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Under the shadow of peace personified
By B. B. Borkar, Eminent Marathi poet
Acharya-Vinoba-Bhave
When I read Vinobaji’s writings for the first time, I had concluded that this man was a great saint. I was impressed with his depth of knowledge, introspection, and the wisdom that he conveyed with minimal words. Even then, his discourses, though being impressive, had not completely won me over due to the strong language which somewhat scared me.
I went to Wardha for the first time in 1946 where I had the benefit of the paternal affection of my host, Pu. Kakasaheb. One day in a happy mood he said, “Come, I shall take you to Vinobaji”. My quick reaction was, “But I don’t want to go”. Kakasaheb was taken aback with my response. He must have thought that when such big personalities eagerly wait their turn to meet Vinobaji, why is this weird poet, when there is such an opportunity, behaving in such a strange manner.
He inquired, “But why?”
I explained, “After having read Vinobaji’s writings with great faith, studied it to the extent of my abilities, I have come to the conclusion that this man is a source of burning fire. A person like me, who lives a comfortable life, should pay my respects to him from a distance. It is best to read him now and then to get inspiration, but nothing more, like we warm ourselves in front of a fire in the winter when we feel cold.”
I managed to avoid meeting him, but could never get over my curiosity about him. I used to collect as much information as I could about him. Whatever information I had gathered about him made me conclude that this man was a yogi living in a divine state. Therefore, I had decided, that instead of going close to him and making a fool of myself, it was better to worship him from a distance.
Then it was at Sewagram, on the occasion of the first gathering of Sarvodaya, that I saw Vinobaji for the first time. I perceived the crowd, which had gathered for the first time after Gandhi’s death, overflowing with devotion for this living epic. The meet started with Vinobji’s address. It became clear from his address that from among all those present, dispirited after Gandhiji’s death, he was one man who stood stable and strong like a mountain, sublime, spreading light all around. His discourse was most impressive, inspiring, and cogent. But what I did not like was him not giving adequate respect when referring to Gandhi’s father, though the in the context it was brought up it was not wrong. While one could not take any objection to that reference intellectually, somehow my mind was not willing to accept him in that image. My mind questioned if this was not arrogance coming from knowledge. But later in the evening on that day when he addressed a group of volunteers from Maharashtra, his behaviour was very emotional and sportsman like. His message was, “learn to love”, and he narrated an incident from his childhood and laughed heartily. That laughter was not so much like Gandhiji’s; mild, cool, soothing, but more like it came from a yogi in the ethereal world. To me it was like a strange laughter that would scare us and at the same time attract us if one were to hear it while walking in the dark. I could not forget it even if I decided to, as it had a strange kind of charm. However, not only did this laughter, to some extent, assuage my reservations that I had felt from the morning’s discourse, but also linked me to him with a delicate thread. I started feeling that I should get to know him.
I told Kunderji (Diwan), “I would like to give Vinobaji the special issue on Gandhiji published in the ‘Mahatmayan’ (journey of a great soul) section of ‘Mauj’ magazine.” It was then decided to go to Vinobaji in the afternoon. While I kept contemplating what he would ask me, what will I say; someone announced that Vinobaji has arrived. Vinoba had something to say to Kakasaheb. The meeting of these two great men seemed like the meeting of Ganga and Yamuna. When I signalled to my cousin to take a photograph of this meeting, someone with Vinoba said, “Vinobaji does not like being photographed”. I thought to myself, “What nonsense is that!” but did not persist. I did not want to do anything that he would disapprove of.
When we went into his hut to hand over the magazine, he had gone out somewhere. We chatted with Shivavjirao and I also sang on his insistence. I consoled myself thinking I was not destined to meet Vinobaji, but Kunderji would not give up so easily. He took me again to his hut. At this time there was quite a crowd around him. I waited outside. Kunderji went in and came right back to tell me that Vinobaji was calling me. When I went in, he was leaving to relieve himself. But while walking out he looked at me and said, “If you had written Mahatamayan in Sanskrit it would have been assumed to be written by Ved Vyas! But since you ended up writing it in Marathi, so who can be fooled now?” Without waiting for my answer, he walked out. This section of Mahatamayan ends as if Maharshi Vyas is talking in heaven. This comment showed that he had read the whole section. Kunderji said, “Now if I try to introduce you to him, I would be considered a fool”, and we departed from there.
From then on, whenever I used to meet my friend Shri Kamalnayan Bajaj, the topic of Vinobaji would invariably come up and he would aver firmly that this great soul had achieved even greater heights than Gandhiji in the field of Sadhana (spiritual contemplation). I used to hear him out, but thought that it was a bit of exaggeration. My friend was of the opinion that there was more poetry in Vinobaji’s tears than in his laughter. His real greatness is seen at the time he is praying, he would add. His voice acquires glory when one hears Vinobaji in prayers. The effusion of tears reaches its zenith, especially when, totally engrossed, he is reciting his own translations of Ishavasyopanishad. After hearing him reciting this Upanishad, I started reading the original Sanskrit and his Marathi translation regularly. However, I never found the same musical harmony in his Marathi translations that I found in the Sanskrit prose.
