In the Indic traditions, we all grow up with the most buoying and arousing edifications. For starters, of course, we’re not sinners. And we don’t need any saving. We can have as many lifetimes as we please to deal with our shit; no messiahs for us, thank you. It’s all going to end anyway, and then rise anew from the debris.
So before I’m charged with presenting an unbelievably sketchy and convenient caricature, let me drive to my point. We’re all Gods. Well, potential ones, anyway.
Yes, it depends on which Sampradaya you ask – you could be the cosmic whole itself, a part of the whole, ‘inconceivably same as but also different from’ the whole, or some permutation/ combination thereof. There’s also a very interesting theory, that ‘33 crore’, the strength of the Vedic pantheon, roughly corresponds to the population of the Indian subcontinent at one point. So there you have it. (Again, it could turn out that ‘koti’ – the Sanskrit word that’s translated as crore, could actually have an entirely different connotation in those verses, and it may actually just be 33 ‘types’ of deities in the pantheon.)
But afford me, if you will, the liberty to peddle an oversimplification of the whole matter to you. Like I said, we’re all potential Gods here. Rejoice, ye mortals!
I, for my part, am not given to grandiose delusions of this type. Those who know me will also be quick to put any such suggestion to rest - rather dismissively, I might add. But I have many fit candidates in the family. One of them took leave for the stars a little over a year back.
Her significant other, my Grandfather, did that much too soon. It was only recently that my grandmother - after discharging all her earthly duties - claimed her rightful place beside him, hence making his divinity consummate*.
My grandfather was many things – a patriot, freedom fighter, scholar, educationist, social reformer… I could go on. I have never seen him. Which may sound really awful to the fortunate amongst you who have grown up under your grandparents' affectionate gaze, before I tell you that even my father didn’t see much of him. His eldest offspring, my Bua, was 19, and the youngest one, my deceased Chachu, 2, when he parted with this life.
There’s a childishly rosy bromide about young deaths:
“Whom the gods love die young”. But I’ve always held that the chap who said this was surely on to something, for Dadaji was just 44 then, in the middle of his PhD. And that’s fairly young for an Indian man, if Bollywood and Parliament are indications to go by.
He was born in a very dynamic time in Indian history- the British Raj. A sizable chunk of people felt that we were inferior and that the British were on a civilizing mission, and they’d grovel happily before their Sahibs. They were party to their crimes and the Raj thrived on them. Many were indifferent, and accepted the British as their rulers (perhaps because we had become used to Mlecchas ruling us for the good part of a millennium.) But there were also many who were prepared to lay down their lives fighting for freedom. The Raj in many ways galvanized our nation to get its act together (though we could not keep it up after independence). The reason I lay such emphasis on this period is because I feel that had he been born in some other age, he may not have attained the state of perfection that he did. It was in the pursuit of Independence that he discovered himself and honed his character. The air he breathed was laden with a ‘je ne sais quoi’, which stimulated him. He was the son of a wealthy jeweler, but left it all behind. He joined the freedom struggle at the age of twelve. The first movement he joined was ‘Khudai Khidmatgar’ started by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. There was no looking back after then. The rest of his life was devoted to the nation, even after Independence. The man never went to school or college after fifth grade. His family wanted him to become a jeweler, like his father and his father before him, you know how it goes. He appeared privately for all his exams and passed with a distinction. He had an MA each in English and in Political Science. He was pursuing a PhD in the latter when he parted this life. He also completed a substantial part of his education during incarceration. All this without a formal education for a good part of his childhood, facing great opposition from his family and having been saddled with the great responsibility of marriage at the tender age of 14. Remarkable, isn’t it?
That’s not all. He was an anachronism; he was too advanced for his time. How many people, even today, would call a bunch of manual scavengers home and feed them instead of Brahmins for the ‘Shradha’ ceremony? From what I know of the man, it would be safe to count this gesture of his along with Vivekananda puffing away on a hookah with lower caste men in the presence of his community elders. Or indeed, Ram’s fondly recounted encounter with Shabri, or many other precedents set by our tallest figures from history, mythology, and that ‘subtle’ (I use the quotes advisedly) realm that transcends both those neat categories - that we know as our sacred Itihasa. All of these people did the unthinkable. My grandfather may not exactly have been at the vanguard, but he was following in the same spiritual tradition.
