First Edition: Nov. 16, 1976
Price: Rs. 10.00
We Learn from Mistakes
Retort Doesn't Pay
Voluntary Action & Government Duty
Disadvantages of Indecision
Mute but Magnanimous
Victims of Systems
Indifference to Injustice
Visit to a Scholar
Understand and Help
Tastes and Needs
Can't We Work Together?
Morality vs Legality
Old Habits Die Hard
Who is Civilized
|Idealism vs Institutionalism
Dreams Reflect Our Own Thoughts
Heights of Imagination
Negligence of Duty
Humans, Divided by Prejudice
Utility vs Beauty
Capitalist Mind of Commonman
Right Requires Action Too
At the age of 68 there are very few people who wish to learn. But Gora is an exception. Learning is a mental process which implies unlearning. Many people nave new experiences. But do they kern from them? When we learn new things we unlearn our past notions about many things in life. We cling to our old habits and customs so much that we fear to learn what does not conform to or confirm our old ways of life.
One should be fearless if one has to learn. If one is not frank one sets his face against anything new. Gora, a world-renowned atheist, conducted experiments in and with his life with atheistic outlook. With a scientific and humanistic mind he looked at the problems of life, analysed and understood them and suggested solutions. He had an open mind.
All his life he fought against slave mind, blind faith, god and superstitions which made people close their minds against new ideas. To expose superstitious practices he organised open demonstrations of fire walking and of witnessing eclipse by pregnant women which is prohibited by custom.
He was a lecturer and Head of the Department of Botany for fifteen years in various colleges in Colombo (Srilanka), Madurai, Coimbatore, Kakinada and Masulipatam in South India. He taught his students not only Botany but scientific c outlook on life. He fought against the unscientific attitude of teachers and students of science who confined their studies to text books and laboratories without translating scientific outlook into life.
All his life he was a teacher and learner at the same time. As a teacher he expounded the cause of atheism but, at the same time, he was ready to learn from life. He was not bigoted or fanatical, but he was ever ready to learn.
From 1932 to till his death on July 26, 1975, he propagated atheism in towns and villages. He addressed meetings in universities and slums. Met Mahatma Gandhi and became one of his close associates. He was with Vinoba Bhave in the Bhoodan movement. He started a movement for economic equality. He led a 1100 mile foot march from Sevagram Ashram to New Delhi in 1961 against pomp of the government ministers who, he said, should be the servants of people and not their masters. The long foot march culminated in meeting the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi. Gora appealed to him to set an example to people by leading an austere life and to shift from the palatial building of Teen Murthi to a modest residence. He conducted a campaign for partyless democracy.
He strove all his life for eradication of untouchability. He promoted inter-dining and inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. He set an example by encouraging inter-caste marriages in his family. His daughter and son married the so-called "untouchables" with a view to break the traditional barriers of caste.
The cause of economic equality was the basis of many of his programmes of action. To promote the movement for grow more food, he advocated replacement of flower plants with edibles. Considering that rigid food habits were responsible for keeping apart people belonging to different castes and religions, he openly arranged the Beef and Pork parties in 1972. He organized the first World Atheist Conference in 1972 at the Atheist Centre, Vijayawada.
He went on world tours in 1970 and again in 1974. He met atheists, humanists, rationalist and social change workers in Europe, America, Australia and Asia. He was a delegate to the International Conference of the Humanist and Ethical Union held at Boston, U.S.A., in 1970 and at Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1974. He visited the Soviet union also in 1974 at the invitation of the Union of Soviet Friendship societies and the Soviet-Indian Cultural Society. Thus he could make a comparative study of the capitalist and communist ways of life.
He extensively toured India, especially villages, slums and untouchable quarters. He led an austere life and travelled in the third class railway compartments as a matter of principle. He had a variegated experience with all classes and castes of people. He made a positive atheistic approach to life. He urged people to be self-reliant and free and work for social and economic equality. He considered god as a falsehood which is responsible for keeping down people in poverty, illiteracy and ignorance.
He was a prolific writer, His first comprehensive book on atheism, Nasiikatvam, in Telugu language published in 1941 creased a stir. He said that atheism is not godlessness, but a positive way of life. Man should have faith in himself in this world and not in god, rebirth and other world. Gora's Positive Atheism published in 1972 is the essence of his thought. His autobiographical account, We Become Atheists, was posthumously published in 1975 and it shows how Gora, with his family and friends and colleagues, worked for atheism. Among his other books An Atheist with Gandhi and Partyless Democracy: Its Need and Form need special mention.
To propagate his views he started Sangham (Society), an atheist Telugu weekly in 1949, Arthik Samata (Economic Equality) another Telugu periodical and a Hindi monthly Insaan (Man). In January 1969 he started The Atheist, an English monthly, with himself as its editor. He was an effective writer whose words appealed to the hearts of the people. Even those that disagreed with him could not but concede his point and have respect for his personality and his views.
With such deep and rich experience of life, he wrote a regular feature in The Atheist "I LEARN". It became popular. It is short and brief, no doubt, but relates an incident or experience poignantly. Attention is focused on it. Sometimes it touches one's heart. Some of them are humorous. In this connection it is good to remember that Gora had a very fine sense of humour. These articles have the intimacy of a sketch and the aesthetic sense of a short story. Some of them look commonplace and trivial. But Gora reads deep into them. His heart was there in every word he wrote so they move our hearts. Many look around but miss many things. Gora had a keen eye of a scientist. He was a clear observer and a sincere commentator. When he touched a problem, he suggested solution. He analysed a situation and drew a conclusion which was not simply logical, but psychological. He made a human approach to human problems. Dogmatism and fanaticism was not known to him. His conclusions were expressed at the end of each article in aphoristic and epigrammatic style. He dived deep into human experience and brought out pearls of wisdom.
Life teaches many lessons. He learns them and shares the wealth of his experience with others. There is a deep moral import in what he says. Everything is on a human level. He makes the reader think and feel for others.
Gora says "I learn." But the readers may also say: "We too learn from your "I LEARN".
G. S. RAO
Vijayawada 520 006
10th November, 1976.
We Learn From Mistakes
Some years ago I was shown around a work centre for child welfare. There were three women workers; the chief among them was an elderly lady with decent education. She was devoting herself to the cause of child welfare with motherly affection. The main work of the centre was to collect about twenty children from nearby slums, to feed them with milk and to make them play for an hour every morning. The children would not stay longer, as they were required at their homes to baby sit or gather dry twigs and cattle dung by the road side for fuel, while their mothers went out to earn wages by daily manual labour.
At the end of my visit I was requested to give a short talk to the three women workers and to the few adults who had come there by that time, perhaps to have a look at the stranger. Among other things, I told them that the children should be taught to come in a line to receive the milk, to take bath every morning, etc. I appealed to the parents to keep their children longer at the centre and help the running of the school. I remember to have written about two pages of matter in the visitors' book, repeating what I told at the meeting. In thanking me for the visit, the elderly lady quietly said that the workers would be benefitted if I showed them by example in practice what I told them.
Later, I reflected on the elderly lady's remark. When I had occasions to conduct similar child welfare programmes, I could not put into practice a fraction what those three ladies were doing, not to speak of what I told them and wrote in the visitors' book. I have learnt a lesson from this experience. I should appreciate everywhere what is done and not misuse my privilege as a visitor or guest by sermonizing on perfections. If I go to that centre again, and if it is still working, I shall make a request either to expunge my note in the visitors' book or to allow me to make a post-script admitting my mistake. We learn from mistakes too.
27th November, 1968.
Retort Doesn't Pay
An incident at a public meeting taught me a lesson of self-control That was thirty years ago. I was addressing an elite gathering on "Atheism". The prejudice against atheism was still high.
As usual I greeted the audience with a salutation at the start of the talk. Then at the e question time, a gentleman asked me in an excited mood, why I greeted the audience at the start of the meeting. I answered that it was out of courtesy and that the greeting would announce the start of the meeting. Evidently the gentleman wanted a plea to mock at atheism. So at once he remarked that, as an atheist, I could change the form of greeting from salutation to a slap on the face of anyone whom I wanted to greet. The suggestion was clearly absurd. I should have left it there. Instead, I retorted that the method of slap could be adopted, provided one was prepared to receive a slap in return of the greeting. The audience enjoyed the joke with a loud laughter. The gentleman was fooled and he left the hall.
The matter did not end there. When the meeting dispersed, a group of friends of the gentleman gathered round me and accused me of humiliating their friend. They admitted that the remark of their friend regarding the slap was foolish indeed. But as an advocate of a cause, I should have shown a better sense of forbearance and humour than giving a retort. Obviously they were displeased with me.
I reflected on the incident and I have learnt that I made a mistake in retorting and thereby losing the sympathy of that gentleman and of his friends. Anyone, especially a public worker, ought to keep cool in the face of provocation. Otherwise he loses sympathy for the cause for which he stands. Retorts exhibit wit but not wisdom.
9th January, 1969.
I was teaching for a year at a college in Colombo city. I was 25 and my wife 17 years of age.
My wife and I were bred up in orthodox Hindu tradition. We shared its virtues as well as its drawbacks. One belief was that an expectant mother should not move out, cut or break anything at the time of an eclipse, but should confine herself indoors and rest in darkness. Transgression of the practice, it was believed, would maim the foetus.
First time my wife was in the family way six months when a solar eclipse came in. According to the convention, she should retire into a dark room at the time. But we were beginning to grow atheistic. So we both argued, "if the effects of an eclipse on expectant mothers were a reality, as real as the fire scorches and a thorn pricks, all expectant mothers, Hindu or non-Hindu all over the world, should be effected equally. But in Colombo city where non-Hindus abound, why do women, of whom there should be a considerable number of expectant mothers too, move about freely, unmindful of the occurrence of the eclipse?" This comparative thinking emboldened us to violate the traditional belief. My wife walked out into the open air, cut vegetables, bit and ate sweetmeats, as the solar eclipse was in progress.
Later she normally delivered of a normal child.
