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Remembering Gopal Hattiangdi

On April 10, 1966, I first walked up Laburnum Road to Indra Kunj for a meeting with Dr. Gopal Hattiangdi.  During the previous several months I had begun my research project on the history of the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahman community toward completion of my PhD degree at the University of Minnesota.  Until then I had studied in libraries and archives and at the KSA office in Talmakiwadi. A Bhanap gentleman (whose name I cannot recall) suggested to me that I should contact Dr. Hattiangdi who had just published Fifty Years of Bliss, celebrating the golden anniversary of P. P. Anandashram Swamiji.  That afternoon I turned in at number 2, past the Indian Spiritual Center (with its “ego stand”) and ascended to the first floor.  I was welcomed into a lovely hall and was warmly welcomed by Gopalmam and his life partner, Malupachi. It was the beginning of what was to be a life-long friendship.

Because of Gopal’s volunteer work for Shri Chitrapur Math, and the research required for preparing Fifty Years of Bliss, he had assembled a substantial collection of documents and publications.  For the next year, and again in 1971, Gopal shared these treasures, kept safely in a large almirah.

The Hattiangdi household tolerated my repeated visits for note-taking and discussions. In those days I was staying as a paying guest on Gowalia Tank Road, but Indra Kunj seemed practically a second home. It was there where I first had an opportunity to meet and converse with H. H. Parijnanashram Swamiji.

Like his father H. Shankar Rao before him, Gopal stepped back from his professional career to work on behalf of the Math and the Swamiji.  It was through his good offices, along with Ramarao Philar in Bangalore, that I had the privilege of a memorable audience with H. H. Anandashram Swamiji in 1966.  In the evolving quest of his life, Gopal embraced the scientific and the practical while increasingly moving toward the divine.  His many publications, commencing in technical scientific subjects, shifted to history and then to the philosophical and spiritual.

In his later years he dedicated himself to a translation of the Rg Veda. However, he was so disheartened when he encountered a publication of that text as translated by a foreign scholar; he consigned his draft to the Arabian Sea. I used to joke with him that he had always been a humble servant of higher causes, but that sometimes it seemed he could be a bit proud of his humility.

If Gopal had heroes in his life, I would suggest they were three: his father, H. Shankar Rao from whom he inherited a tradition of intellect and discipline; Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he had met on his flight to study in America, and who had told him that his scientific education was important to building a new India; and, H. H. Anandashram Swamiji to whom he offered love and devotion. 

These few words are an inadequate token of my deep and abiding respect and friendship for Gopal Hattiangdi. His was a life truly well lived, fulfilling his obligations to his family and friends, his community and his guru.

Frank F. Conlon
Professor Emeritus
University of Washington
Seattle, WA, USA
December 2021

Dr. Frank F. Conlon (aka Conlonmam) is Professor Emeritus of History, South Asian Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, Seattle where he taught 1968 to 2001. Dr. Conlon’s research included studies on caste, religious leadership, urban history and the restaurants of Bombay. He served as Chairman of the American Institute of Indian Studies and served three terms as Director of the South Asia Center of the University of Washington.  He is founder and co-editor of the international discussion network for Asian studies, H-ASIA, and is Managing Director of the on-line Bibliography of Asian Studies published by the Association of Asian Studies.

Dr Conlon is well known as author of a seminal book on the Chitrapur Saraswat Community: A Caste in a Changing World: The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans 1700-1935 (University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London 1977)

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