At the close of the
nineteenth century, the epidemic of plague used to play havoc in the country every few
years. No medicine nor cure was available for the disease at that time. People were
greatly distressed. And to add insult to injury, the Britishs began to intentionally
target the people for harassment, which was more severe than the dreaded disease. As an
unavoidable consequence, many people died a most tortuous and harrowing death. Nagpur then
had a population of a hundred thousand; and out of them two to three hundred people
succumbed every day to plague.
Being an orthodox priest, Balirampant was attending to funeral ceremonies of the
deceased every day. Many others in the city had deserted their homes and were living in
hutments in the outskirts. But Balirampant did not budge from his house. He scornfully
remarked: "What can the plague do to me?" But dead rats were soon found in his
house too. Both he and his wife caught the disease. Treatment was started. One day, his
son Sitarampant went out to bring medicines. On his return, shock awaited him. His father
and mother had both died! Keshav was just thirteen thens.
After the sudden and simultaneous demise of both parents, Keshav's hardship knew no
bounds. The eldest brother Mahadev Shastri had taken to loose and unbridled ways. All the
household chores like cutting wood, drawing water, cooking, etc., fell to the lot of
Keshav and his elder brother Sitarampant. Sometimes they had to go without food. Often
they had to roam about with torn clothes on their person. As if this were not enough,
their short tempered eldest brother heaped abuses and thrashed them often. Keshav began to
spend most of his time in his friends' houses.
But Keshav was full of self-respect. Often even when he was hungry, he would not
approach his friends for food. It was not in his nature to stretch his hand before anybody
for anything. Despite travails, his attention to his studies was never affected. He was
always ahead in his class. He was sober and spoke sparingly. He established instant
rapport with others, and others too longed for his company. He was a favorite student of
his teachers. The daily four-mile run to the school never proved to be a problem for him
He was deeply inspired by incidents from the heroic life of emperor Shivaji.