The 82 year journey of a dedicated Pracharak Suresh Ramchandra Ketkar came to an end on July 16 at 7.45am that also ended his struggle with the prolonged illness of five years
Dr Ashok Kukade
He was a RSS swayamsevak from childhood therefore he not only had the profound understanding of Sangh work and thinking but his whole personality was shaped by it. I was fortunate enough to get his close association for almost 60 years. In 1953-54, when Sureshraoji was in-charge of Bal Shakhas in Pune, I was also incharge of a shakha. This association remained intact till his last breath.
From early age itself, he was particular about the physical exercise and his physique was a role model for many. He used to play excellent drum, so made an important contribution in Ghosh Vadan (RSS band). In 1956-57, when a pictorial book on Surya Namaskar was to be made, the then RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Guruji selected Sureshrao along with Bapu Ghatpande and Jayant Kawathekar.
After completing his BSc BEd, Sureshrao accepted a teacher’s job at Alegaonkar School at Khadki near Pune and soon he became popular among students and the management. So when he decided to quit the job and work as a full timer of RSS in 1958, all of them allowed him to do so with pain and grief. In his initial years as a Pracharak, he worked at Sangli, Solapur, Dharashiv and Beed districts at the grassroot level.
My association with Sureshraoji was strengthened with my decision to work in backward area of Latur as a medical practitioner. In fact, he facilitated this decision along with my friends. That is why his association with Vivekananda Hospital was like that of a family member.
After 1972-73, his horizons started widening, firstly at the State and then at the national level. Starting as Sharirik Pramukh of Maharashtra, then the same responsibility at the national level and finally joint General Secretary of RSS, for 30 years he shaped the lives of innumerable workers. While living the life of hardship, discipline and continuous travelling for the Sangh work, he maintained the natural and soft interpersonal relations. One could experience his two personalities, one of a Sharirik Pramukh who is particular about discipline, uniform and attentive participation in all the activities and the other of an understanding, caring and always ready to help kind of guardian. That is why he could be a role model for many.
After fulfilling his role as a Joint General Secretary, he was Akhil Bharatiya Pracharak Pramukh for some years. In this period, he travelled throughout the country and maintained personal rapport with around 4,000 pracharaks working for the RSS in different fields. He trained many Pracharaks to understand basic concepts of organisation building and articulating on various subjects in smaller groups. His ability to articulate on any subject with indepth study was like that of an ideal teacher. He was also a patron for mass organisations like Sanskar Bharati, Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. He provided insights to the leadership of these organisations with practical but profound thinking.
Sureshraoji cherished a special relationship with Vivekananda Hospital and Bharatiya Shikshan Prasarak Sanstha of Devgiri region of Maharashtra. He himself had made significant contribution in the creation and development of these institutions. Even though after 1990s, his place of work was at Lucknow and Varanasi, his close association with these two institutions remained the same. While his annual health check-up used to take place at Vivekananda Hospital, he enquired about the progress of the hospital with personal touch. Therefore, spending last five years of his life in this hospital and taking his last breath there has a special significance.
There are many incidences during these 60 years that can be recalled but one is still vivid in mind. When Sureshraoji was a pracharak in Latur region, the conditions of road was very bad and other ways of commuting was almost non-existent. There was one Barshi light train available which used to run at around 15 miles per hour that also with very unpredictable schedule. Once I was returning from Dharashiv after a Guru Purnima programme at night. The train got derailed around 6 am. To attent the patients, I had to be there at the hospital in Latur, which was 20 kms away. I decided to walk down to the nearby road and fortunately got a lift in a truck. After travelling 2-3 kms toward Latur, I could see a person walking in a dhoti and a typical cloth bag. With his speed, I could make out that he was Sureshraoji. The truck driver refused to stop. This was very embarrassing for me. After reaching Latur, I immediately went back on a scooter. By then Sureshraoji had already covered the distance of 8 kms. This reminded me of similar incident in the life of Dr Hedgewar.
He used to take part in regular meetings of Vivekananda Hospital. In one such meeting he gave a new meaning to the name Vivekananda. His narration was that it means Vivek (ability to think good over evil), Veg (working with speed) and Karya (persistent work), these words of his still inspire all the constituents of the hospital. He was also instrumental in getting prominent personalities like Rajju Bhaiyya and Pandit Ram Narayan Shastri to visit the hospital on important occasions.
He was always available to guide us in critical situations. At the same time, I have experienced the kind of respect and affection he received from the Karyakartas in Uttar Pradesh. That is why the first condolence meeting after his departure took place at Lucknow.
RSS thinking and work was so deeply rooted in his life that even during his incapacitated stage, he delivered a speech for about 15 minutes in the annual meeting of the hospital. One of his attendants told that even in the night while being in deep sleep, he used to speak on important national issues for 15-20 minutes. Though he was facing the problem of memory loss, he still enquired about his old associates and gave minute references.
People like his are the strength of RSS work. That is why this organisation and the thought process it stands for has influenced the all walks of life.
(The writer is an eminent surgeon and founder of Vivekananda Hospital)