He was such a commanding presence on this planet that association with him could effect a metanoia in people’s lives. He had such an influence over people that my grandmother - a classic brat before marriage (I mean that in the nicest way, grampa, I love Amma too) – effortlessly eased into the most stoic lifestyle. A certain anecdote that my father’s aunt (our lovely Chhoti Amma) would relate with absolute relish, should lend perspective. She once got her father, a very influential man, to force a shop open in the dead of night. A particular dress had caught her fancy earlier in the day. And she suddenly decided that it must absolutely adorn her wardrobe. No, the sun might never have risen again for all she knew; she had to have it Now! You know, to be fair, that’s not exactly Queen of Hearts. But that’s as far as one can go before people stop calling it cute. Mind you, this was not too long before her marriage, though the marriage itself may be called slightly premature by today’s standards. The interesting bit, however, being that after marrying my grandfather, she vowed to don only ‘khadi’ (in keeping with Gandhi’s call). Those who had known her, raised her, been her playmates, would not settle for anything short of hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth.
When my grandfather was in jail, she’d sleep on a rag, eat only what her husband was being served, and allow herself only those comforts and indulgences that he was allowed. Such was their bond, but that’s another story for another time.
Becoming associated with my grandfather had been a veritable inflection point in at least half a dozen lives. And that’s a very conservative figure; I’m not even starting with his students. I got a vicarious taste of the above when my Daddy (that’s what I call my father’s elder brother, and you have to be subjected to this insignificant detail because I can’t bring myself to refer to him any other way) paid a visit to a man who’d been one of my grandfather’s best friends, and returned to tell us what had transpired.
Now, let’s just say that said friend had at a juncture fallen upon certain ways that didn’t sit well with my grandfather’s outlook and convictions. After he conveyed him as much, a respectful distance arose between the two, and time stepped in to do its job of widening it. Even though both remained friends, and in the depths of their hearts must have known that either (or both) would come around, destiny had different plans. Our host had been bereaved of his semi-estranged friend in the most abrupt and cruel manner, and he had lived with that anguish ever since. Seeing his friend’s son, all grown up, after all these years had triggered such a cathartic outburst that the man fell at Daddy’s feet. Right there, in front of his wife, he wept like a baby. The two hadn’t reconciled their differences while Inder was alive, he told him, but he had since striven to live a life his departed friend would have been proud of. It was only after hearing this story that it dawned on me that my grandfather had truly been a phenomenon.
There are countless such sublime incidents from his life. The sad part is I can’t know them all. All his letters, his diaries are lost. To top that, fame wasn’t this man’s cup of tea. He believed that he would be better off contributing from the sidelines, leading from behind. He turned down the ‘prizes’ and compensations the Government was handing out to those who’d been part of the freedom struggle and refugees from across the border (he was both). Some of the tallest leaders from the time wanted him to enjoy the fruits of office; one proclaimed him better than his own sons and wanted to pass on his mantle to him. He rejected countless opportunities to hog the limelight, which may have etched his name in the nation’s memory. He didn’t even rush to get ‘clicked’ with the who’s who, and there are few photographs of him, most of them solo or with family. All this has left me disappointed, because I’ve always wanted to write a book on him, and he has left behind nothing but his legacy.
Maybe that’s how he wanted it. He believed that he was just another faceless man doing his bit for the world, and took care not to do so conspicuously. But this faceless man left behind a formidable legacy; and pretty roomy shoes to fill. I’m a lesser man, and whatever light I shine (in irregular and widely spaced spurts) is but a weak reflection of his brilliance. I am, nevertheless, proud to be the heir to that legacy.
I may never have seen him, but my grandmother kept furnishing me with the choicest stories from the man’s short but exemplary life - a model for me to emulate, if not in letter then definitely in spirit. He is my ‘Personal’ God (pun intended), almost up there with Shiva and Hanuman and Krishna and Rama. He may have had a much smaller sphere of influence, he may have been a mere mortal compared to these perfected archetypes, but he was far ahead on the continuum than most of us can hope to get.
I believe it was Nietzsche who said, “Though the favorites of the Gods die young, they live eternally in the company of the Gods”. I have nothing to add, except that they don’t make men like him anymore.
*‘Dampatya’ – you’ll hardly find a God worth the name here who doesn’t have a consort, who happens to be a true equal (not in the modern sense of the word) and who complements him in every way, just as he does her.