Tuesday, November 23, 2010


                                                                          1946 -1949
Those days in early 1946 I regularly read from Pancharatna Gita a publication of Gita Press, Gorakhpur containing the texts of  Bhagavat Gita, Vishnusahasranamam, Bhishmastavarajah, Anusmriti and Gajendramoksham in Sanskrit.  These were known as the five jewels in Mahabharata  the Epic  containing 1,50,000 slokas composed by sage Vyasa.  Regular reading of such texts was termed Swadhyaya which was recommended by elders for filling our minds  with sublime thoughts.  I was 13 years of age at the time and,  because of the influence of my maternal grandfather,  I had developed  keen interest in the study of the Gita and the Upanishads  which,  along with Brahmasutras,  were considered the cornerstones of the Hindu philosophy.
The following are some of the verses which appealed to me most though the entire Gita is a treasure house of not only spiritual knowledge  but also of practical wisdom by which one can make one’s life free from worries and filled with peace that surpasses description.
       Prajahaati yadaa kaamaan sarvaan partha manogataan
       Aatmanyevaatmanaa tuShtah sthitaprajnastabochyate 
       Dukheshwanudwignamanaah sukheshu vigatsprihah
       Veetaraagabhayakrodhah sthitadheermuniruchyate
        Yah sarvatraanabhisnehah tattadpraapyashubhaashubhan
        Naddbhinandati na dweshti tasyaprajnaa  pratishthitaa

        Yadaa samharate chaayam koormonganeeva sarvashah
        Indriyaaneendriyaarthebhyah tasya prajnaa pratishthitaaद्विग्न

          प्रजहाति यदा कामान् सर्वान्पार्थ मनोगतान्।
          आत्मन्येवात्मना तुष्टः स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदोच्यते ॥

           दुःखेष्वनुद्विग्न्न सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः।
           वीतरागभयक्रोधः स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते ॥

            यः सर्वत्रानभिस्नेहः तत्तत्प्राप्य शुभाशुभम्।
             नाभिनान्दति न द्वेष्टि तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता॥
            यदा संहरते चायं कूर्मोङ्गानीव सर्वशः।
             इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेभ्यः तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता॥

One who gives up the desires arising in the mind and is content in the Self,  who is neither agitated in sorrow nor ebullient in joy, who is devoid of attachment, fear or anger,  who,  in complete detachment,  accepts good or bad whatever comes his way and who,  like the tortoise,  withdraws his senses from their objects of enjoyment is truly,  a sthitaprajna,  meaning one whose mind and intellect are firmly rooted in the Self whose nature is prajna,  pure awareness    
       Dhyaayato vishayaan pumsah sangasteshupajayate
       Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah kaamaat krodhobhijaayate 
       Krodhaat bhavati sammohah sammohaat smriti vibhramah
       Smriti bhramshaat buddhinaasho buddhinaashaat pranashyati

       ध्यायतो विषयान् पुंसः संगस्तेषूपजायते
           संगात्सञ्जायते कामः कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते।
       क्रोधात्भवति संमोहः  संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः
            स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति 

One whose thoughts dwell on the pleasures of the senses  becomes attached to those pleasures.  Attachment leads to desire and when desire is thwarted it turns into anger.  Anger leads to delusion and delusion leads to loss of remembrance which in turn leads to the destruction of one’s intelligence.  One perishes when one’s intelligence (discriminative faculty) is destroyed.

        Aaapooryamaanam achalaprathishtham
        Samudramaapah pravishanti yadwat
        Tadwat kaakaah yam pravisanti sarve
        Sa shaantimaapnoti na kaama kaamee

           समुद्रमापः प्रविशन्ति यद्वत्।
         तद्वत्कामाः यं प्रविशन्ति सर्वे
             स शान्तिमाप्नोति न कामकामी॥

The ocean is being continually filled by the waters of the rivers which flow into it.  But the ocean remains steady and  immobile and does not overflow its boundaries.   That man attains eternal peace,  who like the ocean,  does not get agitated  and remains steady even when  desires intrude into him.   

        Apichet suduraacharo bhajate maamananyabhaak
        Saddhureve sa mantavyah samyak vyavsito his sah
        Kshipram bhavati dharmaatmaa shashwat shaantim nigachchati
        Kaunteya pratijaaneehi na me bhaktah pranashyati.

