Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunna Sabki, Karna Apni

Listen to everyone with respect, but do your own thing!

My grandfather, whom we all called Biraji, loved to dish out inspiring sentences to us. A la politician, he would repeat his one liners with pauses, rendering us speechless. I remember him low angle, although I was thirty plus when he passed away.

He was tall and handsome, but not overbearing. He had a beautiful smile and he smiled a lot. He lived a simple life, teaching Maths and Physics in a school, going and coming on his black cycle. He did Yoga every morning, drank hot milk out of a glass and saucer, and did not tolerate chillies in his food. He would always have some kaju badam or fruits for us whenever we met.

He was honest to the core; he payed tax on his tutions. He was the best teacher I have ever been taught by. He spoke less, did more. He had enormous patience with his students, specially the stupid ones.

He had only one major problem in his life: he could neither appreciate nor understand my grandmother's poetry. Unfortunately, granny never could separate her identity from her art. (Who can?)

He told me stories of great men like the Buddha, but his eyes shone most when he us told stories from his own life.

Early 1940's.

Nagpur Jail.

A young Biraji was reading GB Shaw's Man and Superman, hunger gnawing at his stomach, his head splitting with pain. He was on a hunger strike, and he was in prison because he was a freedom fighter, a revolutionary (or that's what we have always been told).

He and the other comrades were fasting, I forget why, they must have had a cause. Now Biraji always had a weak constitution, and he was wondering if he is going to die. They had not eaten for five days, and he was feeling very weak and weird. He was contemplating taking a sick leave from the fast.

So these were the circumstances in which he was reading a book, G B Shaw's, 'Man and Superman'. And he came upon a sentence,

'Man can never achieve anything of real value, because he is not willing to make a sacrifice.'

This made such a deep impact on him, that he made a firm resolve :

'Marunga to chalega, lekin bhook hartal nahin chodunga.'

'Even if I die, I will not give up the fast'.

And, as soon as he had made this decision, all his aches, pains, hunger, fear, everything vanished! Phoosh! All gone!

I have heard this story at least a dozen times, so I had to let it out.

But why have I suddenly remembered Biraji? To me, Biraji was the most politically correct person ever. After independence, after a few years in prison, he thought about what he had done. He had in fact, gone against what Gandhiji taught, non-violence. In the fight for freedom, he had gone the Bhagat Singh way; not actually harming anyone but threatening them, causing unrest and chaos.

So he talked with granny, a fellow comrade and his wife (she discovered the art much later), about atoning their sins. Since they had caused harm, they must now heal society. They decided to open a school for the street urchins. Since he had a job, it fell on granny to raise funds. And the black-listed, ex-communist went door to door to ask for donations. Every night, she would come home weeping, swearing she is not going out the next day for more insults. And every night, he would talk her out of it, saying that as long as her heart is clean, she need not take them seriously.

Within one year, they had collected two thousand rupees, and they started their school. That they were imprisoned again is another story. It did not stop the school. Today, this school has three branches in Nagpur, and one orphanage.

So you see why I have so much respect for my dear grandfather. And because he still lives in me, I would like to address him.

Biraji, I am sorry if my last post upset you. I don't mean to rebel against what I was brought up to believe. I will never support the excess in religion. You know that. I see myself as going forwards from where you left. You achieved for us external freedom from the British, and ingrained in us a sense of belonging for this land and its people. You put me in a good school, you made sure I went to school everyday. You taught me with so much patience, and so much silence, it has helped me tremendously in the seeking to understand myself.

There is something else you taught me. Dignity and satisfaction with what ever little one has. If it weren't for this I would never have given so much time to the inner world. I would have been too busy making money.

Although you proclaimed yourself to be an atheist, you never ever displayed arrogance towards the believers. Which is why I feel that you were deep down a seeker. You were too sweet to be an atheist.

Am I imposing myself on you? Ok, I back off. You have a right to your views. Since I don't have proof that God exists, and since neither do you have a proof that god doesn't exist, we can agree to differ.

In the last years, sometimes you were too tired to talk. And more than once you requested, 'Tell me something about that fellow, Ramana Maharishi.'

It felt strange narrating the story of a saint who loved a mountain to an atheist, so I went on the 'Who am I ' track. I also told you to meditate on your spiritual heart, two fingers towards right of the center of the chest .

Now that you have crossed over to the other realm, in fact you may be knowing a lot more of God. You probably are an angel yourself.

So it is good that I remember you low angle. One of these days I just might see you . . .


JOY said...

whenever we used to say to my grandpa , dada haridwar jana hai, or any piligrimage , his comment always used to be one, beta in that much money i shall be able to feed many persons , thus i dont wish to go.

Grasshopper said...

Yes, Joy. Even today, I cant light a lamp without feeling that this oil can be used for someone hungry.
The fact is there voices will live within us, and there is no separation, really, is there?

Banno said...

I loved this post. These voices, these stories, told and retold, becoming an intrinsic part of who we are. Who could not help admiring your grandparents, despite all the personal quirks they may have had?

Nino's Mum said...

very moving. I recently lost my grandmother - and I continue to have conversations - aloud and silent with her. I can still smell her bhindi sabji and hear her pull me up when I yell at the kid.
It's uncanny how futile death really is.

Grasshopper said...

Nino's mum,

You can SMELL your grandmas food? You have no idea how lucky you are. My grandma cooked on a sigri, with iron vessels, with a lot of oil and ghee.
Even the day to day simple food was so delicious and fulfilling.
But we took it all for granted, didn't we?

Grasshopper said...

why don't you do a post on your dad? It will be healing, to bring him alive to your friends.

It also gives us a chance to shed some tears.