Back to Square One
I was back to square one. My faith in Gandhism had lost the battle to Marxism. Now I was no longer a Marxist. I asked myself again and again: Where do I go from here?
The business of life can go on very well without an ideological frame of reference. One eats and mates and sleeps and makes a living. One reads books and papers and gossips and goes about passing conventional judgments on current events, One has a family, a profession, a circle of friends, and some hobby to keep one occupied in leisure time. One grows old, collects one’s own share of diseases, and looks back with anguish towards earlier days when one was young and active. For most of us ordinary mortals, this is the whole of human life. We take very seriously our successes and failures and our loves and hates, without spending a thought on what it is all about.
I have always been an ordinary person with ordinary aspirations. Left to myself, I would have led an ordinary life. I was a good business executive by now, having acquired considerable experience in export business. I could have achieved more success along the same line. Maybe I would have been invited by some millionaire in Calcutta to become his junior partner, and earned my own millions in due course. That was one of the fond dreams which my father had dreamt for me. He knew a few people who were poor but talented to start with, and who had succeeded as partners of more successful men. Maybe I would have over estimated myself in the business world, crashed, and spent the rest of my life cursing those who conspired to bring about my failure in the final bid. I had met quite a few specimens of such failure in Calcutta.
But I had already met a man who will not let me be. That was Ram Swarup. He had tried his best to rescue me from the twin morass of a false self esteem and a degrading self pity. He had encouraged and assisted me with timely advice to take an impersonal interest in higher ideas and larger causes. As I shared his ideas and concern for social causes, I could not question his command for action.
Now I was invited by him to join a group to serve the new values we shared with him. The cultural and political atmosphere in India had become, over the years, chockfull with Communist categories of thought. Many myths were afloat about a heaven having descended in Soviet Russia, Red China and the East European countries occupied by Soviet armed forces and ruled dictatorially by Soviet puppets. The Communist Party of India was using these myths in order to appear as the harbinger of a wholesome social order in India. The Communist categories of thought were helping the Communist Party of India to infiltrate national life in various fields, with the ultimate aim of subverting Indian democracy and reducing the nation to the status of a Soviet satellite.
The main task we took upon ourselves was to expose Communist categories of thought is inimical to human freedom, national cohesion, social health, economic development, and political and cultural pluralism to which we were wedded as a people. Simultaneously, we went out to explode the myths about Communist countries so that our people, particularly our national and democratic political parties, could see them as they were totalitarian tyrannies with low standards of living and regimented culture. This we did simply by telling the truth about Communist regimes with the help of citations and statistics compiled largely from their own publications.
Our expectation was that the information supplied by us will help the national and democratic parties to see the evil that was Communism, and the conspiracy that was the Communist Party of India. It was for these parties to fight the political battle against the evil creed and the foreign fifth column. Our work proved useful to a certain extent. Some parliamentarians, trade unionists and political workers in the field used the information supplied by us and put the Communist Cohorts on the defensive all along the line. Some journalists and intellectuals welcomed our work and helped us carry on the battle. One of them complimented us by saying that.we had placed and Communism squarely on the political map of India.
But we discovered in due course that our friends expected from us much more than the limited role we had chalked out for ourselves. The Socialists who were our greatest fellow fighters against Communism wanted us to fight many more battles on many snore fronts. The Congressmen, by and large, had either no opinions at all on any ideological issues or wanted us to fight against Communalism by which they meant the RSS and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), who were always sympathetic, friendly, and helpful to our work, and who wanted us to place India’s national interests above everything else. We listened to them patiently, pointed out our limitations, tried to soften animosities amongst political parties wedded to nationalism and democracy, and highlighted the international nature of the Communist conspiracy.
As the battle against Communism progressed, I became acutely aware that a positive frame of reference was badly needed if Communism was to be kept at bay. What could be that frame? Democracy? We had all the democracy we needed. But the Communists alone were making a purposeful use of it towards its ultimate subversion. Socialism? We had already adopted it as a state policy. But the Communists had succeeded in confusing the language of Socialism, so that Socialism got equated with an ever expanding public sector which was inefficient, wasteful and horribly corrupt. Free enterprise? But in the mouths of many it was only a euphemism for Capitalism with a free licence to plunder the public for private profit. Moreover, India in the middle of the 20th century was neither America nor Britain nor Germany nor France nor yet Japan, to try out a nineteenth century experiment. Her problems as well as resources had different dimensions.