         अपिचेत्सुदुराचारो भजते मामनन्यभाक्
              साधुरेव  स  मन्तव्यः सम्यग्व्यवसितो  हि सः।
          क्षिप्रं भवति धर्मात्मा शश्वच्छान्तिं निगच्छति
             कौन्तेन्य प्रतिजानीहि न मे भक्तः प्रणश्यति ॥   

If a person of  bad ways has  single-minded devotion to me,  he should be considered  good as he has taken to the right decision.  He will soon become a righteous person and attain supreme peace of mind.  O Son of Kunti!  Know for certain that my devotee will never perish.

          Ishwarah sarvabhootaanaam hriddeshe arjuna thishthati
         Bhraamayan sarvabhootaani yantraarooddhaani maayayaa
         Tameva sharanam gachcha sarvabhaavena bhaarata
         Tatprasaadaat paraam shaantim sthaanam prapsyasi shaashwatam

         ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति
                भ्रामयन् सर्वभूतानि यंत्रारूढानि मायया।
         तमेव शरणं गच्छ सर्वभावेन भारत
               तत्प्रसादात् परां शान्तिं स्थानं प्राप्स्यसि शाश्वतम्॥

The Lord is seated in the heart of all beings. He makes them dance to his tunes by the power of his Maya as a puppeteer makes his puppets move by pulling the wires attached to their jointed limbs.  Surrender yourself to Him with all your heart.  By His grace you will attain the highest peace.

         Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja
          Aham twaa sarvapaapebhyo mokshayishyaami maa shuchah

          सर्वधर्मान् परित्यज्य   मामेकं  शरणं  व्रज।
          अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिम्यामि मा शुचः॥

Leave aside all dharmas and surrender yourself completely to me as your only refuge.  I will redeem you from all sins, do not grieve.

