To Maharashtrians in London and others in the UK, Sushil Rapatwar , the senior project manager at Virgin Media, is a well-known name. He seems to be in a great rush as he was recently elected as the President of the prestigious Maharashtra Mandal London.
Sportsman at heart, a league player and qualified Umpire for Badminton in England, Sushil is probably one of those technocrats who have kept cultural activities in his life equally balanced. With a dedicated team , today, he is all geared up spearheading the world premiere of Asia’s largest play on legendary King Shivaji Jaanta Raja,(written by eminent historian Babasaheb Purandare, the biopic has already crossed thousand shows and attracted over 15 million audiences so far), to be staged at Wembley Arena, London on June 20 and 21.
In a candid conversation with Asian Lite, Sushil tells Rahul Laud his plans for the Maharshtra Mandal and the forthcoming mammoth– Shivaji project.
AL: What is your first love – badminton, technology or being a cultural artist?
Sushil: I am a sports lover. It’s the game of badminton I love the most.
AL: How do you strike work life balance especially when you have so many activities up your sleeve?
Sushil: Now that is an interesting question. With great difficulty is the answer as unfortunately I can’t increase the total number of hours in a day. So I squeeze in whatever I can do whenever. Of course, I go through the normal process of prioritising the urgent things first followed by less urgent. One thing to note here is that the later you put the non-urgent things the more urgent they start becoming. So need to deal with them in their right time as well. Moreover, our daughter is four- years-old now and is extremely demanding in terms of giving right time and attention to her and to be fair that is the age that they should be asking for those things from their parents anyways. So I play with her and then do my work when she is asleep or getting up mid-night or early morning … I am known for sending emails at 3 am.
AL: Between Singapore and London, where else have you lived? Where do you find it difficult to promote Indian arts and culture activities?
Sushil: I find London more fascinating in terms of cultural diversity and tolerance. Singapore is also good but having lived in India that country soon starts feeling claustrophobic.
AL: In a global scenario today, do organisations like Maharashtra Mandal attract the youth?
Sushil: That is the challenge that we face and we understand the need to re-invent ourselves continuously. There is a risk that if organisations don’t change according to times then they soon become obsolete and redundant. Indian youth still has that competitive edge and they like to excel in whatever they do. Hence, we organised the first ever country-wide elocution competition called “Vivek” for kids between the age group of 6 to 19 years. Of course, we split them into three groups. We got a huge response in our first year where 180 youth participated. To start with our topics were on Swami Vivekananda to coincide with his 150th birth anniversary in 2013.We are contemplating few more similar ideas to keep the youth involved through various initiatives.
We also ensure that young students or those who are born and brought up here become a part of our committee so that we understand their thought process and we can cater to their needs and requirements.
AL: What are your challenges to keep the fire burning especially activities of Maharashtra Mandal as its new Chairman?
Sushil: We have to cater to a wide range of age group … ranging from people who are in their seventies to kids and youth. It is almost three generations that we have to cater to and hence is not that easy. We have to arrange wide range of programmes that cater to different age groups. Moreover, within each age group, they’ve various tastes. So, if you take the permutations and combinations it soon becomes a big lot.
AL: Maharashtra Mandal London is an 83 year old organisation. What changes have you noticed over the years especially in terms of activities, membership profile?
Sushil: It’s a long history for any organisation. Since getting established in 1932 it was closed for a while during the World War II. After that it started its activities again in 1952. Majority of members and office bearers have been the first generation people who have come here from Maharashtra settled; these people have reared this baby so well. Few members from that era are still alive and active and provide a guiding help in the organisation. Although I was involved since 2006-07, what I have heard from various veteran members is that there used to be various innovative programmes organised and the quality and frequency of these types of programmes was mainly driven by how effective the committee was at the helm. Hence, sometimes you used to get great programmes and sometimes maybe just the normal ones.
Before 1989 the programmes were organised by hiring external venues. But it was a great community effort by the members at that time which saw the buying of the building in 1989. Since then we have got a home for majority of our programmes. The major highlight of the year for Mandal is the celebration of our beloved Ganeshotsav.(Gansh festival) . This year it will be the Silver Jubilee year of our celebrations since for last 25 years we have been consistently attracting crowds of over thousands from all parts of the UK.
AL: Did you ever think of becoming a professional badminton player? If yes why and why haven’t you been one?
Sushil: Being a professional badminton player needs a very early start in one’s life and needs almost like a full time commitment. I used to play badminton as a fun activity during my childhood being inspired by my uncles, but my main focus was on studies. I resumed playing the game only after 2006. Therefore, due to other priorities I couldn’t give the required attention to it.
AL: We hear that you are actively involved in inviting the famous Marathi play Jaanta Raja to UK? Isn’t it a marathon and challenging task?
Sushil: It is indeed “na bhooto na bhavishyati” (Never happened before and never will happen again) event in the UK history. The logistics involved in this program are hugely challenging … to mention few:
There will be 200 artists on stage … 40 will be travelling from India and 160 will need to be recruited from the UK; hiring horses, camels and bullock carts; getting a colossal 27-feet, 3-storeyed, rotating set built and shipped from India and reaching out to every Indian based in the UK.
Om Events Ltd is bringing this mega play in the UK and the main inspiration for our team to work voluntarily is because of the greatest Indian king – Shivaji. Although it has been 350 years since he catapulted the Hindawi Swaraj, his daily life and stories still inspire a sense of Indianness amongst all of us. It was the vision and courage of King Shivaji that in spite of a very small army to start with, he fought with very powerful enemies and went on to establish the Hindawi swaraj which at one time was 11 times that of the size of the UK.
AL: What is your message to the British born Marathi Asians and youth?
Sushil: Message for British-born Marathi youth is through the cliche saying – you either see glass as half full or half empty i.e. you can view your life as best of both worlds or caught in between the two worlds leading to identity crisis. I will stick to the first one that is you can capitalise on the best value-rich culture that your parents can impart along with great educational and other opportunities this country provides you. Ideally, I would love to see them learn to read, write and speak Marathi language because it opens vistas of knowledge and culture but I know it equally well that this may be a big task as you don’t tend to use this language as soon as you step-out of the house. But then, don’t get hung up on it as long as you live your life with rich competitive spirit of a true Maharashtrian and excel in whatever you do.