Superstitions grow in communities due to indolence to think and fear to act.
6th March, 1969.
Twenty years ago Kaikalur was a small railway station on a metre-gauge trench line. The up and down trains crossed there and each train stopped for five minutes. So it was the only station which was provided with a tea-stall on that branch line. Passengers would rush to the stall and hurriedly have a sip of tea, during the brief halt of the train.
I waited on the platform to catch a train at Kaikalur. The signal was down and my train would arrive in another ten minutes. I felt like taking a cup of tea and walked up to the tea-stall on the platform.
The vendor was an elderly person. He was the private contractor of the tea-stall. At my request he served me with a cup of tea. I was surprised, for the tea was not very hot, but only drinkably hot.
At restaurants tea was served very hot. Customers poured it out alternately into two cups in order to cool
it down to drinkable hotness. The process of cooling took fairly a few minutes, but it had become so common and constant that it was a habit to cool the hot tea before it was drunk. It could be celled a conditioned reflex. So drinkable hotness of the tea, when it was served, deprived the customer of the opportunity to cool the tea before he drank it and thus disturbed his habit. Hence my first reaction of surprise when I found the tea not very hot at the Kaikalur stall.
I enquired the vendor. Straight and calm he replied "I was serving hot tea as usual, but I found that during the short period the trains halted, the passengers had hardly time to cool down the tea and to drink it. As a train whistled to start passengers often left the tea partly in the cups and ran back to catch the train. I was grieved. They paid in full but they did not take the tea in full. So I thought of this plan, I begin to cool the tea to drinkable hotness, when the signal is down for the arrival of a train. I keep some hot tea for those who ask for it."
It was sound common sense, combined with humanitarian considerations and honesty in trade relations. Full tea for full price! I pondered over the words of the vendor as I sat in the train.
A few years later when I went to Kaikalur again, I looked for the vendor at the tea-stall. He was not there; but his words ring in my ears years after I heard them.
5th April, 1969.
I was going to Madanapalli for a conference. The organisers asked me to go there a day earlier for preliminary consultations.
Madanapalli is on a branch railway line. Its railway junction is Pakala where train should be changed for going to Madanapalli. My train reached Pakala. I was very happy to find the other train on the next platform for connecting trains were often missed. Therefore with special glee I changed into the other train.
The other train started. Lo! In a few minutes I discovered that it was going in the direction I had come to Pakala. I got into the wrong train!
When I got back to the old place again, I explained my stupidity to the station master as I held the ticket to proceed to Madanapalli, but not to return to the old station. It meant that I had not only to pay for the return, but to lose a day in waiting to go to Pakala again.
The next day at Pakala I inquired ten times to make myself cocksure that I got into the right train to go to Madanapalli. I reached Madanapalli in time for the conference, but not a day earlier as I planned at first.
Had I made enquiries at Pakala the previous day itself, I could have easily saved extra expense and needless disappointment.
So I learnt the lesson that I should not assume too much hereafter. To admit ignorance is no shame but to pretend wisdom is a big loss.
12th June, 1969
I was introduced to a famous astrologer. He was reputed to have predicted big profits to a cine-producer, if a picture was released at a certain hour on a certain day. The producer followed the advice and made pots of money. So the cine-magnate took the astrologer as his personal secretary on three-times the salary he was getting as the manager of a commercial concern, and consulted him for omens and auspicious occasions at every turn. The astrologer too shone in the glory of the producer's patronage. Famous as he was, the astrologer did not obviously relish the introduction of an atheist.
"So you don't believe in God?" he asked me at once.
"No, please?" I replied.
"In astrological predictions?"
"To be frank, I don't."
He stared at me and then at my cousin who introduced me. He invited both of us for tea the next evening with a condescending smile and a passing remark that he would disabuse me of my disbelief.
After tea, the astrologer examined the lines on my right palm with a hand lens. I told the astrologer that I would esteem readings which were verifiable instead of indulging in respectable vagueness like 'good' or 'evil days.'
The astrologer nodded his weighty head and with an air of confidence said, "I am reminding you of a sad event. Your fist wife passed away and this is your second wife.
"When did my first wife die, please?' I wanted to pin down the astrologer.
He studied a few more lines. "I can't be very exact. Three or four years ago," was the slow reply.
With suppressed laughter, my cousin told the astrologer, "I am sorry, Mr. M ... , Gora is happy with his wife. She is hale and healthy. There is no question of the second marriage at all."
The astrologers pride was hurt. His eyes goggled. On a second thought he looked into the lines then of my left palm and exclaimed, "Ah, I see. Your will
is so strong that you are determined not to marry again if your wife dies. So her life is prolonged."
A grand pronouncement! I was barely thirty.
I congratulated the astrologer on the brilliant idea.
There is more wit in astrologers than there is truth in astrology. Lines on the palms are formed by folds of closed fists in the foetus. Every joint contains such creases. To read a meaning into those lines is like the study of folds of crumpled papers thrown into the waste.
9th July, 1969
I was to address a public meeting on a certain day at 4 p.m. on atheism, The place was fifty miles away. Making allowance for the slow running of the bus, I arrived at the place two hours earlier that day. The organiser of the meeting received me at the bus stop and left me at a comfortable lodge with a promise to take me to the hall for the meeting.
I could see that the meeting was well advertised through hand-bills, wall-posters and placards. The organiser expected a big audience and I complimented him on the arrangements.
It was 3:50 p.m. and no one had come for me. The hall for the meeting was hardly five-minutes walk from my lodge. So I walked up to the hall.
Slogans in praise of atheism were displayed prominently inside the hall. The hall was large and could easily seat a thousand persons. But when I reached the hall there were a dozen persons scattered in the hall. Nevertheless exactly at 4 p.m. by my watch, which was fairly accurate, I mounted up the dais, announced myself as the speaker of the evening and started my talk on 'Atheism'.
The few in the hall were taken aback. They asked me to wait as several people from far and near had come to the place for the meeting. They were loitering in canteens and would be gathering at the hall in another hour. I replied that the time announced for the meeting was 4 p. m. and waiting for the late-comers would mean disrespect for those who had come in time.
At once half of the dozen audience rushed out of the hall to inform their friends that the meeting had begun. I continued my talk unconcernedly.
People began to pour in, within half-an-hour the hall was packed. The organiser also entered the hall in haste and protested loudly against my leaving the lodge before he came there for me.
I showed the hand-bill; the time announced for the meeting was 4 p.m.
For the benefit of the bigger audience, I related what I had said earlier in my talk. But I never considered the talk on Atheism as educating as the practice of punctuality. At the several meetings which I addressed later in that and in other districts, I always found the audience assembled a few minutes before the announced time.
7th September, 1969.
An experience with a friend provided me with a test for atheism.
Tirupati (Balaji) is a famous place of Hindu pilgrimage. The municipal town lies at the foot of a range of hills while the temple is situated at the top of a hill.
Thousands of pilgrims from far and near visit the temple everyday and the devotees are known for two religious practices. First, they make all-out donations of cash and gold to the god and second, they donate to the god their hair too. Therefore clean shaven heads of men, women and children symbolize visit to the temple at Tirupati.
I attended a three-day political conference at the municipal town of Tirupati. A friend who called himself an atheist was also a delegate to the conference. He sat by me on the first day at the conference. He was absent on the forenoon of the second day. The afternoon he came again; but to my surprise, with his head shaved in the manner of donating hair to the god of Tirupati.
There were quite a few delegates who took the opportunity of the conference for a visit to the temple and for donating their hair. That this "atheist" also should do the same was an astonishment.
His explanation revealed his mind. He visited the temple in the company of his friends. He followed the crowd in donating his hair. He tried to please me by saying that his hair would grow up in a few weeks.
The essence of atheism is the fight against this softness of the mind, a slavish obedience to a custom or to the crowd. Millions of devotees donate hair to god of Tirupati, out of religious faith or theistic convention. An atheist, to be worth the name, ought to resist both the faith and the convention and take up a firm, rational stand. But to fall in line with the crowd is as bad as putting forth the plea of divine will or fate's decree for acts of omission or of commission. It is worse when the culprit is an "atheist".
Evidently, my friend was not an atheist; he was an opportunist who desired to combine advantages by soft compromises.
8th October, 1969.
When I grow impatient of others talk, I am reminded of an experience of my student days. Hardly two months after I joined a college at Madras, I took part in a science exhibition. I was in charge of an exhibit of botanical interest. I was explaining my exhibit to the stream of visitors who cared to stop at my table. I was a stranger to Madras and I had no knowledge of the name and fame of the visitors to whom I was explaining my exhibit.
An elderly woman who was going round the exhibition came to my table. I could see that she evinced interest in my exhibit and also stayed longer at my table than at other places. Being encouraged by her concern, I waxed eloquent and explained my exhibit to her at length. She casually inquired where I collected the specimens, congratulated me on the performance and moved on to the other tables.
All the time that I was talking to the lady, my neighbour exhibitor was anxiously looking at me. As soon as she left me, he whispered in my ear, 'Do you know who she is? She is Dr. Kousalya.' Dr. Kousalya! I heard of her; she was the professor of Botany in women's college.
Indeed, what I said about my exhibit was simple, elementary knowledge to a professor of Botany. But she patiently listened to me. She did not cut me short nor did she hint that she need not be told of all that. Maybe she sympathised with my ignorance of her position. Had I known that I was talking to Dr. Kousalya, I would have requested her for guidance in the manner of my explanation of the exhibit, instead of haranguing in the way I did. Of course, one has to adopt the manner of talking to the person or the persons to whom he is talking. In this case, my ignorance was pardonable. But the patience she exercised in listening to me was a remarkable lesson which she taught me.
Conversation is a contract between two persons for coming to an understanding on the subject before them. The other person is as eager to put forth his points as I am to argue out my case. So listening in a conversation is half of the contract. Also listening often pays more then talking, for patient listening satisfies the other and wins his sympathy for me. In listening, I not only hope to know new things, but I should agree to know old things over again. With my patience I impress on the other that he has to listen to me with equal patience.