Once in a while there used to be group chanting of Vishnu Sahasranama at the Varadaraja Swamy temple in the West village in which I used to take part.  I had committed to memory the whole of Vishnu Sahasranama by this time.  Later in life I used to chant this hymn while riding to office on a two-wheeler.  It is my belief that many a time I had  been saved,  by the breadth of a hair,  from fatal accidents by the power of the Name of the Lord. 
My brother had caught up with me while I was writing the English paper only of the ESLC examination. That year he passed the ESLC examination with English which had already been introduced as a paper. Now both of us were ready for admission to Form IV in the High School.  But our financial position was such that we could not afford the fees which was about eleven rupees a month.  For two of us it was more than twenty rupees.    This was a substantial sum those days.   Our requirement of paddy which was our staple food was met from our share from the land cultivated by the tenant.  But we had to have money to meet the rent and other expenses.  Though the school offered a few scholarships, we were not sure whether any one of us could  get a scholarship.  We were in a dilemma.
Mt mother had a friend in the house opposite the pond adjacent to our house.  She and mother used to go to the village pond together for bathing.  The friend was not living with her husband who was in the same village a few houses away.  Her husband had an extra marital relationship with a woman lower in the caste hierarchy.  My mother’s friend had a son who was about four years younger than I.  He was at the same High School at Alathur and I used to help him with his Sanskrit lessons.   . 
My mother talked with her friend about our admission in the High School. The friend had a solution to our problem.  One of  her relatives,  a lawyer,   wanted a brahmin to do the daily Sivapuja ( worship of Siva)  in their house.  Since the lawyer was old and in failing health he could no longer do the worship himself.   My mother’s friend suggested that I take up the assignment.  I would be paid rupees four a month.  My upanayanam had been performed recently and I knew the puja mantras.  This was a godsend for me.  I  accepted the offer.  I had to do full-fledged ritualistic worship in the morning.  In the evening I had to do only naivedyam (ceremonial and symbolic offering of food to the deity) and deepaaraadhana ( lighting  up camphor and waving it  before the deity chanting mantras).   I had to bathe twice daily, once before the morning worship and  then before the evening worship.  
My brother and I got admission to the fourth form (equivalent to the ninth standard).  Eventually, I got full scholarship and my brother got 50% scholarship.  The rupees four I earned every month was used to pay the other 50% of the fees my brother had to pay.
English was the first language those days.  The second language was either Malayalam or Sanskrit.   I opted for Sanskrit.  My brother opted for Malayalam.
I did well in all the subjects -  English, Sanskrit, Science, Arithmetic, Geography and History.  The curriculum did not put much load on me and I had plenty of spare time.  I made the best use of the school library.  I read the novels by Sir Walter Scott,  Charles Dickens,  Alexander Dumas, Captain Marryat and others.  I also read the detective novels of Sir Arthur Conon Doyle and Agatha Christie.  All this reading improved my English vocabulary and my grammar was also good.  I was confident of answering the English paper in my own words without committing to memory passages from the English text book.
Geography and English Grammar were my favourite subjects.  I used to pore over the Oxford World Atlas for hours together locating continents, countries, cities,  rivers, mountains, deserts, tropical forests and other features of the landscape.   In addition to the prescribed text books, I browsed through the books on the subject borrowed from the library.  Though the medium of instruction in the High school was Malayalam, I used to supplement that knowledge by reading books in English covering the subjects concerned:
A classmate of mine in the village needed help with his arithmetic.  I used to spend considerable time with him during the summer vacation and on Sundays and holidays.  I used to help him  work out several problems from the text books.  In the process I developed my own problem solving skills in arithmetic. 
I continued to perform Shiv Puja In the lawye’s house morning and evening.  I used to get up around 4.30 am and accompany my father to the river where he used to bathe.  We walked about 3 miles from our house to reach the river.  In the morning twilight we had to walk along  a narrow path with thick foliage on both sides.   It could harbour poisonous snakes.  We clapped our hands which was the usual practice when passing through areas infested with snakes.  It was believed that snakes could not hear and see simultaneously  Therefore when they were hearing the clapping sound they could not see and could not bite us.  Of course, we had to tread carefully lest we step on a snake crossing the path.
The water in the river used to be muddy during the rainy season.  During  summer  we had to remove the sand for a depth of three feet or so to get water.  We had to lie down and bathe in the water.    After bathing we used to do Sandhyavandanam sitting on the sandy bed of the river. By the time we reached home it used to be around 7 o’  clock in the morning.  I then proceeded to the  house where I had to do the ritual worship of the deity.  The lawyer’s family consisted of his wife, his three sons, his widowed daughter and her son,  and a daughter-in-law who was the wife of the eldest son.  This son  was employed in a far-away city but his wife stayed in the village with her in-laws.  Those were days when young brides hardly ever spoke to their  husbands in the presence of the elders in the house. They rarely ventured out without being accompanied by the husband or a male relative.  Since communication those days was mainly by Post, the daughter-in-law would entrust to me  the task of posting her letters to her husband before I left their house after performing the morning worship.   Evidently, she could not ask the elders in the house to post those letters.  Also, she was not sure whether her writing to the husband would meet with their approval.
Returning from the Puja, I revised the lessons done in the class, had breakfast and walked to the school.  Sometimes one of my classmates joined me and together we reached the school.  I carried my lunch to school and ate it during the lunch break between 1.00 pm and 1.30 pm.
Our high school had both boys and girls.  Adjacent to our school there was a high school run by the local board exclusively for girls.   In spite of it, if some girls had been enrolled in our school,  it was because of the quality of education provided here.  There were exclusive seats in the classroom earmarked for boys and girls. The girls didn’t mix with the boys and there was hardly any interaction  between them.  The teachers frowned upon such behaviour.  It was also discouraged by the parents.
