It’s a story straight out of a Manmohan Desai film in the 70s and 80s, a story of separation and reunion. Only this time, it’s for real. The protagonist is Ganesh Raghunath Dhangade, a constable in the Mumbai police force.
It all happened in 1989 when Dhangade boarded a train with his friends and got lost because it was too crowded. He was only six years old, and was unable to go back. He was on the streets of the city, alone and nobody to care for him.
“I cleaned platforms and ate at dargahs and Ganesh mandals. I met a fisherman who took me home. I used to play with his son, Sainath. They used to make me beg on local trains and give me food in exchange for the money,” he recalls.
One day, he was hit by a train at CST. He was admitted to a hospital, where he lay in coma for several months. Since no one could trace his family, he was handed over to an orphanage in Worli.
Dhangade went to Anand Ashram in Worli, where workers took care of him, fed him and educated him. He studied there till Std VII and later shifted to an orphanage in Thane, where he studied till Std X.
He then joined Sanket Vidyalaya and Junior College in Thane, and studied till Std XII. He was physically fit and an athlete – he had participated in several state-level and national-level games. His education was funded by Krida Prabodhini, a state-run programme to encourage talented sportsmen.
He then took the police exams, cleared the written, physical and medical tests, and joined the Quick Response Team (QRT) of the Mumbai Police as a constable in 2011.
Where’s your family?
On July 23, 2011, when seniors were taking introductions from the fresh recruits, Dhangade could only tell them his name. Police Inspector Shrikhant Sonde asked him his family background. “When everybody was introducing himself to me, one constable only told me his name - Ganesh Raghunath Dhangade. He could not give me any other introduction about his family. When I inquired further, he told me had been separated from his parents at the age of six,” said Sonde.
Dhangade only knew his mother’s name -- Manda R Dhangade -- which had been tattooed on his arm. When he saw parents of other recruits attending in-house functions, it made him miss his parents. He approached his seniors to help him trace his family and they assured him that they would do all they could to help him. They asked him to check on missing records in police stations
The search begins
Dhangade asked his friends to help out. “I, along with one of my fellow recruit and friend Sumit Gandhavale, started checking the missing bureau records online and in police stations turn by turn,” he says while talking to MiD DAY.
The duo also started a campaign on Facebook and Orkut and contacted everyone with the same surname as Dhangade, but couldn’t get any leads.
“One day, I went to the Worli orphange where I had stayed. I met the old mess worker Shamsuddhin Abdul Shaikh, and asked him about my past,” said Dhangade.
Dhangade found out that he had enrolled in the Anand Orphange saying that he hailed from the Mamu Bhanja Dargah area. The duo roamed around Mumbai looking for a dargah with the same name. After two months, they finally got their first clue – the dargah was at Lokmanya Nagar, Thane (W).
On October 4, they reached the Mamu Bhanja dargah in Thane, and asked locals about his mother, Manda, whose name had been tattooed on his hand. They came to know that an old lady by the same name lived on a hill nearby.
Dhangade, along with his colleagues, immediately reached the place, where they found an old lady performing shraddh (after-death rituals).
“We asked her if she had lost her child 20 years ago, and she replied in the positive. We asked if the child had any identification marks on his body, and she told us about the tattoo on the arms. That’s when I showed it to her,” narrates a tearful Dhangade.
“It was a beautiful moment. Both were in tears. For several minutes, they said nothing. They just cried, but the tears said it all,” says Gandhavale, the colleague who helped him all this while.
It’s all coming back
“My mother told me that I had gone to the Thane Municipal school at Wagle Estate, where I met my friend Ganesh Kharavi. He was going to his uncle’s place and asked me to tag along. So we boarded a train, but somehow I got lost in the crowd,” explains the elated constable.
He is extremely grateful to his seniors and collegues. “This reunion would not have been possible without the guidance of my seniors, especially Mr Sonde, who told me how to go about the search.
He is happy that he can care for his old mother, who earns by doing house chores, and his two younger brothers, and a sister.
# Scene 1: Boy gets lost, lives on the city’s streets
It’s a scene set in 1989. Six-year-old Ganesh boards a train along with his friends. It is too crowded, and he gets lost.The boy too is unable to go back as he is too young. He roams around on the streets of Mumbai, eating at temples, Ganesh mandals and dargahs. He begs, cleans and sweeps – whatever it takes to fill his stomach. A fisherman takes him home and makes him beg in the local trains in exchange for food.
# Scene 2: Train accident, coma, and over to an orphanage
One day, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Dhangade gets hit by a train. He ends up at a hospital and is in a coma for several months. Hospital authorities aren’t able to find his family or relatives, and no one comes to meet him. He is handed overto the Anand Ashram, an orphanage in Worli, where he starts his education. He studies at the Worli orphanage till Std VII and is then shifted to an orphanage in Thane, where he studies till Std X.
# Scene 3: Boy joins police force
The boy joins Sanket Vidyalaya and Junior College in Thane. He then takes the police department test and passes. He clears the medical and physical test and joins the force in 2011. When seniors ask him about his family, he has no answers, except for his mother’s name, Manda R Dhangade, which is tattooed on his right arm. He starts searching for them.
# Scene 4: The search begins
Ganesh and a friend start searching for people with the same surname on social networking sites. He goes back to the Worli orphanage and meets the mess worker, who tells him the registered address in the orphanage books, which is in Thane.
# Scene 5: Reunion at Thane
The constable and his friend look around for families with the surname Dhangade. He asks locals about Manda, his mother. He finds out that an old lady with the same name lives nearby. Ganesh goes to the old lady and shows her his tattoo. A teary reunion ensues.
‘We will finally celebrate Diwali’
Manda Dhangade’s happiness knew no bounds when she got her son back after 24 years. “I had lost all hope. We never celebrated a single festival since the day he went missing, but this Diwali, we will have a grand celebration,” said Manda.
Manda, who works as maid, had tattoos made on each of her children at the age of one. After Ganesh went missing, she went to several police stations in Thane and Bhiwandi. She even went to Children homes but she failed to find her son.
She added, “Every time I visited the police station, I hoped to find some clues, but I never got any leads. There is not a single place in Thane and Bhiwandi that I had not searched.”
After 10 years of searching for her son, she lost all hope. Manda didn’t recognise her son when he entered. “When he showed me his tattoo, I was shocked. All I did was hug and kiss him,” She now spends every single moment of the day with her son. Her first priority is celebrate a grand Diwali, and then to get her son married to a ‘nice girl’.
“One should never let their child out of one’s sight. Don’t be careless while handling children otherwise you’ll have to suffer like me. I was lucky and I’m proud that he is in police force,” she signs off joyously.
We had not celebrated a single festival since he went missing. But this year we will celebrate Diwali in a grand way
— Ganesh’s mother, Manda