And Government Duty
A log of wood was lying half-way across a public road in a city. It was a big branch broken from a way-side tree. An old municipal labourer in ragged khaki dress was feebly cutting the log with an axe. Evidently he was ordered to remove the log from there.
It was around three o'clock in the afternoon. The axe had made a dent barely an inch deep. At this rate the single labourer would take two days to sever the log. In the meantime, the log, in that position, obstructed free flow of traffic, especially vehicular traffic.
How long the log had been lying there and why the branch was broken -- l did not care to enquire. When I went that way, I found a passer-by advising the old labourer to get the log lifted at first and laid length wise rather than wait for the removal of the obstruction till the log was cut. The advice was good, but who was to lift the log? At that time, I react reached the place. I offered my services to help lift the log. Now we were three the passer-by, the labourer and I attempting to push the log to a side. But it was too heavy to yield to our pressure.
Presently a hefty middle-aged man was going that way. We sought his co-operation. He curtly replied, "This is not my job, let the municipality get it done." He proceeded his way, without even casting another look at our vain effort. Two women who came there sympathised with our task and tried to push the log along with us. But the log was unchivalrous, it refused to move. Nevertheless, the attempt by the two women attracted a few more men to join us. The log began to rock. In a short time the number swelled to ten or twelve. Together we changed the angle of the log and removed the obstruction to the traffic.
Our work was finished. Without exchange of thanks and without visible signs of joy at the success, each of us went his or her way. The old municipal labourer resumed his work with the weary axe.
Did I do better job than that hefty man who remarked that, that was the work of the municipality and not his job? Indeed we pay taxes to the municipality and it ought to attend to such work with adequate care and resources. In this case of the log the municipality ought to have drafted more workers to shift the log at once and cleared the way for traffic. One worker was miserably inadequate for the task. Though voluntary action should supplement public administration, it should not encourage dereliction of duty on the part of a municipal body or of any department of the government. Neither that man who complained of the indifference of the municipality nor I who silently did voluntary action was wholly right as long as any of us did not draw the attention of the municipality to its duty. A significant duty of citizens is to see that their government does its duty.
6th December, 1969.
Mr. Papworth was a delegate from London at the International Seminar, held at Delhi, early this month. We were eighty delegates, half and half from India and abroad.
When I heard Papworth's name, I was reminded of my Principal with the same name at the Presidency College, Madras, forty-five years ago. I wondered if this Papworth was a cousin of my Principal. Before I verified my suspicion with Mr. Pap worth, the delegate, I enquired an Indian fellow delegate who was also a student at the Presidency College around that time. He assured me straightaway that this Papworth was the son of Mr. Papworth, the Principal.
With a gusto, I went to Mr. Papworth, shook hands with him and said, "Your father was my Principal".
"What?" he wondered.
"He was the Principal of the Presidency College, Madras, forty-five years ago, when I was a student there" I told him.
"I am sorry to disappoint you. My father never came to India" clarified Mr. Papworth.
Then I acquainted my Indian fellow delegate of my embarrassment. His reply was, "I thought so."
Anyone can think as he likes. But every thought is not a truth. A truth is a thought that stands the test of verification. If it fails to satisfy the test, it is a falsehood. An unverified thought is neither true, nor false; it is just an opinion. We must distinguish between these three kinds of thoughts, namely, truths, falsehoods and opinions. To confuse one for the other leads to disappointment, embarrassment and superstition.
It is not possible to verify every thought. Many acts are based upon opinions. All thoughts of future are, of course, opinions. Yet, where an unverified opinion is concerned, it is safe to say, "I think" instead of, "I know".
14th February, 1970
This may look strange; but it is a fact.
A middle aged man, his wife and two children were co-passengers in a railway journey. Later I learnt that the man and his wife were teachers in an elementary school. Each was getting about sixty rupees which was hardly sufficient in India to make both ends meet.
They carried their food with them in a cloth bundle, as paying for food at railway restaurants is too expensive for people of that kind. At about the noon time, they spread out the bundle of food; served their children first and they were preparing themselves to eat the meals. Presently the e train reached a big station and stopped there for ten minutes .
A man in rags and caved in belly approached our compartment and begged for charity. Some passengers paid him a few coins. The two teachers were moved with pity and wanted to share their food with the beggar. So they packed some food from their bundle in a sheet of paper and passed it on to the beggar.
To our surprise, the beggar asked for the caste of his benefactors. The teacher replied, We are Malas". At once the beggar cast a sharp look at the teachers, dropped down the packet of food on the platform, and left us quickly.
A dog which was loitering thereabout began to eat the food that was dropped down.
"Mala" is a sub-caste of "untouchables, in the hierarchy of Hindu caste-system. Evidently the beggar belonged to a higher caste. Indeed the teacher as well as the beggar subscribed to the same caste-system. Otherwise the teacher would not have called himself a "Mala". Nevertheless the teachers, for a moment, felt more as humans than as members of a caste, and magnanimously shared their food with a fellow-human whose need was greater than theirs. The beggar, on the other hand, who lay deep in caste prejudice, went hungry and degraded himself lower than the animal dog.
The pattern of human behaviour follows ideologies more than material needs. Heights of moral conduct are touched on account of ideologies. Destitution, disrespect and war are also due to ideologies. Re-consideration of ideologies is therefore, necessary to promote the virtues and to combat evils.
9th March , 1970.
Disadvantages of Indecision
I went to a village to meet a friend one afternoon. Presently a stranger also visited my friend. The company became heterogeneous with no common topic, as the new comer had no particular business with my friend except to pay respects to him. My friend had to pay the penalty for his reputation.
Since my friend was too polite to cut short conversation, we chatted long on formal matters. And then it was time for tea. My friend's wife inquired the visitor whether he liked tea or coffee. She knew my tastes.
The stranger promptly replied, "Anything, please".
Within a short time, my friend's wife joined the company with four cups of tea in a tray, three for us and one for her. The stranger took his cup, thanked the lady for her hospitality, sipped the cup and at once exclaimed, "Oh, tea. Tea disturbs my sleep at night. I take milk preferably, or coffee".
We three looked with astonishment. I broke the silence and told the stranger, "You said, 'anything'".
"Yes, but ... " he muttered.
The lady felt very sad, she had used up the milk for preparing tea. At that hour it was difficult to get milk in a village.
In the end she could not help the gentleman except with a cup of water.
When alternatives are presented we should learn to choose. Indecision embarrasses friends and often combines disadvantages.
7th April, 1970.
I was barely 30 years old. Close to my house lived a devout Christian family. The gentleman retired from Government service and was more than 65 years of age.
He was arranging talks at his home by renowned Christian preachers and I was attending them. He was kind-hearted, helpful to neighbours and generous to everyone. He was looked upon with respect by the neighbourhood and I developed filial affection for him.
He was outspoken and did not hide his feelings when he remarked that the Church was going more fashionable than pious. So he set apart a room in his home for the chapel where he and his family offered prayers every day. For such utterances and practices the gentleman was considered a nonconformist by Church goers.
One early morning he called at my house and after exchanging the usual greetings, put me the straight question, "Has God; the Father come to You please?" I was amusingly surprised at the question. For he had known that I was entertaining atheistic views and that I was outcaste by my parents for atheistic practices. My regard for him prevented me from entering into a discussion at once. So I simply smiled and kept silent. He nodded his venerable head and went away.
Two days later he came to me almost at the same time in the morning hours and asked me again, "Has God, the Father, come to you, please?" This time I invited him into my drawing room and requested him to tell me what he meant by that question.
In a sedate voice he told me, "I do not doubt the existence of God, So God need not appear to me. But you doubt His existence. Therefore for the last two months I have been adding to my prayers the request that the Heavenly Father might be pleased to appear to you and dispel your doubts. I have a strong hope that my prayers will be answered."
I was impressed with the depth of his faith and his concern for an infidel. I thought for a while and said, "I hope your prayers will be answered. When god comes to me, both of us will go to you. We will consider the problems of poverty, untouchability and war. Being the almighty, god should be able to give us concrete solutions for the problems!" The old man narrowed his eye-brows and looked at me askance. Evidently he did not suppose that I had taken his question as seriously as he meant it. Then he sat straight in the chair, closed his eyes for a minute, stood up, shook hands with me, nodded his head and left me. Maybe, when he shut his eyes, he prayed for my redemption.
As usual, I went to him several times afterwards. He did not move the subject with me any longer. Nevertheless, I told him once that visions and revelations were hallucinations, which were caused by suggestion, drug and disease. He pitied my irreverence towards matters of deeper significance.
A few months later, I left for another town on a job. When I visited the old place four years afterwards and wanted to pay my respects to that old man, I found that he passed away a year ago.
Faith closes the mind. Therefore religious faith has made good men but not a good society.
15th May, 1970.
A mother and her son of four years were my co-passengers in a railway travel. The boy wanted to sit by the window of the compartment while his mother wanted to pull him out and put him in a middle seat. The mother engaged herself with reading a weekly magazine; the little boy would always try to sneak into the side of the window and like to peep out. The mother pulled him out every time and beat him sometimes for his obduracy.
A gentleman in tile compartment dissuaded her from punishing the boy. "What do you know?" bawled out the mother, "last month a particle of coal from the steam-engine fell into the eye of my brother's son and it gave a lot of trouble. If the same thing happens to my boy, will you come to my relief?"
The women in the compartment supported her contention. They said that mothers should punish children in order to tend them well. They were right from the point of view of the care and responsibility of mothers for their children. But the problem looked different from that boy's point of view. Children like to see new things. The quick passage of trees and mounds by the railway track as the train speeds along, has a special charm for children of that age.
They cannot read a book or brood over a domestic problem, as adults do. They have to peep out of the railway compartment at the window. The interests of the mother and the boy conflict. What to do?
When the discussion quieted down, the gentleman asked the mother again, "What did you do at that age?" All around burst into a peal of laughter when she quickly replied, "I stood at the window and my mother beat me."
