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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Baa: Pure atheist Rama Bhagat by Chandu Maheria

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

13th February, 1989 morning was the last when Baa (I don’t know why but we all siblings called my Father, ‘Baa’) talked to me. He had asked me to cleanse his mouth. Three days earlier he had blood in vomiting and the cancerous tumor had burst. Since then he was totally bed-ridden. There was slight bleeding from mouth off and on. I did not feel like going out of home but at the same time I could not witness the bodily anguish that he suffered. Hence I went to my office. At five in the evening I learnt: “Baa is now no more!”

At 10 pm we went to the crematorium. Short, stout, dark body was on pyre and soon the persona called Rama Harkha who was past seven decades turned into ashes. There was full stop on life of a sincere and strong personality- what remains is these memories.

Once I asked Baa: “what inspired you to educate us?”

He said, “One day myself and Kuberiyo (his paternal uncle’s son, Kuber Sava) while playing went to village chora. Mukhi happened to come there. He saw us playing there, he drove us away muttering ‘bloody dhed’s children came upto chora’  . I was young but these words struck my heart.   I never went to chora thereafter. I decided if not I, my children will sit on  chora.”. And Baa realized this pledge, he made us worthy of sitting not only at the village chora but  in Gandhinagar Secretariate that is equivalent to chora of whole of Gujarat.
He left his native place at a very young age, He came to Ahmedabad and began working in a textile mills. It was the time when Members and Mukadams of Majur Mahajan were very high headed. He described several times their tyranny and compared it to bullying by the present day unions. His first marriage failed, thereafter he had vairagya. He gathered several kinds of Gods and Goddesses. He kept himself so busy in worship rituals that people began calling him Rama Bhagat ( later on he was to turn  strict  atheist compared to me but his identity as Bhagat nonetheless continued till last). He made one bava, ‘Guru’. He would come and stay with Baa  for long periods. The guru used to ask for several household articles from Baa. Once he asked for a wall clock that Baa was fond of. Of course, Baa gave away the wall clock but he lost his  faith. He used to call worshipping rituals a hoax, his vairagya didn’t continue FOR long. He remarried with maa and his householder life began again.

 Baa hardly studied upto standard three but he had good knowledge of this world. Politics, economics, religion, literature, history, geography, astronomy- nothing was unknown to him. He could participate in discussion on any subject and he used to contribute something new to the discussions. He would spare no pains trying to explain his point. ‘Listen to me!’ and ‘understood?’ were his two takiyakalams! Once my elder sister’s father-in-law, a school Head Master visited our house. After dinner, family gathered and discussions began. Baa’s speech and ‘listen to me!’ continued for long. Those were the days when there were worldwide discussions on skylab of U.S. Our theme of discussion also became skylab. Baa began talking about geography of US. He suddenly asked our vevai,”where is America?”  Poor vevai uttered, “near our Godhra..”And father shouted, “O good man, who made you a teacher? Do you teach your pupils like this?’ Poor Vevai was stunned.

With abject poverty and wants we lived. We were a large family of five brothers and two sisters and our parents.  Baa had meager salary. Maa would run the family much economically but it was difficult to meet the ends.  The electricity had reached nooks and corners of Gujarat villages but not until my   three older sibs had completed graduation in our Metro home, in Rajpur chawl ,  Ahmedabad. Discharging so many social responsibilities my parents gave us education. They tried to fulfill our needs by suffering pain, by taking loans on interest, leasing or selling maa’s ornaments. The elder brother decided to join Agricultural College in Anand after completing high school. With all the preparation he went to Anand to seek admission. Sports were compulsory. ‘The sons of Pateliya  would  kill my son by kicking while playing kabaddi.’, saying Baa did not allow him to get admission. Then elder brother got admission in Science College. Within two months he was forced to quit Science College and he entered Arts College. Baa never uttered a word. He wished his children to take decisions about their future   fearlessly, not with the sole consideration of the finances.

Breaking the traditions and reformist thoughts were in his veins. Fifty- fifty five years back from now, he had opposed his father’s barma. “Give me money..”He had begged his mother but he could not win the conservative  people. That barma buried him under the mountain of debt which did not leave him alone till his retirement. Manibhai, my elder brother  and Kamalaben, my elder  sister were married off when they were young children against Baa’s wishes. When Kamalaben’s husband failed in S.S.C. they were in haste of aana. Sister had passed S.S.C. at that juncture. She asked Baa:  “Baa, only because I am a girl you wish to send me off to my in-laws and not allow me to study further?” It touched Baa. He got sister divorced and got her to study further. She became one of the rare women graduates in our paragana. When her second marriage broke off after birth of a boy, it was a terrible shock for Baa. His anger towards inflexible social system became stronger. Similarly elder brother’s three marriages also didn’t succeed, baa was much anguished. Due to his reformist thoughts he didn’t maintain many social relations. He never participated as Patel on occasions like marriage or divorces though he would visit ill relatives or go to offer condolences to the bereaved without fail. Even after retirement he used to read newspapers, magazines or books or would just talk. After second divorce Kamalaben got good job but she had to live away from home. To begin with mother lived with her, baa lived with us brothers.   Bhabhis didn’t get along well hence to buffer the difficult situations mother returned to live with us  and baa went to live with sister. Talkative Baa who would like to talk with darbar also got used to the stagnant four walls of a government quarters.  In those last five years of his life his only centers of affection were Kamalaben and his dear son Atit.

