Sunday, July 24, 2011

Monday Musing 127- Co-Passenger from another time

127- Co-Passenger from another time
It has been a season of meeting very long lost co-passengers in the journey of life for me. Last time i wrote about my English teacher and this time i am going to talk about 'Pandit'.

Manohar Lal Purohit was my classmate during my B. Pharmacy days in the sleepy town of Berhampur, the coastal southern tip of Orissa, kissing the border of Andhra Pradesh. Tall, lanky as both were, the similarities ended there. He was extremely fair, almost pinkish, like the Indian version of a greek god - and i intolerably hairy. Originally hailing from the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, he had spend his formative years in the mining belt of western Orissa, bordering on Jharkhand, in a nondescript town called Brijrajnagar. The fact that he was the only other Hindi speaking person in a class dominated by Oriya and Bengali speakers naturally brought us together instantaneously - a bond which only got cemented by the fact that we were ragged together most of the times, creating a 'brothers-in-pain' camaraderie. Since there was no hostel, five of us got together to rent a room and called it 'Sabarmati' - a decision i was instrumental in influencing, as an ode to my unusual last name. I was, however in no mood to convert it into an ashram, not in the traditional sense anyways.

Pandit, as he gradually got to be called, was going through a rough patch at that time - having lost his father and financially being supported by an Uncle, who also introduced him to the world of spiritual awakening. I am not sure if the outcome of this story would be any different had Pandit's sitiuation been any kinder to a young chap of 18. Adversity has strange effects on people and Pandit perhaps found solace in the intoxicating opiom of spirititual awakening.

He never opened his books - he had none. Every evening as others would get down to write down practical dossiers, flip through bulky reference texts, break head over complex medicinal pharmaceutical reactions, navigate through the elaborate, and frankly, extremely unromantic pharmacopoeias, he would freshen up and leave for the evening satsang in the local ashram.He would get up an ungodly hour of 4 am in the morning, around the time others would be going to bed, do his Yog-sadhna, eat his grams and be fresh as a wild cucumber as others labored to get out of thier groggy state. Exactly 24 hours prior to the exams he would enquire about the syllabus as if he wanted to study everything and then seek suggestions on the mimimum amount to be read which would give a fair chance at passing. We resented him the fact that he passed every single exam with this limited effort, while we would score marginally better than him despite late nights and excacerbated ulcers. We finally concluded that God certainly existed and that He was eminently bribable through satsangs. For every alcohol revelry we had in the house, he countered it through a equally loud Satsang, something we resented every bit, but let it be, because one God on your side always helps when facing a hostile viva-voice.

Most of us were struggling with the question of what-next after the course but Pandit was clear - he wanted to renounce the world and become a sanyasi. We were sure he had lost it, but he proved us wrong and did leave everything and joined the Bihar school of Yoga in Munger district of Bihar for future spiritual studies. That was perhaps the last we knew of him, as all of us got busy charting our own course in life. But last word was still to be spoken on it.

Pandit met a girl in the ashram he went to, who incidentally had come there with very similar ideas of spiritual journey. I am not sure if i can call it love, but something blossomed, and they decided to get married - much to the obvious consternation of family members. Niether had the quaintest idea how will they earn thier livelyhood. But married they did get and came to Bangalore and spent the next decade or so in various ashrmas, pursuing the path of spiritual awakening, living the ashram way of life. If this decade was strugglesome, as every bone in my body tells me it should have been, Pandit did not make any mention of it. Last year they were blessed with a lovely daughter, Devashree. As of now, both manage to live happily on what they earn teaching Yoga.   

I met Pandit at Bangalore after my graduation for the first time last fortnight - a very different co passenger from another life. I may have had disagreement with his way of life then, but today i am convinced that there is not one right way and more importantly he had as much right to pursue his course as much as i was entitled to.
As i look back at him and myself, I am clearly and surely inspired by his conviction to have the courage to live life the way his heart led him to; to pursue his way even at the face of extraordinary adversity, persevering with it against all odds and being happy with the choices he had made. He may have a few material aquisitions less than us, but i bet he is no less happier.

Let a hundred Pandit bloom.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

126- Monday Musings – Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’

126- Monday Musings – Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’
The day before yesterday I talked to my English teacher from school, almost after two decades. She located me. As I saved her number on my cell as Niharika ‘Miss’, who is surely not a ‘miss’ anymore, but to a mind that will remember her as she was experienced well over 20 years ago, will perhaps always remain a miss.
Niharika Miss had joined our school immediately after her Masters in English literature from Utkal University in Orissa and belonged to Bhubaneswar and was one of three imports from Orissa as the school management changed during my last three years there. For an extremely ‘bihari-tribal’ mix of linguistic influence, the addition of Oriya was only to cause a bit of flutter. She was young, freshly out of her college, in hindsight I can clearly see she was nervous, though she tried hard to put a brave and confident face, into her first job and in an alien place. Her 5 feet 2 inches frame did not help much as a few of us already towered over her. To make matters worse, she was to teach us English, which to put it mildly was not quite our strength, neither was there any desire to make it so.
I remember the first spelling she corrected for me was that Bhubaneswar was not spelled ‘Bhuwaneshwar’ as I had phonetically written. I was battling with an English handwriting that was somewhere between pathetic and horrendous, so during summer break she gave me ten 100 word essays to be written. If she was not impressed by the product of my limited linguistic abilities as she should have been, then she did not let me know it. She tried to put a 25 paisa fine (the same 25 paisa coin that has gone away from circulation last week) every time someone spoke in Hindi during her class, needless to say with little effect. I remember asking her audaciously if advance payment could be made for the fines that will fall due as there was no intention on our part to talk in English.
Once I went to meet her where she stayed and she was trying to explain why we should be reading English books and I spotted a small book on her table with a girl and a boy picture on its cover – something that made that book quite read-worthy to my young mind. When I asked her if could borrow it, she looked a bit flustered but gave in. Many years later I realised I had attempted to read a Mills & Boons title. Thank God I did not complete it.
It was a very happy day for me to talk to her – after all those years. As years went by, I did fall in love with the language and went an extra mile to develop a working proficiency in it. I have no doubt in my mind that the seeds were sown much earlier in a manner inconspicuous enough, that only a great teacher can do.
Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’. I owe you more than you can ever imagine, and more than I can ever tell you.