The gentleman appealed, "Should you repeat what your mother or grandmother did? Try to satisfy the boy with a better method." He paused and said, "Let us lower the glass shutter and allow the boy to stand at the window."
It was done. The boy stood at the window. The mother resumed reading. Half an hour later the boy slept with his head on the mother s lap. The shutter was raised to allow free breeze inside.
Fresh thinking finds new solutions.
8th May, 1970.
Mute but Magnanimous
New York is a very crowded city, especially the area of Manhattan which is an island, like Bombay. On every road we see a stream of cars. Besides buses, the most popular means of transport is the subway. "Subway" railway trains with eight or nine compartments run by electricity. Except at the out-skirts, the whole railway line and the railway stations are underground. Each station has one or two passages coming to the surface by staircases. The railway lines run in tunnels underground, which run so deep that at some stations there are three levels of platforms one below the other. Each level is connected with the one above by staircases There are escalators at a few major subway stations. The trains are air-conditioned and the stations and tunnels are profusely lighted. Air is pumped into the tunnels and into the stations, so there is not much congestion of air, though the subway climate is not as free as on the surface.
The subway lines are so many running in different directions that it is the common man's means of transport. Also those who own cars, go to offices in the subway, as it is difficult to find place to park the cars near their offices. Parking places are rented for durations of quarter hour, one hour, six hours or for a day provided by the Municipality and by private landlords. The rental charge goes up to two dollars too. The subways are therefore very crowded in the morning and evening hours when offices open and close. To relieve the congestion of traffic, different offices in the same region open and close at different times.
My son, Vijayam, and I used the subways frequently to go about places in the New York City.
As the subway travel lasts only for a few minutes for each passenger, the seats in the compartment are long with a few seater benches. One evening I was alone on a two-seater bench and another elderly white woman also was alone on the two seater bench next to me. The lady was interested in knowing about India since her sister was working with a Christian Mission at Bangalore. We entered into a conversation. Presently a Black (Negro) of about 35 years entrained into our compartment and took the seat next to me on the same bench. I gave him room. But he was making gestures which seemed strange. The white-black relation in USA is like rich-poor or like the master-servant relation. The consciousness that Blacks were slaves of the Whites till two or three generations ago has not died out wholly, though earnest attempts are being made by philanthropic work both on the side of the Whites and of the Blacks. The white elderly woman who was talking with me made a wry face when the Negro took the seat by my side, but continued to talk with me. The Black however, was making some gestures. We were indifferent to him.
The subway, unless it is an express, stops, almost every couple of minutes as the stations are so close. And at the next stop two white old women got into our compartment. They remained standing as all the seats were occupied and the train was crowded in the evening hours. It is not unusual in the subways to mind one's own seating comforts, unmindful of others. It is not much of an inconvenience either, as passengers seldom travel distances longer than ten or fifteen minutes. But the Black man by my side reacted differently. He pushed me into the seat next to the white woman with whom I was talking, stood up himself, and in the two seats thus vacated, he invited the two white old women by means of suitable gestures. Before he got down a few minutes later, he shook hands with me and made me understand that he was mute.
The old white woman and I looked at each other in mute admiration of the generosity of that mute Black man.
Philadelphia, 27th September, 1970.
In some ways of using common sense, we do not seem to have improved, in India or America, within these thirty years.
When I was teaching in colleges, an elderly gentleman of India, who had lately returned from England was invited to our college. There was a glamour for those who went abroad. The students of all the classes were assembled in the General Hall and the principal was busy looking after the seating arrangements and the d discipline of the students. Each lecturer had his apportioned duty in connection with the reception to the d distinguished visitor. My duty
was to receive the guest at the gate and to lead him to the hall where the students assembled.
The time for the reception was 11 a.m. All the arrangements were completed well in time, as we had a notion that the British style of training bred a high sense of punctuality. I was waiting at the gate from ten minutes before eleven o'clock. The guest arrived in his car a couple of minutes before eleven. He made an allowance of those two minutes, perhaps, either to respect difference in the running of watches or for walking from the gate to the hall of the meeting. I received the guest, walked in front and led him to the hall. We had to pass through a few corridors and take two or three turns. Nevertheless the visitor reached the hall exactly at eleven and the principal showed him to the seat on the dais.
The students were impressed with the punctuality of the visitor and the principal specially referred to the virtue in introducing the guest. The event was an object lesson for us in punctuality and we had occasions to refer to the event several times in the college.
There was another incident, connected with that visit which I remember with amusement even today. The experiences in America add to the mirth.
Just as the principal made a special reference to the sense of punctuality of the distinguished visitor, the visitor made a pointed reference, in his talk, to a particular instance, which betrayed the ignorance of common courtesies in India. He told us that the young man who escorted him from the gate to the hall that day walked in front of him, instead of respectfully walking behind elders.
I noticed the principal casting a glance at me when the distinguished visitor made that remark. Of course, I was the "ill-mannered" young man! Though we talked about the punctuality of the visitor several times latter on in the college, neither the principal nor my colleagues ever referred to the remark of the lack of courtesy in walking in front of the elderly gentleman when I led him to the hall. Their silence may mean anything. But tint, remark goaded me often to review my conduct.
Now I am on a tour in Europe and America. I am invited to several institutions to address gatherings. I am the "distinguished visitor" now. I am met at the gates. I am led to the halls. Several times I find the escorts walking behind me. They politely tell me, "Let us go to the hall".
Where is the hall? What is the way? I am a stranger to the place.
Often I physically pull the escorts, push them to the front and request them to walk ahead and show the way to the place of the meeting.
Conventional courtesies dim common sense.
Chicago, 6th October 1970.
Victims of Systems
I went to see an old student of mine. He was the principal of a College.
I changed my dress since I left the teaching profession. The present dress resembles that of an Indian peasant. It is convenient for me to work among common people and in rural parts.
The peon at the gate did not like a peasant to disturb the principal. He zealously guarded the dignity of his master. He objected to my seeing the Principal.
I wrote my name on a slip of paper and requested the peon to present it to the principal. The peon wanted to know what favour I desired from the principal. I had no particular business with the principal except a courtesy call. The peon would not understand me. I was exposing the peon to the wrath of his master who instructed the peon not to allow anyone to intrude upon his time, except on definite business. The principal was right; the peon was dutiful; where do I stand with nothing but a feeling of affection for my old student. I did not reveal myself to the peon, lest a common man should seem to claim to be the principal's teacher.
After much hesitation the peon yielded to my request and presented my name slip to his master.
The principal rushed out of his room; shook hands with me in the corridor; led me into his room, put me into his own chair and took his seat beside me. I was overwhelmed with his regard for me.
It was a long time since we met. We recalled the memories of his college days. I was happy. He was happy. The peon was confused.
We are victims of systems. They prevent human relations. The principal was right; the peon was right; I was right; the system was wrong!
16th December, 1970.
Indifference to Injustice
A big man addressed a public meeting. He attracted around five thousand audience. He spoke well on the present political situation. At the end, he allowed time for questions and answers.
Ten to twelve slips of paper containing questions were passed on to the speaker. He took slip by slip, read out the question and answered it at length. Two slips received a different treatment. He read the questions within himself, tore the slips, put the bits on the table and said, "This is my answer to the question", each time he tore the slip.
What were those two questions? I do not know. They were not read out. No one protested against that kind of behaviour on the part of the speaker. Even the two questioners did not rise up at the end of the meeting and demand answers for their questions.
The meeting dispersed after the usual vote of thanks. I returned home and reflected on the incident of tearing the two question slips. Suppose the two questions were disrespectable. The greatness of the speaker lay in exposing the questions and offering a magnanimous answer. The lack of protest from the two questioners indicated that the questions were mischievous and malicious. Nevertheless, the speaker's response ought to have been generous. At the most, he could request the questioners to reveal their identity and assume responsibility for the kind of questions asked. Obviously, the questioners felt guilty. So they did not demand the answers. Yet the speaker was in obligation to the audience to answer the questions. His decorum should have been better than that of the questioners, however wicked they were. The speaker failed to rise to the level of social responsibility; the audience too failed to pull up the speaker or to reprimand the evil intentions of the questioners. The entire incident was an instance of indifference to injustice. Evil doers thrive because fellowmen are indulgent,
11th January, 1971.
Visit to a Scholar
"You will feel more comfortable in that chair. I got it from Jabalpur, an excellent upholsterer. A friend recommended him to me. He deserved the recommendation. A doctor, a VIP, yes, a VIP. Several VIPs visit me. I have several friends among VIPs. You are a VIP. I was telling you of the doctor. A medical doctor. Of course, some academic doctors also visit me. This doctor, the medical doctor, he has many degrees. I don't remember those degrees. He has many degrees, that is what all I know. That doctor said, 'The curve of the back of the chair agrees with the curve of the spine in the sitting posture.' It is this harmony of the curves which makes the chair comfortable. I am sure you will agree with the doctor when you sit in that chair. You are settled in this chair. You don't mind shifting into the other one. The trouble is worth the extra comfort you will have..."
I felt embarrassed at the importance my host was giving to a trifling matter this chair or that chair. He was reputed to be a scholar in political philosophy. That was the first time I called on him by appointment. I wished to exchange views with him on the subject of 'partyless democracy'. I took a chair when he led me into he drawing room. Evidently, it was not the proper chair, according to him. So to open the subject for which I called on him, I at once shifted to the privileged chair and said, "I suppose you are seeing the way democracy is working in our country...." I hoped he would cease to talk of the chair, as I shifted into it, and would tell me his views on democracy.
