechnic College, which has been renamed: MM Mullan Polytechnic. There are plans to convert the bungalow to the MM Mullan Museum, showcasing his life. One room has been converted to a library-cum-computer room.
So, who exactly was this enigmatic man, the ‘Daddy of Balaghat’, whose memory is honoured with so much reverence and enthusiasm, even after more than a century and a half? Born in Bombay, Manekji Meherwanji Mullan OBE (1868 – 1957), completed his education at Nagpur’s Morris College, where he studied law. His practice took him to Balaghat. He earned a name for himself, having successfully fought and won a case for a prominent Zamindar of Balaghat – Chandanlal Bhau, in the privy council of London. He was gifted a village and land by the grateful Zamindar and was urged to settle in Balaghat to continue his practice. He held many important posts and was associated with Educational, Medical, Co-operative and Village upliftment work.
For his selfless public service, he was honoured with the title – OBE. Consequently, during the World War II, he was conferred the titles – ‘Khan Bahadur’ and ‘Diwan Bahadur’ for his assistance to the British Government. A visionary and philanthropist, he donated liberally to educational institutes, including Nagpur University and the LAD Women’s College as also to Nagpur Parsi Punchayat. Upon his death in 1957, he bequeathed Rs.3.70 lakhs to NPP for educational and medical help for needy Parsis. A two-storey building in Tata Baug has been named after him.
His munificence was well known in Balaghat where he spent most of his life. His empathy for the tribals and the common people saw him contribute large heartedly for their upliftment and well-being. He bequeathed his bungalow, property and all his wealth 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, was established Balaghat Water Works, which supplies pure, running water to the town. Pumped water in taps was his first gift to the citizens of Balaghat. He also gifted a Polytechnic College imparting engineering and vocational courses, which continues to benefit its students and has been named after him. A Stadium and Sports complex were erected for development and encouragement of sporting activity amongst the youth. Sports and Educational Scholarships are awarded to the needy and the talented. In short, he has made a huge difference to the lives of the entire population of Balaghat!
After thanking the organizers for their yearly invitation, Shiraz lauded the splendid work done by the Trustees of Mullan Trust, 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 highlights their reverence for their donor.
A visit to Balaghat on this day is memorable. It fills us with pride and humility – pride in the achievements and largesse of our forefathers, and humility that we are bestowed this singular honour, due to the good deeds done by a legendary ancestor. We hope the baton is passed down to the coming generations, so that they would comprehend and appreciate what we have experienced when we visit Balaghat, to join a grateful town pay their homage to a great philanthropist and visionary.