Mumbai Memoir 25 ‘Marutsakha’-Mumbai’s ‘flight’ before the ‘Wrights’!
Every city holds numerous untold stories, about its people and places which deserves world recognition. One such untold story unfolded in front of me, when I watched a recently released Bollywood film, named ‘Hawaizaada’. Personally, I liked the film and consider it to be a cinematic artwork that beautifully blends fact and fiction with a fairytale like treatment. Besides the theme of the film, I liked the feel of watching beautiful set designs and VFX used in the film to present the 19th century feel of Mumbai on screen.
The film is basically a biopic featuring the life of a Mumbai’kar named Shivkar Bapuji Talpade – the man who designed and flew an unmanned airplane in 1895! What was more surprising was to realize that Shivkar’s experimental flying machine took off in Mumbai (then known as Bombay), which was 8 years before the Wright Brothers took off their piloted aeroplane in the town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S.A! Here’s a link for the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjtN0IV_lJc
The film left an intriguing effect on my psyche to find out more about this unknown Mumbai’kar (citizen of Mumbai) and this work.
Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was born in 1864 at Mumbai and was employed as a technical instructor in the art and craft department of Sir J.J School of Art, Mumbai. With references drawn from an ancient Indian book on aeronautical science named ‘Vimana Shastra’, Talpade used mercury and solar energy to power his flying machine. Here’s a link to know more about ancient Indian Vedic references to modern aeronautical science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f802a66CFQo
After failing on numerous occasions, Shivkar’s effort bore fruit in the 1895, when in a public air show he demonstrated the flight of his flying machine, which he named as ‘Marutsakha’ (Sanskrit for ‘friend of the winds’). The airplane is believed to have flown at a height of 1500 meters above sea level but then crashed after sometime. That was the first ever flight of a miniature airplane that cut through the winds of Mumbai! Besides the common man, popular dignitaries like King Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda & Justice Ranade too witnessed the flight of Shivkar’s flying machine. Due to the plane’s indigenous manufacturing, ‘Kesri’, the nationalist newspaper started by Lokmanya Tilak reported about this event with proud sentiments. Shivkar further aspired to improvise on his design for better results, but due to monetary issues and lack of support from the then colonial government, his efforts was not acknowledged nor positively reinforced.
Inspite of being a Mumbai’kar myself, I wasn’t aware of this fact until I saw the film ‘Hawaizaada’. And I must say that the film, in a very entertaining manner, highlights Shivkar’s achievement to the masses.
As I left the cinema theatre, I wondered about the creative spirit of people like Shivkar, who toil in their respective areas of knowledge and bring glory to their birthplace. Inspite of limited funding and adverse conditions that prevailed during 19th century Mumbai, Shivkar dared to ‘fly high’! As I reflected further, I realized that ‘it is not how much you have in life, rather it is what you do with whatever little you have’ that makes a difference! Stories of such passionate people conveyed through popular media certainly will inspire the next generation. It is a fact that later in the 20th century, NASA commissioned a team to figure out the role of mercury and solar radiation in generating energy to aircrafts. This was already tested by Shivkar during the flight of ‘Marutsakha’, way back in the 19th century!
Every city world- wide, nurtures many unsung heroes who deserve due recognition. Against all odds inventors like Shivkar, strive to excel in their area of research under the cloud of anonymity. After watching the film I visited Juhu beach (same beach where Shivkar hosted a public air show of his flying machine in 1895). Admiring the beautiful sun set, as I strolled on the beach visualizing the ‘flight of Marutsakha’, Henry Ford’s quote kept flashing in my mind. Ford once quoted “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it”! In the case of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, an unsung hero of Mumbai, I feel the quote literally seems apt in context of his life!
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