I had a strong inclination to settle in favour of nationalism as a strong antidote to Communism. My country, right or wrong that seemed to be emerging as my main motto. But my bubble was one day pricked by Ram Swarup to whom I listened as he talked to a friend of RSS-BJS persuasion. This friend was laying too much emphasis on eschewing everything that was foreign. Rain Swarup said: “But foreign should not be defined in geographical terms. Then it would have no meaning except territorial or tribal patriotism. To me that alone is foreign which is foreign to truth, foreign to Atman.” This touched some chord in my own heart. That was the end of my tether. I did not know which way to turn next.
Ram Swarup was now becoming more and more meditative and reflective in his comments on the current political scene. He often talked of a cultural vacuum which Communism was using to its own great advantage. Communism, he said, was deriving support from a deeper source, a new self alienation amongst our political and cultural elite, and advancing with the help of forces which on the surface seemed to be allied against Communism. It was not our democratic polity alone which was under attack from Communism. There were several other forces which had come together to suffocate and render sterile the deeper sources of India’s inherent strength.
Meanwhile, we became acutely aware of the progressive degeneration of politics in India. Our politics was no longer national politics. It was getting increasingly ridden with many fissiparous factors like caste, language and provincial parochialism. Nation building was no longer the aim of this politics. Winning elections and grabbing power and privilege, without a corresponding shouldering of responsibility or accountability to the people, was becoming an end in itself. A politics which was no longer informed by a larger and deeper culture was likely to become pretty poisonous.
A similar degeneration was taking place on the international plane as well. The United States was prepared for a hot war which may not take place. But it was not at all prepared for an ideological contest in which the issues may be decided in the long run. The Soviet Union was supplying a lot of ideas, ideology and categories of thought in a stream of books, pamphlets and periodicals. The only response which the United States could muster against this menace was economic aid. It was widely believed amongst U.S. thinkers and rulers that a man was likely to become better wedded to freedom and democracy if his standard of living was raised. Ram Swarup remarked one day: “The Soviet Union swears by Dialectical Materialism. But what it practises is Idealism. On the other hand, the United States swears by Idealism. But what it practises is Dialectical Materialism. There is a neat division of roles between the two powers. The Soviets take care of our heads. The United States takes care of our hearths and homes.”
In this atmosphere of declining political standards, we decided to withdraw our anti communist campaign as we have conceived it to start with. We were convinced that a larger battle, couched along deeper cultural contours, was needed if the nation was to be saved from the corrosion of its soul.
It was at this time that I fell seriously ill and lost a lot of weight which I had never had in plenty. A Catholic missionary whom I had known earlier in connection with our anti communist work came to visit me. He was a good and kindly man and had a strong character. He had insisted upon his religious right to sell our and Communist literature in melas and exhibitions in spite of his mission’s advice that this was no part of his ordained work and that, in any case, the Government of India frowned upon it.
The Father, as I called him, found me in a difficult condition, physically as well as financially. He felt sure that it was in such times that Jesus Christ came to people. He asked me if I was prepared to receive Jesus. I did not understand immediately that he was inviting me to get converted to Catholicism. My impression was that he wanted to help me with some spiritual exercises prescribed by Christianity. Moreover, I had always admired Jesus. I had, therefore, no objection to receiving him. Only I was doubtful if someone was really in a position to arrange the meeting. But I became aware of the Father’s true intentions as I travelled with him to a distant monastery. He asked every other missionary he met on the way to pray for his success.
At this monastery, which was a vast place with very picturesque surroundings, I was advised by the Father to go into a retreat. It meant my solitary confinement to a room. I was not supposed to look at or talk to anyone on my way to the bathroom or while taking my morning and evening strolls on the extensive lawns outside. And I was to meditate on themes which the Father prescribed for me in the course of four or five lectures he delivered to me during the course of the day, starting at about 6.30 in those winter mornings. I was not used to this way of life. I had never lived in such solitude by my own choice. My only solace was that I was allowed to smoke and provided with plenty of books on the Christian creed and theology.
I tried to read some of the books. But I failed to finish any one of them. They were full of Biblical themes and theological terminology with which I was not familiar. Most of the time they made me recall Ram Swarup’s observation about mere cerebration. Or they were simplistic harangues to love Christ and join the Catholic Church. They had a close similarity to Communist pamphlets which I had read in plenty. The Father had asked me again and again to invoke Christ and meditate upon him. But he had not told me how to do it. I had no previous practice in meditation. I did not know how to invoke Christ, or any other godhead for that matter. All I could do was to think again and again of Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount or saving an adulteress from being stoned to death. But my thoughts would wander away after every few moments.
