Aug 24, 2010
03. Past Preface
A storm of social revolution had blown across the terrain of English education in Bengal to sweep the ritualistic fumes of traditional learning and the prevailing winds of college curriculum closer to each other – and in the midst of this upheaval had plunged Jnanadashankar. Born in the distant past, his era had somehow slipped into the present. He had been born in advance. In wisdom, words and ways he had been asynchronous to his generation. Like a surf loving seabird, he enjoyed meeting the gusts of calumny with his welcoming chest.
When the grandsons of such grandsires try to rectify errors of era, they tend to sprint across to the opposite terminus of the almanac. It panned out in a similar way. After the demise of his father, Jnanadashankar's grandson Baradashankar turned out to be almost the primordial progenitor of his pop and grandpa. He prostrated himself to Manasha while appeasing Shitala by accepting her as mother. He started drinking the water used for amulet washing, spent entire mornings inscribing the name of the mother goddess thousand fold. The trader class that had sprung up in his neighbourhood, head held high as highborn, was driven to discomfiture. To protect the ways of preserving Hinduism from the fatal tentacles of untouchable scientific thought, he did not hesitate to forge alliance with the conformist cognoscenti and publish pamphlets, distributing them for free, battling modern thought with sayings of the sages. Soon, through work and worship, rites and rituals, meditation and mantras, chants and cleansings, incantation and incense, Brahmin and cow adorations, he established a slit-less, schism-less stationary stronghold of sanctimony. Ultimately, after innumerable bestowal of cattle, land, gold, and takeovers of the burden of daughter, father and mother, in return bearing the infinite blessings of countless Brahmins, when he left this world for the next, he was just twenty seven.
He had been wedded to Yogamaya, the daughter of Ramlochan Banerjee, the dearest friend of his father. The two fathers had studied in the same college and had cutlets at the same joints. At that point of time there was no behavioural bigotry between Yogamaya's paternal and partner households. At her father's, girls pursued education, wandered outdoors, some of them even contributed travelogues to monthly papers – complete with pictures. Her husband took it upon himself to ensure that the daughter of such a house did not stumble on the foramen monastica in her new immaculate purified edition. In such catholic border security regulations, Yogamaya's movements were constrained by various passport protocols. The traditional veil was lowered over her eyes, and by induction her mind. When some respite enabled Saraswati, the goddess of erudition, to enter the inner chambers, even she was frisked by the sentries of the soul. She was relieved of English books outside the premises, and Bengali literature later than the pre-Bankim era, if detected, was not allowed to cross the threshold. An excellently bound Bengali translation of Yogabasistha Ramayana stood waiting for long in Yogamaya's shelf. To his last day, the owner of the house held on to the enduring wish that she would discourse on it as entertaining leisure. It was not easy for her to be locked up as a safe deposit in the ancient iron chest. Yet she kept her rebellious spirit under restraint. Under this mental embargo, her one and only solace had been Dinasharan Bedantaratna – their community scholar. He had been taken by the clarity of Yogamaya's natural intelligence. He often told her plainly, "Child, you are not meant for this rubble of rituals. The ignorant under illusion not only fool themselves, everything around the world fools them too. Do you think we believe in these things? Haven't you noticed that when we prescribe ruling, depending on the situation, we are not sorry to overturn scriptures using the manoeuvres of grammar and language. This means we don't recognise restrictions in our mind, whereas in the world we have to pretend to be ignorant for the sake of the ignoramus. When you don't want to forget by yourself, I am not capable of ensuring that you do. Whenever you want, child, send for me. I will recount from the scriptures whatever I know to be the truth."
On occasions he explained sections of the Gita and the Brahmabhasya to her. Often she fascinated the Vedanta-ratna with questions of sparkling insight, his enthusiasm in the discussions with her knew no bounds. For the multi dimensioned masters and masterpieces collected by Baradashankar on all sides, the learned man had enormous disdain. He used to tell Yogamaya, "Across the city, only speaking in your home makes me happy. You have saved me from self-castigation." A period passed this way amidst continual vows and fasting, shackled to the writs of covenant. Life from all angles turned what the peculiar language of newspapers of today would term obligatory. After the death of her husband, she set out with her son Jyotishankar and daughter Surama. During winters, they stayed in Calcutta – in some mountain in the summer. Jyotishankar is now studying in college, but Yogamaya was unable to hit upon any girl school to her liking for Surama. After endless search she had found Lavanya and to her had entrusted her daughter's education. And today, it was with her that Amit had the sudden encounter.