"Lo!", he continued, "Democracy? Let it take its course. But how you feel the new chair? More comfortable, eh? You agree with that doctor. You are all VIPs. You know what is good and what is not.... Now, now you will excuse me for a minute." He called, "Betaa...." Turning to me he started, "You know, please, what Betaa means? Two years ago, I went to Lucknow. I was the guest of a rich man. More than a rich man, he was a VIP of the place. VIPs visit me and I visit VIPs. It is usual with me. My host at Lucknow wanted to serve me with a cup of cha. Cha means tea. To serve me cha, that is tea, he called Betaa.... I didn't know what is meant at first. I saw his son, aged about 12, coming in response to the call 'Betaa...' Betaa means son in Hindi. Fine is isn't? I saw music in the sound. On my return I told my son that here-after, I would call him, Betaa. He too likes it. Of course he has an original name. It is string of the names of gods whom we worship and of the grand parents on the paternal and on the maternal sides. My wife would not otherwise. In the school register, he has that long, original name, shortened into English initials. It is the one facility which British rule has left us behind. His class teacher tells him that his name is occupying two lines instead of one line to
which he is entitled. It is S.K.L.N.V.V.J.T.D. Prasad. We managed to avoid Q, X and Z among the initials...." My host would have gone on to tell why he avoided Q, X and Z. I was saved listening to the explanation, as Betaa, the son, entered on the scene with an autograph book. The boy was not half as tall as his name is long. Barely ten years. The boy pushed the autograph book into my hands.
The father started again, "My Betaa will not excuse me, if I had not called him now. He is extremely careful in collecting the signatures and messages of VIPs. And you are a VIP. Please turn over the pages of the book. You will see the galaxy of VIPs that visited me"
Throughout I was a victim of the infliction of the explanations. I was at a loss to gear my host to the subject of democracy. I almost gave away the attempt as hopeless. As a last chance, I autographed with the message, PARTYLESS DEMOCRACY. The father looked at the entry and exclaimed, "Oh? Partyless Democracy. It is a wonderful concept". I was happy to hope that he would dwell on the subject to say why it was a wonderful concept. But he reverted into insanity. He advised me, "Ask him, please, what S.K.L.N.V.V.J.T.D. stand for." I was frightened at the advice. Every letter would have a chapter of discourse. I had neither the interest nor the patience to listen to the long and tedious explanation. I curtly stood up with the compliment, "The boy is too young to mouth a long a name". I shook hands with the gentleman and left.
Thus ended my visit to a scholar who tied no sense of proportion.
11th February, 1971.
Understand and Help
I went to preside over a conference. The Chairman and some members of the Reception Committee and about ten volunteers received me at the railway station.
Normally, I do not carry luggage more than what I can lift for myself. Then, I had a bed-roll, a hand bag and a satchel. A volunteer took the bed-roll for me Another offered to take the hand bag. I politely refused, as I could easily carry it myself. The volunteer insisted on helping me and the Chairman suggested that I might oblige the solicitude of the volunteer. The bag too went and I walked with free hands with the satchel hanging on my shoulder.
Three vehicles were in wait it for us outside the railway station. The Chairman, two members and I got into one vehicle. My bed-roll was placed in the same vehicle.
A separate room was set apart for me at the delrogates quarters With the bed roll I entered into the room. But where is my hand bag?
All the vehicles and persons who had come to the station to receive me, returned. The Chairman and I looked for the volunteer with the hand bag. Ten minutes fifteen minutes..., No bag! It contained my shaving set, bath towels, notes of the Presidential address, some writing and reading material for the journey.
The Chairman did not know the name of that volunteer. Without the name, his enquiries to find out the volunteer proved fruitless. The time for food and then the Conference was approaching. I took a loan of bath towels and attended the conference without a shave.
Right at the steps of the President's dais, I found my friend, the volunteer. He greeted me with a salute and told me at once. "I have kept your bag very safe." Where? he kept it under lock and key in the office room of the Conference. He wanted to deliver it to me perhaps, the next day, when I would leave after the Conference. At my request he brought the bag back to me from safe custody.
The incident reminded me Gandhi's advice to Khadi workers, "Spin; understand and spin." I thanked the volunteer for his regard for me and care for the bag. I advised him, Help; understand and help."
10th March, 1971.
Tastes and Needs
A conference of fifty delegates was arranged in a hall which could easily squat two hundred. The convener was artistically inclined. He planned luxury arrangements and the hall was one of them.
Five carpets were spread in the hall in a design. Long strips of green cloth, two feet wide, were laid criss-cross, especially along the whole length of the four walls inside the hall. The colours of the carpets and the green cloth matched well and looked pleasingly beautiful.
I had a writing work to do before the conference started at 9 a.m. So I went into the hall half-an-hour early to have quiet time for myself. The convener preceded me. He was giving final touches to the arrangements in the hall. I greeted the convener, entered the hall and sat at a place on the green cloth, leaning against the wall in the Indian fashion of sitting comfortably.
Presently, the convener walked up to me and whispered, "Please, the green cloth is for the passage. Kindly sit on the carpet." He explained briefly to me how the pathways were arranged for the movements of the delegates with the least disturbance to the conference. I appreciated the plan and shifted on to a carpet.
Only the seats of the chairman and of a few distinguished delegates were provided with cushions to lean upon. I had to sit on the carpet with my back erect. So with other delegates. Can we sit erect for the five hours of the conference each day without discomfort? As these thoughts turned in my mind, two other delegates entered the hall, discussing a subject of the conference. Ignorant of the arrangements, they too sat on the green cloth leaning against the wall. The convener politely requested them to sit on the carpets. The two delegates were so much absorbed in the conversation that they did not seem to have understood the convener's request. They replied, "Thank you. We are comfortable here" and resumed their discussion. I noticed the convener feeling puzzled. His arrangements were upset and his artistic tastes were outraged!
Five minutes to nine. The delegates poured in. I counted twenty-eight of them sitting on the green cloth, leaning against the wall. The chairman and four others were at the special seats. The rest, like me, sat erect scattered on the carpets.
Fine tastes failed to see real needs.
17th April, 1971.
India has fourteen principal spoken languages. In the North, Hindi is the major language. Nine others are allied to Hindi in alphabet and vocabulary. The condition in the South is different. Its four languages, namely, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu differ with Hindi in alphabet and vocabulary. Yet, recognising the wide-spread use of Hindi, several students go North to learn Hindi. A diligent effort is also afoot in the South to teach Hindi.
One of my friends from the South spent a decade in the North to learn Hindi. He returned with the reputation of scholarship in Hindi. He has to his credit notable translations from Hindi to Telugu and from Telugu to Hindi.
He approached me with a request of recommendation for his wife's admission into a Gandhian Institution for women in the North. He assured me that his wife had a working knowledge of Hindi. I had never seen his wife.
On account of my association with Mahatma Gandhi, my recommendation carried weight and the lady was admitted into the Institution.
Six months later, I had occasion to visit that Institution in the North. Incidentally I thanked the Principal for respecting my recommendation. At once Principal the curtly asked me, "Do you know that lady?" I was flabbergasted and I remained silent to listen to the rest of the story.
"The medium of instruction in this Institution is Hindi," the Principal continued. "That lady did not understand a word of Hindi. There is no one of our staff who knows a South Indian language. How long can we carry on with the mute language of signs and gestures? This is not a School for the Deaf and the Dumb." (The Principal had a dig at me.) "I cancelled her admission and sent her back home the next day. I have respect for you and for your recommendation. But please, do not recommend those whom you do not know personally."
4th May, 1971.
Can't We Work Together?
Fourteen of us started on a foot-march to Delhi, the capital of India. The route was eleven-hundred miles long and we look ninety-nine days to reach the destination.
The purpose of the march was to protest against the extravagant emoluments of the Legislators. As Representatives of the People, they could command facilities to discharge their special functions; but it was unjust to enjoy pompous comfort out of proportion to the average standards of life of the people whom they profess to represent.
Our protest was directed at first against the Prime Minister, who was the first representative of the people. On the way and at meetings at the places of halt, we explained the objective and educated people on their rights and duties in a democracy. New recruits joined our m march and by the time we reached Delhi, we were thirty-eight
At one place on the way, a gentleman walked along with us for a couple of hours. He told me that he attended the public meeting which I addressed the previous evening and that he was impressed both with the objective and the method of the march. He offered himself to join the batch. I explained to him the hardships he had to put up within the march. He never minded them. I was almost certain that he would join us.
Then he asked me a question, "You are an atheist; I am a theist. How can I work with you?"
I replied, "When I have no hesitation to work with you why should you have?"
He thought for a while and promised to join the next day. He never came.
12th June, 1971.
Morality vs Legality
The caste hierarchy of Hindu polity increasingly denies jute opportunities to lower castes. "Untouchables" who belong to the lowest castes, have no openings but manual labour for earning daily bread. Though a few Harijans (as the "untouchables" are known now), have risen to positions of rank and respect, they are exceptions which prove the rule of proverbial poverty.
On an occasion, twenty years ago, hundreds of Harijan families were evicted from their dwellings, due to change of hands in the ownership of the plot of land on which they lived. Neither the poverty stricken Harijans could purchase alternative sites, nor the municipal authorities could find budgetary provision to help them. In this predicament. I assisted the evicted families to occupy a municipal land. It was a moral issue, man must live.
The Municipality objected to the illegal occupation of the land.
Our answer was simple: "We respect law, when the law respects our needs."
Whenever legality clashes with morality, legality should be opposed and morality should be upheld.
The huts still stand there, illegally but morally.
26th July, 1971.
I listened gainfully to a friend's experience.
When he was a boy of ten years, his father told him of a magician's feat. The performance was announced to begin at 9 p.m. The hall was packed. It was 9. The curtain was not raised. It was 9:30. 10, past 10, nearing 11. No one appeared on the stage. No explanation was offered. The audience grew restless. They repeatedly referred to their watches. It was past 11. There were shouts and yells from the audience. Yet no one left the hall. The reputation of the magician kept them to their seats. At last at 11:20 the curtain was lifted. The magician was on the stage, serene in black suit. The audience in one voice complained of the lateness. The magician raised his hand, beckoning the audience to be silent. He addressed the audience, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am punctual to the minute. Please refer to your watches". Ha! There was great astonishment. Everybody 's watch showed 9 o'clock. Some disbelieved their watches and consulted their neighbours. There also it was 9 o'clock. A great surprise. That was all the performance. The curtain fell. The bell rang. The audience rose and left the hall in mute amazement.