Ma and Baa had a large chasm to bridge. Mother was totally uneducated but had excellent social skills. Baa was at the level of gnani but he was grounded in his principles like me. I am surprised how their marriage survived. In my memory box there are only rare moments when my parents talked in a harmonious tone. And yet it was beyond doubt that they loved each other so dearly. Perhaps it was this love that enabled their life together despite differences.

The constant mood of Baa’s life was bitterness. He had strong bitteress towards prevalent social system, politics, religion and economy. He was engaged with Ambedkarite movement right from its inception. He was member of republican party and samata sainik dal. Rama Bhagat, volunteer of samata sainik dal in all blue half pant-shirt-cap and  shoes is still   alive in so many people’s memory. He was so committed to the Ambedkarite ideology  that even when textile mills in Ahmedabad were ruled by Majur Mahajan, he did not become its member. Once he met with serious accident, got severe injury, was chronically bed-ridden and didn’t get any compensation. Even then he didn’t seek shelter of majur mahajan. At the time of Babasaheb’s nirvana, Ramanbhai was very ill. Hence he could not attend Babasaheb’s funeral that was a matter of great lifelong regret for him. After anti-reservation movement in Gujarat in 1981 when dalits recognized value of Babasaheb’s ideology , he was very happy. He used to read dalit literature with much interest and would comment,  “ in Babasaheb’s  era, if there were such writers then..” He was staunch opponent of Hindu religion. I have known more about Hindu religion and dharma shastras from him, than from reading innumerable books.

Fifty-sixty years from now, when dalit life was slave of traditions, blind faith and witchcraft, Baa had  scientific attitude and understanding. He considered religious worship rituals as pretense and opposed it whole heartedly. Once upon a time he was bhagat, but he never performed hom, havan , puja, even satya narayan katha in our household. He did not allow us to perform even Vastu in the home where we live now. Instead he organized a program of Bhim bhajans by Ambedkerite singer Pagal baba. This event occurred forty five years back. He would discuss and debate vehemently with very strong conviction. He respected Islam and Christianity but his heart was with Buddhism. He repeatedly mentioned that he could study a little only because of missionary schools. He had tattooed Christ above Rama tattoo on his hand, thus far he was converted.
He groaned with severe pain before twenty four hours of his death. Mother told him,” Look at the photo of Saibaba just facing your bed, look at it. Chant  God’s name and you’ll feel better..”

Even while experiencing excruciating pain, he averted his face to the other side and said, “Is sai babo before my eyes? Change the direction of my bed, take my bed in the opposite direction!” He forced change of his bed. It is said that at time of death even the staunch atheists embrace death uttering name of God. But my Baa, Rama Bhagat’s atheism lasted till   his last breath.

His socially skilled sons, who inherited physical and financial property, trampled his ideological legacy   while he was still alive. Fifty years back this man who didn’t allow for vastu, his very sons   bought a small house and performed vastu that too in presence of Baa and observing Hindu rituals. Baa opposed Hindu religion till his last breath, but his sons prayed for peace of his soul with Hindu bhajans sung by a Hindu bhajan singer, performed asthi visarjan on the bank of Reva and performed shraddh, last rites too.

It is said that children are the replica of their parents. But this should not be limited to only the facial features. They should follow parental ideology especially if they were progressive. It is true that, there have been many lapses on part of his children in following   Baa’s ideology.

I have inherited from my father not merely dark complexion and short stature but the height of his progressive and reformist ideology too. That is why I didn’t sit at home for long after his death   in mourners’ white clothes accepting condolences. I went to my office on the third day itself! I didn’t participate in Baa’s barma, asthi visarjan or shraddh. This was neither exhibition of my progressive ideology nor escapism. It was my faith in Baa’s ideology consciously nurtured.

It’s six months since   his body ceased to exist but at midnight I feel  presence of Baa asking us: “listen to me!” I am deeply anguished about his helpless (!) sons and daughters who cannot practice what he said so many times.

From ‘Pitru Tarpan’

Asthi  visarjan = bones gathered after cremation are ritually flown in sacred rivers
Barma = feast after death
Bava = ascetic
Bhagat = devotee
Bhajan = religious song
Chora = village  public  place
Darbar = assembly of a king
Gnani = the one with spiritual knowledge
Hom havan= ritual of sacred fire to please Gods
Kabaddi= an Indian outdoor game 
Majur mahajan=  The labor union of textile workers inspired by Gandhiji
Paragana =limited area residents of which of a specific caste have social relations
Pateliya =Patels
Republican party =political party founded by Dr.Ambedkar
Reva =Narmada river
Saibaba = a deity
Samta sainik dal  =organization founded by Dr.Ambedkar
Shraddha = rituals observed in bhadarva month for late  ancestors
 Takia kalam= pet word,which any person use very often
Vairagya = non-attachment, actually leads a householder to a state of being in the world but not of the world
Vastu = rituals done on entry of a new house
Vevai = father-in-law or elder men in son or daughter’s family