For anyone known to the Sarpotdars, a business or leisurely trip to Laxmi Road was never complete without visiting the family’s 83-year-old Poona Guest House (PGH). These visits were special, not because of the sumptuous, assal Puneri jevan (authentic Puneri fare) served there, but more so because one would get a chance to say hello to Charudatta Sarpotdar, fondly known as Charu kaka (in the picture on the left, along with his grandson Sanat).
Usually clad in an orange shirt, the octogenarian was the first person one caught sight of after scaling the narrow staircase of the guest house that leads to the dining hall. He would be seated in the inner room; a sight that was as familiar as the warmth the place exuded. But it seems like Charu kaka felt it was time to move on. The second-generation owner of PGH bid his beloved guest house and its people a silent goodbye on January 19.

But Charu kaka was known to be a man for others. Whether it was being of service to new communities who were making a foray into the restaurant business, or supplying free meals to the poor patients of Pune’s KEM Hospital, he did all this without want of credit. “If there’s one thing our father taught us, it is the ideal of service to others without expecting any returns,” says Kishor, Charu kaka’s elder son and the third generation scion of the family to run PGH. “He valued human relationships over material wealth and taught us to believe in the same. He wanted every customer visiting the guest house to feel at home.”

There’s little wonder then, why PGH is also known as a ‘kalakaranche maherghar’ or a mother’s home to artistes. Charu kaka’s father Nanasaheb started the facility in 1935 to cater to staffers in his film studio, Aryan Film Company. It largely served as home to many artistes and writers, the likes of Bal Gandharva, Shahu Modak, Madhu Apte, Dada Kondke and Durga Khote, PL Deshpande and GD Mudgulkar, especially during their initial days. Renowned writer and anchor Sudhir Gadgil, who is known to the family and has been frequenting the guest house for the past 40 years, says, “Charu kaka supported and took care of the boarding and lodging of many artistes when they were in search of work or not doing too well. The guest house was their home. Many of them had worked in his films (he produced four: Jawai Mazha Bhala (1963), Rangalya Ratri Asha (1965), Ghar Gangechya Kathi (1975), and Shabbas Sunbai (1978)).” Even today, rooms lie reserved at the guest house for aspiring artistes.

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Charu kaka was like a father to me. In fact, I got married from his house. That day, he celebrated as though it was his own daughter’s wedding. I entered the film and drama industry because of him, and he always taught me to keep my feet on the ground. Today, I feel as though I’ve lost my father again.
— Asha Kale. The yesteryear actress also starred in ‘Ghar Gangechya Kathi’, one of the four films that Charudatta produced
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But those who knew Charu kaka, often likened him to being hard and thorny as a jackfruit on the outside, but just as sweet and sensitive within. Anil Biradar, one of the oldest employees of the guest house, recalls, “I was a small boy when I came to work here in 1979. I would be frightened of Charu kaka. He was known for his loud voice, and would shout at everyone. But ten minutes later, he’d come and ask you if you were okay. On festival days, he never allowed us to work. He’d ask us to get dressed and serve us food. He never wanted us to miss home. Any poor person who told kaka he was hungry, did not leave the guest house without being fed, at no charge. Kaka came across as arrogant, but I’ve never met a man who loved more than he did.”

Today, the guest house sees people from different communities and parts of the city visiting the place for its snacks like Mastani misal and Bajirao chiwda, and meals like the Maharashtrian thali that epitomises a melting pot of fare from various regions, including Marathwada-Vidarbha (wada bhaat, chincheche saar), Khandesh (vangyache bharit), Konkan region (dalimbi usal, dadpe pohe) and Pune (aluchi patal bhaji, panchamrut), to name some. But more than the food, it’s the idea of timeless hospitality that keeps people coming back. Sanat, Charu kaka’s grandson, who runs PGH with his father Kishor, says, “Baba (kaka) loved to keep our culture alive and share it with people through food and hospitality. While moving along with changing times, he believed in not forgetting one’s roots.” Indeed, that is how Charu kaka will live on, through the many fellowships that happen over those thalis of sumptuous fare coming out of PGH’s kitchen.

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Charu kaka wasn’t just a person, he was an institution. My association with kaka goes a long way because he was a close friend of Jayram Kulkarni, my father-in-law. The last time I met kaka was a month ago when I was in the vicinity shooting for my new film as a director. I went to Poona Guest House to meet him along with (my son) Virajas. He was happy to see us, and though he was a man of few words, he spoke a lot that day. I’m glad that I got to spend quality time with him, and I’m going to miss him.

— Mrinal Kulkarni. She is a renowned filmmaker and actress
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