My friend at that age was immensely impressed with the description of the feat He related it to his playmates. Each time he added a small falsehood to spice the story. He told that the performance was at Delhi; he was with his father to witness the performance; he saw with his own eyes the hands of his watch move from minute to minute after 9 o'clock; his watch also showed 9 o'clock when the magician appeared; his father consulted the neighbour's watch and it was 9; when he walked out of the hall with his father, he found the hands of his watch regain the real time of 11:26. All falsehoods! His friends of almost the same age took the account as a fact and enjoyed the feat, as if they saw it themselves. Perhaps they narrated it to their fellows adding some more flavour.
My friend is now elderly, an eminent educationalist. He went round the world four times already as a guest speaker at several universities in different countries He laughs at the innocent falsehoods of his boyhood days. At that age he neither visited Delhi, nor possessed a watch. In all his tours round the world, he has not come across a magician who set the hands of the clock back. He now regards his father's account as a cock-and-bull story to entertain a boy. That is how falsehood spreads and miracles live! Verify, and the bubble is pricked.
3rd September, 1971.
Third class compartments in Indian Railways are generally crowded with passengers and their bulky luggage. Passengers carry with them their beds, clothes and often utensils too, since there is little provision for them at the places of visit. In fact, each common Indian carries with him his little home wherever he goes.
Indian Railways make special provision for rest and sleep of passengers who travel in the upper classes, which are called the first and second classes. Third class passengers too can command the comfort of a sleeper on payment of an extra charge. In capitalist economy, comfort goes by money and not by the human need of old age, sickness, or of mothers with babes.
I throw my lot with the common people in the third class compartment. It keeps keen my resentment against inequalities.
Recently, I made a railway travel of 42 hours that included two full nights. The first night I scarcely slept owing to the crowd. The following day was no better. The second night, at about eleven o'clock, several passengers from my compartment alighted at a station and the crowd was relieved. Along with some of the passengers there, I found some room to recline my head. As I was tired, I fell fast asleep.
I was awakened by noisy shouting at about one o'clock. The compartment got crowded again. A batch of five students physically woke up the sleeping passengers by shaking up their bodies. They were shouting, "If you want to steep, pay more and buy the upper class ticket." They were talking in the traditional ways of capitalistic economy. It did not occur to them that the inequality was itself an injustice, and by way of protest, they could march into the half-vacant upper class compartments with the third class ticket. Some of us are planning that protest.
Without waiting to be shaken up by these young men I sat up in my seat and invited the students to occupy the place which I had vacated. Two could sit in the room I made. But three of them crowded in. I kept silent, evidently with sleepy eyes.
The students stared at me. My gray hairs, perhaps, attracted their attention. Or they were impressed with my courtesy in willingly yielding sitting place for them. They whispered among themselves. Within ten minutes the three students stood up, and requested me to resume my rest. I declined their offer with thanks. A pleasantry followed. The smartest among them said at once, "We physically lifted up other passengers from their sleep we will physically push you down into sleep." I enjoyed the joke and took repose.
When I woke up at five o'clock next morning, I did not find the students. The co-passengers in the compartment told me that the students had alighted at a station at four o'clock. All that time, it seems, they were keeping watch upon me to see that I was not disturbed. even though the compartment was getting crowded now and then. My heart went to those unknown students.
I did a simple duty; I was rewarded with a big right.
7th October, 1971.
Old Habits Die Hard
A sturdy, stalwart gentleman rushed into my hut where I was engaged in reading a book. He burst out with the question, "Where is Gora?"
He bore distinct marks and symbols of orthodox religious faith. Evidently he was prepared for a physical combat if it was necessary.
"Why?" I asked.
"I hear he is an atheist, sheer stupidity. I want to argue with him and cure him of his foolishness," he talked rapidly in excitement.
I was very cool. Mildly I replied, "I am Gora. I admit my defeat. Please sit down."
"You are Gora !" he exclaimed. "You look meek. It seems you are a militant atheist and you argue about atheism."
"Please sit down," I repeated.
He sat down. Half the battle was over.
I enquired of his history and interests. He was not a religious priest. But he was a believer in a religious denomination. He vehemently refuted all other denominations. He did not take to his denomination in adult life after deliberation. He was born to parents belonging to that denomination and was nurtured in it. He observed the rituals of his denomination with scrupulous care. It seemed reasonable to him that he would have been equally fanatical with another faith which he derided now, if he were born and nurtured in that.
I too was born to parents of religious faith and was tutored in it. But I opened my mind, scanned the traditional ways and have taken to atheism deliberately.
We spent an hour together. I presented him with some literature on atheism. He insisted on paying for the leaflets which he received from me.
I have never met him again. He was not willing to leave his address with me. Evidently he started thinking on a different line; but he did not like an atheist to pursue mm. Old habits die hard. Yet open mind is the sure cure.
20th January, 1972.
Who Is Civilized?
The train arrived in the early hours of the morning and I was walking to the Atheistic Centre from the railway station.
Some stalls, especially tea-stalls, keep open day and night at Vijayawada town to cater to the needs of the floating population of cinema-goers and of arrivals by night buses and night trains.
I saw a fruit shop exhibiting rows of apples and oranges for sale. Bunches of plantains hung from the ceiling of the shop in the front row. The shopkeeper was dozing in his seat. Evidently he was awake for a large part of the night and the need of rest got better of the need of watch at the shop.
There were no customers at the shop at that hour. A cow, one of the stray cattle, stood nearby the shop. A beggar boy slept on the pavement beside the shop.
Maybe the shop-keeper, during his alert hours, drove away the cow and rejected the entreaties of the beggar boy for something to satisfy his hunger. The beggar boy, a human trained in the traditions of private property, cursed his fate and slept with his knees pressed into the caved in belly. But the cow had no sense of private property. She slowly moved towards the shop, stretched her neck, and swooped a few bananas from the hanging bunches. Some overripe bananas fell down from the bunches too. The shopkeeper was awakened by the disturbance, he startled from the doze and cried "Eh, eh!" to drive out the cow. The cow moved away chewing the bananas which got into the mouth.
The beggar boy also woke up. He did not pick up the two or three fruits which fell from the bunches. He had respect for private property.
The shop-keeper rubbed his eyes, descended from his seat, collected the bananas that fell down and arranged them at a place among apples and oranges.
Though all this had happened within a minute or two as I walked along the road beside the shop, the scene which I witnessed lingered in my mind. The question occurred to me, "Who is civilized, the hungry boy or the hungry cow?"
6th March, 1972.
Idealism vs Institutionalism
A few of us planned to start an Institution. We formed a Committee under the Presidentship of an elderly gentleman of respectable standing in the locality. I took up the responsibility of the organizership. We publicised the plan.
A fund of one hundred thousand rupees was to be collected to start with. We made a good beginning with a few thousands at once.
An old man called on me. He was a retired officer and at that time he had the bank balance of eighty thousand rupees. He had no children and he wanted to donate the amount for a good cause. He told me that he was attracted by the cosmopolitan character of the plan of the Institution and offered to donate seventy thousand rupees immediately. He would keep the rest of the ten thousand for his personal use with a will to pass on the balance to the Institution on his death.
The offer was substantial and generous, especially because he insisted on no part of the building to be named after him. It was the love of the cause that prompted him to make the offer. I had no room to doubt his offer when he showed the bank-book to me.
When the cheque was about to be made and signed, he asked me whether I wore the thread which was the symbol of a Hindu caste. I told him that I was an atheist who owned neither caste nor religion. I was just a human.
He thought for a while. In the name of the experience of his ripe old age, he advised me not to disbelieve in the existence of God. He found me stubborn. He withdrew the offer.
The Institution lost a big donation on account of the heretical affiliations of its organizer. I told the president that I was not the man for the task. The donor did not trust the institution which had a disbeliever on its committee. I resigned. My resignation from the Committee did not improve matters.
The Institution came up, but not on the principles which inspired its original plan.
The conflict between an ideal and institutionalism confronts civilisation.
I boarded a bus for a destination of twenty minutes run. A young gentleman, who was already seated in the bus, reserved a seat for me by his side and invited me to it.
He saved me from the common but embarrassing question, "Do you recognize me?" Of course, I would have apologized for my poor memory. On the other hand, he darted off into a catechismal conversation. "What do you think of the prospects of Mr. P...?" he asked.
That was the period of election to the State legislature and Mr. P... was one of the eight candidates from my constituency.
The question was so wide and vague that I mildly replied, "Though one of the candidates wins finally, every candidate contests the election with the hope of success for himself." As I was unable to recollect my acquaintance with the gentleman with whom I was talking, I wanted to avoid controversy in my reply. But he continued, "Mr. P... is a scoundrel. He should not get elected. You should campaign against him."
"Please take up the task yourself," I told.
"I should. But I do not belong to your place. Further, I am employed in a job. I should not take sides in elections, I lose my job if I do. Leave P... alone. Now, what do you think of the outcome of talks between Nixon and Chou-En-Lai?" was his next question.
"My information is confined to the reports in newspapers which you too read," I said.
"But a man like you should forestall the result."
"I suppose neither Nixon nor Chou-En-Lai knows the result himself. If anyone had known the result, he would not have undertaken the talks himself," I retorted.
"Both Nixon and Chou-En-Lai are fools. Woe to the countries that have them as heads of States. That is their funeral. Now, what do you think is the policy of our Prime Minister?" he asked again.
I kept silent indicating my inability to answer such sweeping questions. But the one question that occurred to me was whether he offered the seat to me to have some one to talk to.
Unnecessary questions and unwanted advices waste precious time.
My destination arrived. I shock hands with the "unknown" friend and thanked him for the seat.
26th July, 1972.
I was barely 26 when I became the head of a department in a graduate College. I was given the post because the Management preferred an old student of the College to one with more age and experience.
The Principal was the same who taught me while I was a student at the College. I enjoyed his kindness and consideration in many respects. He took me into confidence and entrusted me with special responsibilities.