The Father asked me before the start of every new lesson if I was feeling drawn towards Christ. In my exasperation I told him on the evening of the second day that the only deity towards whom I was feeling drawn was Sri Krishna. This was not true. I had told a lie for which I felt ashamed immediately after. I had felt drawn towards nothing, far less Sri Krishna. Most of the time my mind was busy in free association in the Freudian sense. I told the lie because by now I was fed up with the Father’s lectures. They had no relevance to any of the problems with which I was faced. I wanted the Father to frown at the mention of Sri Krishna and say something unkind about him so that I could pick up an argument, defy the discipline he had imposed on me, and get out of his clutches.
But the Father did not frown. Nor did he say anything unkind about Sri Krishna. He became thoughtful, almost pensive. He told me at last that in his long experience of conversions, Jesus had never tarried so long. He asked me to make another attempt that night. I promised. But I went to sleep immediately after he left. I was dead tired. Little did I know that my release from that prison was to come about next morning. While delivering a lecture on Creation, the Father said that God in his wisdom and kindness had made all these fishes and animals and birds for man’s consumption. I immediately rose in revolt. I told him very emphatically that I was a vaishnava and a vegetarian and that I had absolutely no use for a God that bestowed upon man the right to kill and eat his other creatures simply because man happened to be stronger and more skilled. I added that in my opinion it was the duty of the strong and the more skilled to protect the weaker and the less wily.
The Father also suddenly lost his self possession. He almost shouted: “I can never understand you Hindus who go about seeing a soul in every lice and bug and cockroach that crawl4 around you. The Bible says in so many words that man is God’s highest creation. What is wrong with the higher lording over the lower?”
I kept quiet. I could see the pain in his eyes. I did not want to add to his anguish. He recovered his selfpossession very soon and smiled. Now I went down on my knees before him and asked his forgiveness for my lack of strength to go on with the retreat. He agreed, although rather reluctantly. His sense of failure was writ large on his face. I was very sorry indeed. I now wished that it would have been better for both of us if Christ had come to me.
On our way back to the big city where his mission was housed he became his old normal self again. There was not a trace of bitterness on his face or in his voice as we talked and joked and discussed several serious and not so serious matters. Now I took my courage in both my hands and asked him my final question: “Father, am I not already a Christian? I do not normally tell a lie. I do not steal. I do not bear false witness. I do not covet my neighbour’s wife or property. What more can a man do to demand God’s grace and kinship with Christ? Why should you insist on a formal conversion which in no way helps me to become better than what I am?” His reply was very positive and it estranged me from the Christian creed for good. He said: “It is an illusion that you can become a Christian if you practice Christian virtues. One cannot claim to be virtuous unless one is baptised in the Church of Christ. He is the only saviour. No one outside his fold can claim salvation. The only thing the heathens can look forward to is eternal hellfire.”
That evening I had a chat with the librarian in the mission library. He was young but looked very sad and far away. His surname was Hindu. But he told me that he had become a Christian a few years ago. He continued: “I fell seriously ill. There was no money in the house. I was earning a small salary and had a wife and two children to support. My relatives were also poor like me and could not help much, what with the cost of medicines and a prescribed diet. It was at this moment that the Father appeared on the scene. I had known him earlier as he frequented our street in search of converts. He brought all the medicines and fruits for me . I was very grateful to him. And one day in a moment of my mend weakness he baptised me. My wife refused to become a Christian. She was an orthodox Hindu. But she did not desert me. After I had regained my health, the Fattier insisted that my conversion was not complete unless I ate beef. As a Kayastha I was already a non vegetarian. I saw no great harm in eating yet another type of meat. But as soon as my wife learnt of it, she left with our two children and went away to her father’s place in another town. I went after her. But I was turned out of their house. I have been excommunicated. No one in my community or amongst my relatives will share with me so much as a glass of water. I have nowhere to go. This mission is my only refuge till I die.”
I was reminded of Vivekananda’s description of Christianity as Churchianity. At the same time I was ashamed of the society to which I belonged. For ages past, this society had perfected the art of losing its limbs, one after another. But what could I do for that young man? I was myself in search of a refuge, in the physical as well as the ideological sense.