A Tenet of Hinduism that Bajrang Dal has No Right to Subvert

October 6, 2008 at 3:05 pm (Personal Essay, Santosh Ojha)


Baba, my mother’s father, was a frail, short person. He spent most of his life in a village in Bihar. He was a Sanskrit teacher in a school. He was also a purohit for weddings and upanayan-sanskar ceremonies. He lived most of his later years as a widower.


Baba was born at the turn of the 20th century. His father was a pandit of modest means who earned his livelihood by conducting pujas and ceremonies for his yajmaans in the nearby areas. The bubonic plague which swept parts of UP and Bihar in the early 1900s left Baba an orphan, barely 12 years old. Babas elder sister, who lost her husband in the plague, took him around nearby villages, introducing him to the yajmaans of her father and requesting them to continue the pandit-yajmaan relationship with Baba so that he could support the rest of the family in those difficult years.


Later, Baba’s love for learning took him to Kolkata where he studied Sanskrit. In those days, there were no Hindi translations available for Sanskrit works. Baba taught himself Bengali to read Bengali translations of Sanskrit texts. He completed successive courses in Sanskrit – Prathama, Madhyama and Shastri – leading to the master’s degree Sahityacharya.


Then Baba got married. He had five children – three sons (they went on to earn their graduations in Sanskrit) and two daughters. The eldest of all his children is mai, my mother. Baba took up a Sanskrit teacher’s job in a school nearby and continued to teach, perform pujas and read.


I used to visit Baba along with my parents every year during the summer holidays. My childhood memories of Baba are that of a serious man, living a spartan life without much interest in the world, except for spiritualism and ayurveda. He was always clad in a dhoti, a kurta and the sacred thread. And when the occasion demanded, Baba was the only person I have seen wearing a khadaoon.


His wore his trademark brown-framed spectacles with thick bifocal lenses on his nose, sometimes held together by a string. His austere room at the entrance of the house had nothing more than a khatia, a steel trunk, a shelf full of ayurvedic medicines and racks of books. A few special books were wrapped with red cotton cloth.


Baba would not only read his books many times over, he would also add his comments in the margins of the pages. Baba marked his multiple commentaries on different readings of a book by using different colored ball pens.


Now when I close my eyes and try to find Baba, I see him lying on his khatia, holding a book in his hands.


Baba was a renowned person in that region, a Sanskrit scholar of note. In the evenings, his friends would arrive and discuss various metaphysical matters with him till dawn. I was a child. I could not follow the discussions, but they all sounded very serious and erudite.


Sometimes, I would accompany Baba to the wedding ceremonies he used to preside over. He knew all the shlokas by heart


Baba’s colloquial Hindi was a curious mix of Sanskrit and Bhojpuri, leaning more towards the former.


I vividly remember an incident when someone had come to consult Baba regarding some ailment. Baba admonished the man for neglecting his health by saying, “Prakriti key niyam ke atikraman hoi, ta kasht na hoi?” (If you break the laws of nature, wouldn’t you suffer?) And then Baba handed his patient a few herbs with elaborate instructions on diet and lifestyle.


So, that was Baba for me – a highly learned scholar, a stern upholder of Brahminical traditions and values; a pandit, much respected by his peers.


In 1980, I paid a visit to Baba during a weekend. I was studying engineering at the Banaras Hindu University, just a few hours away from my nanihal. During that visit, I asked Baba whether it was possible for any singular characteristic to capture the essence of the multifaceted, multilayered and multidenominational Hindu system of faith. His immediate answer was – “Jo hinsa ko dooshit samajhta hai, woh Hindu hai.” (He who considers violence repugnant is a Hindu.) I had to go through a lot in my own life to realize much later why it took Baba a lifetime of reading, reflection and application to let a vast, ancient and profound body of religious knowledge lead  him to an espousal of non-violence in thoughts, words and deeds.


That was my last meeting with Baba.


– Santosh Ojha


1 Comment

  1. Ram krishan sharma said,

    I am adding my comment because youyr Baba was similar to my Dada ji who was also a great sanskrit pandit, I would go to temple with my dada ji during my childhood days. my Mom always left me at the door of the school but I used to leave my school from another gate and went to temple that is lacated at Sangaria, Rajasthan and played with him .Dada ji always gave me fruits like pome, jamun etc. he was a great man ha was always ready to help others. he was very egostic but very soft hearted. He was very fond of mango . he passed away due to heart failure. in 1984. I always remember my Dada ji .

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