Chintaman Datar.

Chintaman Datar.

3-6-27 — 7-4-2012 

CHINTAMAN Datar, known affectionately to Melbourne's Marathi community as "Madhukaka" (uncle Madhu) and to other expatriate Indians in Australia as "Datarji", has died in Brisbane. He was 84.

Madhukaka was born at Kurundwad, a small town on the banks of the Krishna River in Maharashtra state, into a Brahmin family who earned their living by performing various rituals for the local principality.

Madhukaka's father died when he was aged 7, which added to the family's hardship. The boy wanted to learn English, which caused friction with his eldest brother who wanted him to study only Sanskrit and Marathi and follow in his father's footsteps as a priest.

However, at age 14, Madhukaka moved to Kolkata with his sister and brother-in-law. There he completed high school and also studied Bengali. He later graduated in history and politics, and also found his life partner, Pramila Deshingkar (known as Akka), who had moved to Kolkata to work at the National Library. The couple married in 1952. After a stint in London as librarian at the Indian high commission between 1968 and 1972, Madhukaka arrived in Australia in October 1972. Akka and their children had arrived about three months earlier, and she had secured a job as the ''computer services librarian'' at Springvale Library - well before computers were part of daily life in Australia.

From the start the couple took the Indian community by storm. Until Madhukaka's arrival, Dr Martand Joshi had shouldered the burden as the only priest in Victoria for the entire Hindu community.

Madhukaka was employed as the chief cataloguer at the State Library of Victoria, and in addition to his temporal duties he plunged himself into community service as a purohit (community priest), free of charge.

Madhukaka also gave free tabla (Indian drum) lessons to many young people, and he and Akka attracted a group who sang Indian devotional songs known as bhajans. At the time, the Indian community was battling to make its presence felt, and the Marathi sub-section could be counted on one's fingers.

Through his connections in the State Library, Madhukaka managed to get an occasional segment on ABC radio and organised many educational programs about India, its music and Hinduism. He got involved in Oxfam's Walk Against Want and raised money over the years for this charity. He was also a regular member of several inter-faith groups in Melbourne, often invited to speak on aspects of Hinduism at such gatherings, and acted as a Hindu chaplain at several hospitals in Melbourne.

Neither he nor his wife possessed a car, and neither knew how to drive. But this never stopped him from doing his volunteer work and going to pujas (Hindu rituals) by public transport to places as far as Point Cook - a long way from his home in Springvale.

Their three children were brought up in this giving, cultural, educational and Hindu religious environment. However, despite their conservative background, Madhukaka and Akka were broad minded and supported their children when they chose inter-cultural marriages.

They were strict vegetarians and teetotallers, and their needs were minimal. During his time in Australia, Madhukaka conducted numerous rituals and sacraments for the Indian community. Every cent he got as dakshina (priest's honorarium) went to charities in Australia and abroad.

In his last days, Madhukaka kept uttering the name of the Lord (Hare Ram) until he was physically unable to speak.

Madhukaka's lasting legacy is his community work and his profound yet simple messages: there is a God, whether He/She is Christian, Muslim or Hindu. The only way to serve Him/Her is through helping others who are in need. He taught his community that greed is one's worst enemy: inner satisfaction is what matters, and people can live happily with hardly any possessions; one must learn to share what little one has.

Madhukaka is survived by his three children, seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Jayant Bapat is a Hindu priest. He followed in the footsteps of his guru, Madhukaka, for 32 years and performed the last rites at his funeral.