On one occasion, a message had to be communicated to the Chairman of a delegation. The Principal wanted time to commit himself in writing on the matter. So he wanted me to bring to the notice of the Chairman an aspect of the question under consideration. He instructed me on the subject and I was about to go to the Chairman. The Principal stopped me and asked me to repeat what I would tell the Chairman. My vanity was as wounded I told the Principal that I could be credited with brains to do the little job I was given. I should not be treated like a school boy.
The Principal smiled. He said that his age and experience advised him reassurance on several matters. Out of my respect for the old teacher, I repeated the instructions he gave me. I met the Chairman and the work was done.
Now I am advanced in age. I have need to convey messages through others. I find words change character as they go from mouth to mouth. Therefore, written letter is better. Otherwise repetition assures correctness.
24th August, 1972.
Dreams Reflect Our Own Thoughts
Usually I wake up at 4 a m. But that morning it was little past 3 when 1 got up. I reminded myself that I should write a letter to Mrs. Sharma and fell asleep again to get up at 4 o'clock as usual.
The occasion to write to Mrs. Sharma was a failing on my part. Last week my wife and I were at Madras. We visited Sharma's school for Children which has the reputation for efficient education and affectionate care of the children. I visited the school several times before. Though my wife want to Madras several times this was her first visit to the school. My wife cannot converse in English. So Mrs. Sharma asked me, "Is this Mrs. Gora's first visit here?" I replied, "Yes, please".
Then Mrs. Sharma described the Banyan Tree at Adyar, the Museum and a few more interests in Madras to be seen. Dr. Sharma interrupted her and told that my wife had been to Madras earlier several times. Mrs. Sharma looked at me and said, "You told me that it was her first visit here".
By 'here' I meant the School; Mrs. Sharma meant Madras.
I should have explained myself to Mrs. Sharma at once. But the topic changed, we were shown round the School and we left. I realised my mistake and I wanted to write to Mrs. Sharma that morning.
During the brief spell of an hour when I fell asleep I had a long dream. I dreamt that my wife and I visited the School again. The way to the School and its environs were different in the dream. It was a medley of Madras, Bombay and of the several cities with which I am acquainted. But Dr. Sharma was there. I saw Mrs. Sharma in the kitchen attending to cooking after the Indian fashion, though, in reality, she is a German and her way of service is largely European. The central theme of the dream remained that I apologised to Mrs. Sharma for my mistake in understanding the word 'here'.
I woke up at 4 a. m. I thought over dream and realised by experience the truth of the psychologists explanation that dreams reflect our own thoughts in strange medley -- a fantastic combination of familiar things.
27th September, 1972.
Height of Imagination
Custom often gets the better of common sense. It is worse with religious faith.
A week ago, my fellow passengers in a railway journey were educated persons. I could see it from the English Magazines of Popular Science, Industry and journals of Geography and Geology which they were reading to spend the time of the travel.
Presently the train was passing over the bridge of the river Godavari. My fellow passengers at once bestirred themselves, Picked up a few coins from their purses, saluted the river with folded hands, hurled the coins from the moving train into the water of the river, paid obeisance to the river and resumed reading of the magazines.
Common Hindu folk regard stone, tree, river, cow and cobra as sacred by custom: by another custom they treat the fellow-human as an untouchable. That educated persons too should follow these primitive customs seemed strange to me. So I accosted the gentleman in the opposite seat and said, "Instead of throwing coins into the river, would it not be more useful to help a beggar with alms?" Indeed, there are still many beggars in India.
The gentleman set aside his magazine and replied, "Alms to beggars! It is their fate. Leave them alone. Fate is irrevocable. That is not our job." He looked at me from head to foot and continued, "You do not believe in the Goddess of the River Godavari? All right. But there is a scientific reason for throwing coins into the river. The coins are no waste. The coins lie at the bottom of the river, buried in the sand. They will be of immense value to a numismatist who excavates the soil sometime in the future. Please do not think that our ancient customs were superstitious. They have scientific significance."
22nd October, 1972.
Planting trees along the margins of highways is an ancient practice. The trees beautify the road yield shade and give profit too when they bear useful fruits. In India, the common trees are Tamarind and Mango. Banyan gives plenty of shade, but the fruit is not useful.
It is not uncommon in India to see road-side trees with bark chopped off to the height the axe can reach. Sometimes the trees are hewed all round as deep as to touch the heart-wood. Of course the trees dry up and die. The public lose the benefit of trees along the road.
Who cuts the trees that way? The villagers.
They know that they are destroying something that is useful to the public. But they are so poor that they do not have fuel, even if they can manage to get food-grains. They take the firewood by collecting dried twigs and by chopping the trees. Because they are aware of the public utility, they do not cut down the trees straight away. They chop the tree all round. The final death of the tree is incidental but not essential.
A white-collared citizen can condemn the evil practice of the villager. He can complain against the loss to public property. It is his right. But what of his duty to relieve the villager of his poverty?
The simple answer of the villager is: "If you do not care for me, I do not care for you."
17th November, 1972.
Negligence of Duty
This is no aspersion on younger generation, but the fact of an experience helps correct failings of the young or of the old.
My host at a place was around 60. He was remarkably a man of few words. I found him busy with picking up bits of paper strewn on the floor and put them in the waste-paper basket; to arrange the pages of newspapers and keep them under weights on the table; to stretch covers of seats and clear them of creases. All this he did without a word of complaint against anyone.
On Wednesday morning I arrived at his place by bus and was to leave on Sunday night for the next place of my tour. Therefore, soon after my arrival I requested him to reserve a third-class sleeper berth for me by the train on Sunday night. He listened to me with no response by word or by gesture. I was eager that I should not miss the reservation. I reminded him as we sat at the lunch. He simply replied, "Yes, you told me." I could not make out anything from that reply.
I returned to my room after lunch. Ah. To my surprise, I found the ticket of reservation on the table along with a note giving me details of the departure of the train, time I would take to reach the station, time of arrival at the destination, and major stops of the train on the way. Strangely, he left there postage for me to inform my friend at the next place and mentioned in the note the latest time of clearance at the post box at the street corner a hundred yards away. These were such details as I would not have taken care to gather myself.
At once I wrote the letter to my host at the next place intimating him the time of arrival on Monday morning and confirming my engagements at the place.
As I stepped out of the house to drop the letter in the post box which I could see at the cross roads according to the instructions, my host's son about 25 years of age, came running to me. He was as talkative as his father was silent. He expressed great respect for my age and wanted to save me the trouble of walking up to the post box. He snatched the letter from my hand, ran into the street and offered to post the letter himself. I thanked him for the solicitude and returned to my room.
I met the father and son several times on the following days, but there was no reference to the letter.
On Saturday afternoon at 3:30, the son brought tea for me. Lo! I saw the letter peeping out of the pocket of his coat. "What! You did not post the letter?" I exclaimed. He looked at the letter; dropped the tea-tray on the table with suddenness that spilt some milk and came out with an explanation. "I am sorry. On that day, I met a friend just on the way. He invited me for a game of chess. The game was so absorbing that I forgot abort the letter. Never mind I sha ll post it now for express delivery. Your friend will receive it tomorrow, Sunday. He will receive you on Monday. Everything will be all right. No worry for you." He literally ran to the Head Post Office which I was told, was a mile away. An hour later he informed me that the letter was posted for express delivery.
I left on Sunday night according to the arrangements of my host. The son assured me that all would be well at the other end.
The train arrived at the next place on Monday morning in time. There was no one to receive me. With some difficulty, I found the place of this host and went to him. He was astonished to see me and complained that I failed to inform him according to my promise. In the absence of confirmation he made no arrangements for the meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Nevertheless, he would try to gather some workers on Tuesday evening and requested me to stay on.
The much discussed letter reached my host on Monday evening by normal delivery. It bore the fable of EXPRESS delivery, but the extra stamps for express delivery were not affixed.
There was a conference of Backward Classes and Castes. The Chairman of the Reception Committee, some members and volunteers came to the railway station to receive their leader who had the reputation of championing the cause of the poor and the downtrodden.
The train arrived. The leader and his wife were received enthusiastically with several flower garlands. The two were led to the motor car that was waiting for them.
The leader enquired the chairman, "Where do we stay?"
"With Mr. T..." replied the Chairman. Mr. T... was a well-known rich man of the place. He kept a posh guest house to receive dignitaries. He did not go to the station to receive the guests. He sent a car and a van for them.
The leader recognized Mr. T... by the name and remarked, "Why have you arranged my stay with Mr. T...? We could have stayed in a slum along with you." He added jokingly, "This is the Conference of Backward people."
Presently volunteers arrived with the luggage of the two guests. The pieces of luggage included boxes, jugs, hand-bags, bed-rolls and fruit-baskets. They occupied more than half the room in the van along with the luggage.
The leader and his wife travelled by the first-class in the train.
If the stay to leaders were arranged in a slum, which is the place there that could accommodate the whole luggage and afford comforts to the leader and his wife? The wish to stay in the slum was more formal than real. Evidently, the Chairman of the Reception Committee knew the ways of the leader. Therefore he arranged the stay with Mr. T....
Who takes the blame: the leader who talks of poverty but lives in luxury, or the poor who choose a leader of that type?
Proletariat is capitalist in outlook. They like to be rich. They adore rich men, and shun the poor.
Poverty goes when the objective is equality.
12th January, 1973.
I went to the other end of Delhi to have a visit with a friend. I was to return to my lodge by 8:20 p.m. for another engagement. As a taxi would take forty minutes for the run, my friend and I moved out of his house at 7:30 to allow time for finding a taxi and for the delay due to traffic signals.
When we stepped out of the house, we were happy to find a taxi car standing a few yards away. We accosted the driver and he agreed to take me to the lodge.
Presently. another driver whose taxi was standing a few yards farther away, walked up to us and offered his car. He told that his car was waiting there for more than half-an-hour, whereas the first car was there for lees than five minutes. So, he said that it was fair that we should hire his car instead of the first one. The first driver admitted that the other car was there earlier, but he insisted that we should engage his car as we accosted him.
