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  The Legacy of Baba Amte

For a man who once speeded in fancy cars, wrote film reviews for The Picture Goer, corresponded with Hollywood icons like Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer, Baba Amte has come a long, long way since that rainy night in Warora. The sight of Tulshiram, a maggot-eaten leper, changed his life forever.

Baba's legacy has lived on through the tireless work of his two amazing sons and their wives, who in their own ways have contributed significantly to furthering Baba's vision. Dr. Vikas Amte runs Maharogi Sewa Samiti and coordinates operations between Anandwan and satellite projects; his wife Dr. Bharati Amte runsa hospital at Anandwan and his brother Dr. Prakash Amte and his wife Dr. Manda Amte run the school and hospital at Hemalkasa. Due to his health, Baba has returned from the Narmada valley to his home in Anandwan but he continues to serve as a source of inspiration to others in the anti-big dam movement, not only in the Narmada valley, but also around the world.

Many books have been written about Baba, films made about his activism, and accolades and awards bestowed on him. His steadfast support for the disadvantaged people and his commitment to social justice has defined his work for more than five decades. Now 89 years old, Baba's public events are limited by physical constraints. But his mind, always abreast of current events, is always thinking of new ideas for creating change in the world.

Muralidhar Devidas Amte was born at Hinganghat in Central India, on the 26th of December, 1914. As the eldest son of a wealthy Brahmin landowner, Muralidhar was protected from any material deprivation. His enormous energy was happily absorbed in an idyllic childhood with long hours of play, pranks and wrestling with other boys.

The streets of Nagpur were aglow with the excitement of Diwali. The young boy ran towards the market, clutching a handful of coins his mother had given him. Stuffed full of sweets, feeling that life was just grand, he rushed along, all set to buy whatever he pleased. But suddenly he came to a dead halt. Before him was a blind beggar crouched on the edge of the unpaved road, holding up a rusty cigarette tin as a begging bowl. Removing the handful of coins from his pocket, the boy impetuously unloaded all of them into the tin. Sensing childish mischief the man appealed: "I am only a beggar, young sir. Don't put stones into my bowl".

"These are not stones but coins. Count them if you wish," the little boy urged. His heart turning over, he watched the man count and recount the coins in sheer overjoyed disbelief. The boy was struck dumb by a sadness that he had never otherwise felt. How could such misery and pain exist in his bright, happy world? He ran back home in tears. The incident left a deep imprint on young Muralidhar's mind and made him been more recalcitrant and defiant of the social mores of this immediate environment.

Early childhood, the boy had been a puzzle to his father, a stern and distant man and dutiful government official. For Muralidhar was congenitally and consistently irreverent. At 14, he had already slipped away from home to learn hunting from the Madia Gond tribes, deep in the wilderness of Gadchiroli. Muralidhar's father disapproved of his over-boisterous, uninhibited son's unbecoming behavior. "To me the ideas and conduct of my father and his class seemed rigid and unfair", recalls Baba. He rebelled against restrictions that prevented him from playing with low caste servants' children. Even when he was too young to question whether they were indeed lesser people, he protested against how they were treated. He would defiantly go off to eat with them and later willingly take the punishment. he wanted to become a doctor, Muralidhar lost a major battle with his father, who wanted him to look after the 600 acre family estate. Taking a law degree in 1936, he enjoyed the privileges and carefree life of a wealthy young man. The young lawyer "took to fancy pin-striped suits and fast cars, drinking beer and smoking". He built up a lucrative practice as an advocate in Warora. On weekends he looked into the affairs of the family estate. There was still time for horse riding, hunting and games of bridge or tennis at the local club.

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