Those were the days when the Second World War had just ended.  Since resources had been diverted to the war effort there was great shortage of  items of consumption for the general public.  During the war, government had introduced a system of rationing of food grains, sugar and kerosene oil. Control on the movement of food grains from one place to another required permission from government-appointed officers.  Even textiles were on the list of items controlled. Each family had been issued a ration card and supplies were made through ration shops set up in each locality.  Norms per unit had been laid down in terms of quantities of rice, wheat,  sugar and kerosene oil. These norms restricted supply to a level  much below the demand.  There was also price control putting a ceiling on the prices to be charged.   Each adult or child above 12 years  was entitled  to get one unit at the controlled rate.  Children below 12 were eligible for half a unit.  Since rice was in short supply it was substituted by coarser grains like ragi or maize. Grains were procured by government from the farmers and delivered to the ultimate consumers through ration shops set up under  what was called the Public Distribution System. 
Our staple food was rice and because of shortage of rice we were forced to use wheat, ragi or maize to make up the deficiency.  This situation gave rise to a thriving black market in rice and sugar and other consumables.  There was leakage of goods from the public distribution system into the hands of private traders who made profits by selling the goods at much above the controlled rates.  There used to be long queues when textile items were being distributed through retail outlets.  Each one got something, not of one’s choice, but something randomly picked up by the shopkeeper from the pile.  Someone got a dhoti, another one a sari, yet another a shirt piece and so on. 
Our share of paddy from the land had to be brought from a place about 4 miles from our place.  Transport of this paddy required a permit from the Purchase Officer.  My typing skills proved useful for getting into the good books of this officer. I helped him by typing some urgent material  which his staff could not handle because of the volume.  I completed the job in a couple of days working from morning to evening.  He was quite pleased.   I could get the permit for transporting the paddy in a couple of hours.  Normally it required the submission of an application and the wait of a few days to get the permit.
The freedom struggle that culminated on India becoming independent on the 15th of August 1947 had fired our imagination though we were not in a position to actively participate in the movement.  The Salt Satyagraha, the non-cooperation movement and the Quit-India movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajaji  and others powerfully impacted us.  The first Independence day was celebrated by us with great joy and hope.  We were looking forward to an India free in body, mind and spirit and politically, economically and intellectually independent.   We did not imagine at that time the depths to which our country would plunge in  politics, economics, healthcare, education and governance.
I topped the list of students who passed the annual examination conducted by the school for students of  the fourth form and was promoted to the fifth form.  Here,  students had to take an optional subject either mathematics or physics.  My brother and I opted for mathematics which covered algebra and geometry.  Arithmetic had to be studied by all students. I enjoyed the selections in the  Sanskrit text book. The poetic beauty of the piece from  Kumarasambhavam of Kalidasa captivated me.  It was about the penance of Parvati to attain Siva as her husband.  Siva was in deep meditation after his consort Sati gave up her body when her father performed a sacrifice to which all the gods were invited except her husband Siva.   Sati was born as Parvati in her next birth.  The gods were interested in the union of Parvati with Siva so that Kumara (Karthikeya) born of their union could kill the demon Taraka.  To this end they sent Kama (Cupid) with all his retinue to the Himalayas where Siva was sitting in deep tapas.  Kama aimed his arrow of flowers at Siva who slightly opened his third eye and reduced Kama to ashes.  Parvati who was engaged in serving Siva could not bear this.  She decried her beauty which had failed to captivate Siva. She was now determined to win him over,  not by her beauty,  but by her intense tapas.  Siva appears before her in the guise of a brahmachari.  The brahmachari argues that Siva was not a suitable bridegroom for her.  He lives in the cremation ground, smears ashes on his body, rides an old bullock, carries a begging bowl, wears snakes as ornaments, clothes himself with the hide of an elephant etc.  Parvati, on the other hand, lives in a palace, smears her body with sandal paste, rides an elephant, is a princess, wears ornaments of gold studded with diamonds and wears clothes of fine silk. How can the two be matched?  Parvati gives fitting replies to the brahmachari and angrily turns away from him.   That moment Siva takes his own form,  takes her by her hand and says that he had been bought over by her tapas and will ever remain at her service.  The yearning of Parvati for Siva and the depth of her love are narrated to the brahmachari by Parvati’s maid  in a language the poetic beauty of which cannot be described in ordinary words.
Geometry and Algebra taxed my powers of reasoning and deduction but by practice I gained proficiency in both. Using a chalk piece, I used the red oxide coated  floor of the house to solve problems in algebra and geometry.  In addition to the text by Bernard & Child I also solved problems from Pearpoint.  Though the subject was taught in Malayalam, I followed the English text books better.  I did well in the annual examination and was promoted to the sixth form.  I passed the Secondary School Leaving Certificate Examination held in the month of April 1949 at the age of 17 years and 6 months.  I secured 461 marks out of 600 which in those days was considered exceptionally good.  There was no system of announcing the toppers in the SSLC examination.  But the presidency average in each subject was entered in our SSLC Book.  The following were the marks I got compared with the average:
                     Subject                      Total            Marks          Presidency        
                                                       Marks          Secured           Average
       English                                     100               76                      34
       Second Language                    100               89                      48
       Elementary Maths                   100               86                     48
       Elementary Science                 100               61                      40
       History & Geography               100               64                     33
       Algebra & Geometry                100                85                    43
                 Total                                 600              461                  246
              Average                               100                77                      41
That was the end of my schooling.  I got the first  prize for general proficiency in studies at the annual day of N E High School, Alathur.


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