NARENDRA DABHOLKAR was in a chatty mood on the evening of 18 August 2013. The 67-year-old rationalist had delivered a lecture against superstition in the town of Rahimatpur, in Maharashtra’s Satara district, and was returning in a car to his home in Satara city, about a half-hour drive away. On the way, Dabholkar held forth on “the benefits of a healthy diet, regular exercise and time management, to help one live longer,” recounted Shivaji Raut, an old friend and right-to-information campaigner, who was with him on the journey.
Though he arrived home quite late, Dabholkar rose early the next morning to catch a 6 am bus to Pune. He generally spent the first two days of each week in the city, where he oversaw the work of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Maharashtra Blind Faith Eradication Committee), also known by the acronym MANS, an organisation he founded in 1989. While in Pune, Dabholkar would also wrap up work on the latest issue of Sadhana, a 68-year-old weekly that he had edited for 15 years.
Dabholkar reached Pune at around half past nine, but before he could attend to his work, he was called away to Mumbai “at short notice to participate in a television debate on caste panchayats,” Vinod Shirsath, a Pune-based journalist who was then Sadhana’s executive editor, told me. By the time Dabholkar returned, it was past midnight, and he retired to a flat that belonged to the trust that ran Sadhana. He had called a press conference the following day, at which he was to speak about the need to use eco-friendly idols, instead of plaster ones, for immersion in ponds, lakes and rivers during the upcoming Ganpati festival.