He is a multi-faceted person who can inspire others with his social work, prolific writing and above all his humility. Dr. Anil Avchat despite being a doctor, surprises whosoever meets him by unwinding the facets of his life. If you do not know him then it can lead to injecting a kind of inferiority with a sense of introspection which may make you ask, “Have I contributed to the society around me in any way?”
Avchat had an enriched childhood at a small village Otur in Junnar taluka of Pune district. His father was a successful doctor. The Avchats belonged to the upper caste, orthodox family. Though the caste system was prevalent in the village, the children had no restrictions which exposed Avchat to customs and rituals of various castes and traditions.
He came to Pune and completed his standard XI and pre–degree from Modern College and Fergusson College respectively. Later, he joined BJ Medical College.
“My BJ Medical days have made me what I am today. After my first year at the college, I participated in almost all the activities. I met my wife Sunanda (who later became Anita Avchat) at the college,” he said. Avchat always swam against the tide. When youngsters used to dream of becoming a successful doctor and earn a name, fame and money, he chose social work. Avchat and his wife decided to send both their daughters to a Pune Municipal Corporation school in Yerawada when his wife, a psychiatrist, was working with the Yerawada Mental Hospital.
He says, “The death of poor people for want of money always made me restless.”
He recalled that as a young doctor he saw many such cases at Sassoon Hospital and also realised what poverty actually meant. He was moved by the extreme poverty when he visited Bihar during his college days with friends like Kumar Saptarshi through their youth organisation.
He worked at a special dispensary for coolies started by Hamal Panchayat in a small room in Baba Adhav's house. Three years later he left medical practice and his wife took up the responsibility of the dispensary. He devoted his time to writing which also started through the social boycott of certain community in Bavada village in Akluj in the 1970s.
Avchat visited the village and wrote an article highlighting the problem threadbare. It gave him confidence and he had discovered a writer within him. He went on to become the editor of the Marathi weekly Sadhana, which was started by Sane Guruji. This provided him with the opportunity to travel and write on various issues.
Recently, instead of writing on people and problems they face, he has concentrated on consumerist society, culture and neglect of millions by highlighting the so–called development of a chosen few.
Life and times
Muktangan Deaddiction Centre's founder Anil Avchat was not a studious student during his BJ Medical College days. “In my college days, I was a mischievous student and was always involved in extra–curricular activities. I used to hold exhibitions of paintings and rangoli and did everything but studies,” he says. Avchat's wife Sunanda (who later became Anita) was among the toppers in the class while Avchat said he figured at the bottom of the list. Yet, they got married. Avchat schooled in his village at Otur some 100 km from Pune. He recalls, “There was no electricity, no radio and no library in those days. In schools, I never learnt any poems by heart nor could I remember the maths tables. I would often go to the temple on the hill in the village and sit at the window and observe passers–by for hours.”
Passion for origami
Avchat is fond of origami, the Japanese art that creates an object by folding one paper in geometric folds without the use of glue or cutting the paper.
Avchat has the unique skill of easily folding a paper while chatting with people and shaping a crane that often brings pleasure to the visitor. He says rope or small magic tricks could be used effectively to convey the importance of deaddiction. “I know several such things which I use effectively for deaddiction,” says Avchat.
Avchat can paint, draw caricatures, do origami, sculpt and play the flute. Whenever he is on the dais as a chief guest, organisers are amazed to find him either drawing a caricature of one of the audience in the front row or busy folding a paper.
As a young activist, during a famine, Anil Avchat had visited Bihar. He and his friends worked as waiters in Hotel Poonam and polished shoes to collect money there. “We distributed food in Bihar and used to sleep at the temporary camp. One morning, we found an old lady lying dead outside our accommodation,” he recalls.
They came to know that she had travelled a long distance in the hope of getting some food to eat. “She must have knocked on our door throughout the night and may have breathed her last just outside for want of food. The incident became the turning point in my life and I decided to do social work instead of starting a hospital and running after name, fame and money,” he said.