Each had his right. An altercation broke out between the two drivers. Our appeals to them to adjust the matter between themselves, as they were comrades in the same profession, were of no avail. Our offer to engage both of them and even to pay a little more, if they agreed to divide the fare between them, was not heeded in the din of wordy battle. We were afraid they would soon come to blows.
Time was passing and I would be late for the next engagement. So we decided to leave the two drivers for themselves, walk up to the taxi-stand farther away and to engage a different one. As my friend and I walked to the taxi-stand, we found the two taxi-men driving their cars by our side, not to persuade us to get into one of them, but each one to see that we did not get into the other. Unmindful of calls from other customers and wasting petrol in frequent change of gears, both of them crossed each other's car repeatedly in spite against the other.
At last we reached the taxi-stand walking, and the drivers in their cars by zig-zag running. At once both the drivers jumped out of their cars and joined together in requesting us to hire any taxi except one of these two.
Strange! They cut off their noses to spite their faces. That is competitive economy.
11th July, 1973.
Humans, Divided by Prejudice
It was dusk when I got down from the bus at a wayside stop. I was to address a meeting that night in the slum of a village which was two miles away from the bus-stop. There was no regular road to the village. A foot-path connected the village with the bus-stop. I was acquainted with the foot-path and the darkness did not disturb my familiarity.
Another passenger to the same village also alighted from the bus. Both of us started walking along the foot-path. Evidently my companion belonged to that village itself. He was more familiar with the locality.
We were strangers to each other. Nevertheless we talked as we walked along in the dim star-light of waning moon. We had no common subject to talk about. We jumped from topic to topic, from the crops of the village, its population, water supply and education to the prospects of different political parties in elections and the affairs in the country after attaining political freedom. The conversation was desultory but pleasant, interspersed with jokes. Occasionally he complimented me on my information, rationality and politeness.
We neared the village. It was not yet provided with electric-lights. The faint illumination of oil-lamps peeped through windows of houses on the outskirts. Presently we arrived at the forking of ways. One path led into the village proper; the other into the slum.
The slum is inhabited by the 'untouchable' caste. It lies segregated from the village, half-a-mile away. The untouchable caste labour for the villagers but they live in the slum, poor, ignorant and downtrodden, along with pigs, fowl and dogs in filth. As I was to address the people of that slum, I turned my way at the fork towards the slum. Of course, my companion was to go into the village proper along the other path.
He thought that I had mistaken the path and asked me to go along with him. He had not asked me so far where I was going, but took it for granted that I was visiting some one in the village.
I told him that I was going into the slum and informed him the name of my host in the slum.
At once, the tone of my companion changed, it was visibly disdainful. He curtly said, "Then go that way," and walked away swiftly towards the village.
I, an object of compliment, turned into an object of contempt;
We are united as humans, but divided by prejudice.
20th August, 1973.
Utility vs Beauty
Our neighbour was an elderly widow with unusual obesity. Her genial disposition and sense of humour attracted several invitations for her to preside over general meetings. She was joking that she filled the chair mere fittingly than her betters in learning.
She was very fastidious in her tastes. The matching of the colours of door curtains, the arrangement of furniture or the selection of crockery evidenced her punctiliousness. Unlike the lady, preoccupation with public work hardly left time for me and for my wife to attend to niceties. Yet the lady had immense regard for the atheist way of life. She was our frequent visitor.
As the monsoon was approaching, she required a good umbrella and requested my help to buy one for her. I got an umbrella with a strong handle, wide diameter and thick black cloth that would protect well even against a heavy rain. She thanked me for the trouble I took in getting the umbrella, but slyly remarked, "This is a gentleman's umbrella."
I was aware of the distinction between a delicate parasol that adorned the arm of a woman and an umbrella that gave real protection from sun and rain. But I thought that a strong umbrella would be more useful than a delicate parasol.
A few days later I saw her returning home on a rainy day. She held a tiny parasol over her head. The parasol had a fine handle with the decoration of a knob. The cloth was thin with designs of flowers in mild colours. Evidently she got this parasol to suit her taste. But I smiled within myself when I found the rain water spraying through the thin cloth on her face and the diameter of the parasol barely sufficient to cover her head. Much of her body lay outside the circumference of the parasol and was wet with water dripping from edges of garments.
Life is a choice between the more useful and the more beautiful.
Capitalist Mind of Common Man
What is theft?
Here is an instance that gives a strange meaning to theft.
Madras City Municipal Corporation is filling up low-lying areas with garbage. The reclaimed spots are used to raise perks or as sites to construct residential flats.
Poor women and children pick up fragments of broken iron and bits of waste-paper from garbage heaps to sell them in cheap markets to traders who melt scrap iron or make cardboard. With these small earnings the poor eke out their miserable living.
At one place, I found an old haggard man with lean limbs, in the tattered livery of a municipal servant, driving away women and children from a garbage heap with a stick in his hand. The children whom he could reach were forced to empty their baskets and return the pickings to the garbage heap.
I found out that he was a retired menial servant of the City Corporation. His father in former times and his son at present too are municipal servants. His whole family has grown eating the salt of the Municipality. He has to be faithful to his master, in or out of service.
The heaps of garbage are the property of the Municipality. He considers that taking even a straw from the garbage heap a theft. As a faithful servant he has to protect the property of the Municipality.
Capitalist mind of the common man!
20th January, 1974.
Right Requires Action Too
I was among the standing passengers in a crowded third class bogie. I hesitated to open a newspaper, as its sheets would cover the faces of those beside me.
The next halt of the train is a place of pilgrimage. Perhaps that was a day of festival too. A big crowd rushed into the train, 40 or 50 more passengers squeezed themselves into our bogie. A hefty man with brawny arms elbowed his way in and planted himself a few paces before me. He wore a look of triumph as he entered in.
The crowd was dense with hardly room to move the limbs. But the hero jostled, picked up a cigarette and matches from his pocket, lighted the cigarette and puffed the smoke above the heads of people. A bold man, I thought, who lighted a cigarette where I feared to read news in a less of crowd.
The train jerked in motion, passengers jostled and the fire of the cigarette touched the neck of the man immediately in front. The man shrieked with pain, the smoker laughed as a joke, others stared in blank despair.
Suddenly a thin hand stretched out, snatched the cigarette from the mouth and threw it out of a window.
The muscular man grinned in utter astonishment at an unexpected defeat. A mild smile brightened the sea of gloomy faces.
Right wins only when we dare and act.
11th March, 1974.
I just finished reading items of a newspaper that interested me. It was more than an hour since the train left the station where I boarded it. An elderly person in religious robes was sitting opposite me. I could notice him staring at me and at the newspaper pretty very much. He carried a book in his hand which he did not open to read. He did not talk to me or to the passengers beside him.
A younger person in plain clothes, who was seated in another part of the same compartment, visited him frequently. They whispered to each other for a minute or two each time.
As the gentleman was staring at me, I thought he liked to have a look at the newspaper and I politely offered it to him after I had finished with it. Then I could borrow his book and acquaint myself with the subject of his interest, if the book was in the language I knew.
The gentleman curtly said, "I don't read newspapers. I don't like them."
The reply intrigued me and I asked, "Why please?"
"Papers give news of the world that is transient "
"What, then, is permanent?" I continued.
"That which is eternal, being beyond death and change."
"Is there such a being?" I enquired
"Undoubtedly," was the ready answer with a tone of authority.
"Suppose I doubt." I wanted to open the issue.
"Then you are an atheist." He stared at me with eyes wide open.
"Yes I am. But what does it matter? If the being were a fact, it should be there for theists and atheists as well, irrespective of their beliefs. Fire scorches theists and atheists equally."
Hardly I had spoken these words, when he turned away his face from me in visible anger. His teeth and lips quivered muttering something -- curses, contempt or vain complaint?
I alighted at my declination.
It was a small affair. But it saved me from a difficulty and helped my work.
I was teaching Botany to college students. The method of teaching was of the classroom type. I lectured to a class of about eighty students, twice a week, for an hour each time. There was little opportunity to know the students personally and to recognise them by their names. That was my difficulty when I wanted to put questions to some students to find out whether they followed the lesson which I taught. How could I ask a student to answer me unless I addressed him by his name? Personal acquaintance promotes closer understanding.
From the roll call of the attendance register I was acquainted with some names I took a chance when I looked at a student and asked. "Mr. Apparao, could you tell the difference between...?"
Straight came the reply. "My name is not Apparao, Sir."
"Then what is your name?" I asked.
"Well, Mr. Subbarao, would you answer the question, please?" I repeated.
By feeling bold to go wrong, I learnt the name of the student in a short time.
No one goes wrong, knowing it to be wrong. After a work is done, results show it to be right or wrong. If one is afraid of going wrong, he fears to do anything at all. So, a good rule is, decide and do something at first; correct it next, if it goes wrong. Hesitation misses opportunities.
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Whatever Gora wrote was the result of the practice of his principles, struggles, experiences and achievements in the field of social change during the last five decades. In this endeavour he enjoyed the full support and participation of his wife, Saraswati, and his entire family and friends. Born in 1902 in an orthodox Hindu family, took his Masters degree in Natural Sciences and taught in various colleges for 15 years. Got dismissed twice for his atheistic views, and finally resigned his post in 1940. Founded Atheist Centre, participated in the struggle for freedom of India, talked with Mahatma Gandhi on atheism, travelled all over the world, including Soviet Union, championing the cause of atheism, and was in the forefront of non-violent direct action programmes in upholding the dignity of humans. A fighter and writer known for his original ideas, edited Sangham in Telugu and The Atheist in English. His books Positive Atheism, An Atheist with Gandhi, Why Gram Raj, Partyless Democracy and We Become Atheists can be considered as classics in their respective fields. I Learn reveals Gora's reflections on human nature. Gora died while speaking at a public meeting in Vijayawada on 26th July, 1975.
PRINTED AT INSAAN PRINTERS. VIJAYAWADA -- 6.