One day I told Kamalnayanji, “No matter what you say, but barring the Gitayi (Vinoba’s version of the Gita), Vinobaji has not been able to capture the harmony of the internal music; and definitely not in the prose of the Ishavasyopanishad”. He challenged me to do it. But I told him that I was not an authority on this subject. Yet I felt it was worth trying to see if I could do it. This translation should be ‘samsholka’ (parallel sholka) was my opinion.
Once again, I started reading the original Sanskrit text and Vinobaji’s translation. One day, I completed the (sam shlok) translation of the verses in a flash of inspiration and sent the typeset document to Kamalnayanji. After some days, when I met him, he showed me the card he had received from Vinobaji’s secretary, Shri Mundada, which mentioned that Vinobaji had liked my translation.
In 1949, when Vinobaji was visiting Urlikanchan, Kamalnayanji came to me and said, “Come, let’s go and see Vinobaji”. He was supposed to address an audience on that day in Pune. For some time there was some playful exchange between the Guru and disciple, I said nothing. We then left to go to Pune. On the route to Pune, we came across thick jungles exuding tranquillity and serenity. On reaching this spot, Vinobaji asked the car to halt. He alighted from the car; we also got down and started walking along that pleasant shaded road. Jankidevi was teasing Vinobaji now and then to provoke him to talk. Kamalnayanji was also trying his best by making some exaggerated comment or the other. He would hardly give a reply in a word or two. In spite of being physically close to us, one felt that he was far away is some other world, and even though he was walking along the same path, it seemed as if he was walking along a higher plain. It seemed as if that spot had challenged his consciousness. I observed his face and saw something which I had not observed earlier; that his eyes were never completely open like ours. I realized, for the first time that day, that his unmoving eyelashes and half shut lids were a unique feature of his. Just like we poets are in a blissful state when we are creating poetry, this man was engrossed in a similar way all day and night. This is a result of unbroken maun (silence). In this shell of silence the eternal sorrow of humankind diffuses leading to unfettered liberation. The jingling from the kernel of this silence is subtle, creating a magic of powerful and compelling music. This kind of liberated music is always playing in the minds of all great souls. And that is why they are engrossed in their endless meditation. While my mind was absorbed in introspecting on this subject, the words “eternal meditation” sprang to my lips without my conscious effort, and they became the first stanza of my poem and in no time my poem was complete.
I heard his discourse and all the questions and answers at that Pune gathering; people were praising his lecture, but what enchanted me was his maun (vow of silence). I thought that here is a big crowd at the ‘banks of Ganga’ but I am sitting at the ‘banks of Ganga’ and taking in its liquid nectar. I did recognise Vinobaji’s strengths and capabilities, but I was not sure if he would be able to fill the vacuum created in our national psyche by the passing away of Gandhi. Leading prominent personalities trained under Gandhi stared in confusion at the massive frightful problems facing the country. They were nonplussed and a sense of helpless prevailed over even the constructive programs of Gandhi like a widow, standing on the pyre of her dead husband, is not able to make complete sense of everything going around her. This horrific scene disturbed and scared me. The young workers were openly voicing their scepticism that this is the end of Gandhiji’s revolutionary thoughts. No one knew for sure what exactly should be done under these circumstances to revive the national spirit and vitality. There was intellectual chaos everywhere, which according to me was also a form of self-deception. It was quite clear that if this scenario continued for a longer time, the violent communists would take advantage. The factions of socialists competed with each other to be recognised as the opposition. Violence broke out in broad daylight in Telengana and continued abated. For how long would they be able to uphold their prestige and reputation if the party that claimed to be formed on Gandhian principles wanted to combat violence with counter violence? Such thoughts were making people like us very uncomfortable. Most Gandhians were trapped in a dilemma where they could not reconcile with whatever was happening and could not accomplish whatever should be happening.
