Thursday, January 18, 2007

solapur, the ex-manchester of the east

last week i had some work at solapur,a town about 400 kms away from mumbai. i took the siddheshwari express which leaves cst at 10.35 pm aand reaches solapur at 7 am and left the same night by the same train reaching cst at 6 was a productive visit.the whole morining was spent in various discussions and there was some free time in the late afternoon and evening to take a look around this city which was vibrant many years ago.

i have passed by solapur many times on my way to madras as it is the first stop in the early hours of the morning of a night train.young and energetic boys welcomed you with a cup of garam chai.once referred to as the manchester of the east,i was not surprised when after leaving the railway station i could see so many chimneys in the distant horizon. a familiar sight of a textile town.solapur was well known for both powerlooms and handlooms.some of the big textile mills have closed down because of unviability.bad days seem to have fallen on this the same time there are some mills making value added products like terrytowels and exporting them. solapur chaddars and towels are still very popular in the country.

bidi industry is now a leading industry in solapur. there are 15 large and small industries and about 1 lac pople are involved in bidi rolling.the workers are mostly females.they work 14 to 16 hours per day and roll about 1000-1200 bidis and earn about rs 50 per day.there is a small amount of tobacco in the a result,bidi workers suffer from respiratory problems.and there have been cases of some workers suffering from cancer too. after passing of the anti-smoking legislation in 2003 the bidi industry also has been affected. recently one of the wellknown builders of solapur constructed 10,000 houses for bidi workers on 400 acres of land given by the government. prime minister manmohan singh inaugurated the township last june. the construction cost was subsidised by the state and central governments. the same builder is also engaged in building prefabricated houses for tsunami affected people at andaman & nicobar islands.

in the 1930s solapur made history by declaring independence from the british raj; it was shortlived. only for three days.the bold rebellion was put down with an iron fist.also solapur has the distinction of its civic body being the first one in india to hoist the national tricolour .otherwise a peaceful city, recently solapur was in the news for dalit violence.

in 1938 during the second sino-japanese war, dr dwarkanath kotnis,who hails from solapur, served in china selflessly as a member of the indian medical mission. he had studied medicine at the grant medical college. he had an attack of epilepsy and died in china. there is a wellread book written on him. "and one who did not return" by ka abbas and v shantaram produced "dr kotnis ki amar kahani", after reading abbas's book. though there is a memorial in his name in china and a hospital too, sadly there is no memorial of kotnis at solapur. known as 'pinyin' in china. his grave was covered completely in flowers during the last 'quingning' festival. the chinese observe this day to commemorate their ancestors. dr kotnis continues to live in chinese hearts.

located close to the andhra and karnataka borders, people of this city speak three languages.marathi,kannada and telugu.and they are clearly polarised.but generally they live redeeming feature for the solapurites is that sushil kumar shinde currently minister for power at the centre is from solapur.he has grown from very humble beginnings and was in the police service before he entered politics. his closeness to madame sg and being a dalit may help him to get the numero uno position in the country. he appears to be a favourite candidate for the post of the president of india, hopefully then, solapur will become a better and brighter place to live in. a memorial for dr kotnis, better roads,better sanitation,more industries and even revival of the textile industry. that could change solapur's face and fortunes. and make it a happening and vibrant city once again.

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