Sunday, 10 June 2012

Why would you notice a wall?

The years have stretched before me, I'm at that age now, when physical movements are restricted and the mind is ever busy!

I sit ruminating often, upon my easy-chair, and my mind drifts ever inwards and sends me flashes of the past, clearer still in my mind's eye than what I see before my eyes today.

Sometime in the 1940's, a good 72 years ago now, I was a young man on the hunt for a  job.
By some luck, I landed into a newly organized department of civil defence, the ARP, headed by a senior police officer.

This cockney gentleman, a shell-shocked veteran of WWI, by the name of Charles, was designated as the ARP controller. His character, in a few words, was a mixture of arrogance and self-deceit, and I, had the dubious honor to be his stenographer.

I was allowed to take his notes, run his errands, type his letters and handle his affairs. What I was not allowed, was the luxury to sit in front of him.
I was expected to stand by his side, do what best I could to take notes, dictated in a thick accent and unacceptable English!

One day, we were engaged in business as usual, him dictating and me taking note of it, when suddenly he started showing symptoms of what could very well have been an epileptic fit! His hands wrapped tight around a paper weight, his face flooded, red with blood, teeth clenched and lips trembled!

He burst out then, "You Indian Bastards!!". Startled, I realized that that was certainly not part of the note he was dictating. I followed his gaze glaring out the window and noticed a small group of Congress volunteers parading the streets, shouting slogans, for freedom and swaraj!

It was that which had provoked the gentleman's bitter remark.

I remember wondering then, as I do now, how an English man would have reacted had his country and honor been insulted thus.
This shining example, as he sat in front of me, took no notice that an Indian stood before him, nor that what he had yelled out was an insult.
The consensus then, amongst the British, with few exceptions, was a sense of entitlement, a feeling that they were those who were born to rule, and the common Indian was unworthy of his notice.

As a wall and machine we stood before them, to be utilized, but with no emotions to injure!

Do you know how I reacted to it then? Did my seething feelings flow out?

I did nothing.
I pocketed that insult and stood before him, staring blindly at his face. An outward calm over an inner riot.
The 'British-Raj', threatened though they were under the assault of an awakening India was still a force to be reckoned with.

The officer recovered his senses, resumed his dictation, and I? I continued to do what was then my job.

On my way to Hell, or not!

A Hindu by birth, a believer in the teachings of the Upanishads by long practice and thought.
All of them, in one voice proclaim: Good deeds and intentions never fail to reward.

"Accordingly as one behaves so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous actions. Others become evil by evil actions."

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 4, Brahmana 4, Verse 5

"As is his desire, so is his will. As is his will so is the deed he does. Whatever deed he does that it is which he attains."

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 4, Brahmana 4, Verse 5, in continuation

But also, there is the proverb, "The way to hell is paved with good intentions."

This set me thinking. How can good intentions take you to hell? Is it for lack of actions based on intentions, or is it because there are always unintended consequences?

My experiences over the years, on the surface, seem to prove the proverb right!

Working as a professor in college, I was entrusted with the organization of a camp for the students.
I had to take the students out, to a camping site, remain there for a few days, organize activities involving self-help, first-aid etc.

I embraced the task whole-heartedly. Working on it day and night for the period involved.

The principal, a communal frenetic, prejudiced as he was against me, unbelievably sponsored petitions, alleging misuse of funds on poor organization of the camp! The bureaucracy being what it is and my higher authorities knowing the character and caliber of those involved, dismissed the charges. What an escape it was!

A fitting reward for good intentions, indeed it was very nearly not so!

But faith, that wonderful thing, allows me consolation; That which happens in this world is immaterial to what awaits me in the one to which I go!

The Roaring Twenties And The Glorious Thirties

That was a  period of great excitement and patriotic fervour. 
Happily, I was at the midst of all this excitement at Madurai.

Those were days when communication facilities were primitive and instant reporting was unimagined.
We depended upon National dailies like The Hindu and The Swadesamithran for news. They did full justice to the National Movement by reporting in full, page after page of speeches by great leaders like the Mahatma and Nehru.

We waited, often impatiently for the arrival of the papers and went through the speeches from beginning to end with religious zeal. 
Fired by the spirit of the day, we spoke all day of Satyagraha and boycott.
We made it a point to spin on the takli and wear only kathir.

At Gandhigram, when I was much older

Dreams of freedom, spun on the wheel

We were young boys in the fourth form and the year was 1929. The Simon Commission was deployed and there was a national hue and cry for it's boycott. On the day the Commission visited Madurai, we planned secretly, to participate in the boycott with high hopes to be arrested, what a badge of honor it would be!

We skipped school without notice, stood in one of the thoroughfares through which the commission was to drive past, hoisting black flags in our hands, ready with the slogan "Simon Commission go back!". 

Oh! But what a flop!
The Commission had taken a different route, anticipating protests.
And us young boys, it was no wonder we returned home with sheepish faces!