At such a difficult time, when I heard about Vinobaji’s pad yatra (procession on foot), I was reminded about Gandhi’s journey to Naukhali. I could visualise a delicate thin flame steadily cutting through the darkness spreading its lustre and fragrance of affection. Later when he announced his bhoodaan yatra (donation of land), I had no doubt left that a new revolution was in the budding. In 1946, I wrote a poem ‘Shaanticha Jaijaikaar’ (long live peace). While composing this poem, the vision that had appeared cloudy before became clearer now. Seeing the response to Vinobaji’s call for bhoodaan (donation of land), my conviction became even stronger. I had not a shadow of doubt that, like he said, he had received this message from the almighty. But later I was totally aghast when he set a target of obtaining 5 crore acre land within a specific span of time. I was extremely disturbed when my mind questioned whether this act of taking upon himself what is in the hands of destiny was not a sign of spiritual downfall! I was so pained by this thought that I could not help but discuss this topic with a friend. The nation would be in danger, if after having succeeded thus far, Vinobaji was to move even an inch away from what was feasible. It was even more distressing to think that the nation would lose whatever backing it had. My friend advised me to write to Vinobaji without any reservations if this was troubling me so much rather than keeping it suppressed within my bosom. He added that you would be failing in your duty as a poet if you do not express yourself.
After giving some thought, I said, “It would not be appropriate for me to write in this impulsive manner without getting to know this person closely and observing his work at close quarters”. It does not behove a person committed to truth to jump to conclusions and express one’s doubts without understanding what form spiritual enlightenment takes when it enters the intellectual arena. I also have to consider if my doubts are not a result of my own immaturity”. On this my friend said, “in that case why don’t you go and spend a few days with Vinobaji”?
Now I decided that I must go and spend time with Vinobaji. Off and on reading his writings, I realized that his language had become sweeter over the years, and had also acquired more depth. As a result my inhibitions about interacting with him were also getting dissolved. While I was contemplating these thoughts, an opportunity arose for me to meet Vinobaji and I instantly seized the opportunity without further thought and boarded a train.
At night when I reached his home, entering the drawing room, I saw he was explaining the Rig Ved to those surrounding him. I heard him say “Karu, manhje, hey kavi” [loosely translated – a poet is an artisan] and these words were from that text. A thrill passed down my spine. He signalled with his eyes for me to go and sit near him. I found the people around him very amiable and enthusiastic. Very quickly I became a part of that group. The group also whole heartedly accepted me as one of their own.
There would be a very busy schedule starting with morning prayers, then a walk around the campus, digging, spinning, and then in the afternoon a shibir (get together) with workers where there would be discussions, later talking on varied subjects with those who had come to see him, and then again evening prayers and Vinobaji’s discourse. If time permitted, then the members of his family would ask me recite my poems. They organized a special program for Vinobaji one day. All the important people were sitting in the main hall. Shri Mundada took me along with him. When he went to fetch Vinobaji who was strolling in the veranda nearby, the latter said, “let him come here and recite”. Somebody commented that there was no light in there, to which Vinoba responded, “What kind of poet is he if he requires light?” Finally in the dim light of the lantern I started reciting my composition. I also read out parts of ‘Mahatmayan’ and then I ventured to tell him “I want to ask you a couple of questions for which you can give me a reply at your convenience. It is said that ‘after achieving enlightened intuition the psyche (mind) is overwhelmed with knowledge’ so the first question is how does one achieve such a state? Sadhana (discipline for the attainment of moksha or emancipation) of saints and yogis grow with age, but poets generally, barring Tagore and Milton, are exhausted by the time they turn forty, why? There must be a path where the poet could also grow with age. The second question is: when a poet overcomes his ego or vanity, his self reaches a divine state and in that state his creation is extraordinary, but when he comes back to reality and recognises the uniqueness of his creation, his vanity comes back and then he cannot go back to the divine state; how to get out of this cycle?”
In reply to my first question he said, “The Upanishad says that creative faculties are like a flash of lightening which have to be transformed into something more stable like the sun. I countered “what that secret is, is exactly my question”. Taking more liberty with him I told him, “Vinobaji’s Ganga is flowing here, and each one comes here to fill their jar, but I have come here not to fill my jar, but to know how deep it is and how to dig to find the source of this Ganga”. Vinobaji said, “Both your questions are significant, we will talk about them at leisure”.
This time I observed varied facets of Vinobaji’s of personality at close quarters. I could clearly discern in him the fusion of Sankhya [one of the six Vedic systems of philosophy founded by sage Kapil] and yog [means of establishing union with God; control of the sense and the mind]. In spite of the endless activities going on around him he was not only totally at peace with himself, but this serenity also got transmitted to those around him. Watching him closely, I could clearly see traits of equanimity described by Gyanoba in him. His speech and mannerisms were generally very tender and polite, but, the halo (aura) of inner light (soul awareness) seen around his face when expressing his thoughts may appear to have a taint of arrogance if one were to see his words in print. However, if you heard his actual words, one is left in no doubt that his words were coming from his inner soul. With all great souls one feels that they are “Smaller than an atom and yet as large as the sky”.
The day before Vinobaji was to shift residence, I was told he had set aside the time of 4:30 pm to meet me. At around 2:30 when I looked into his drawing room, I found him alone. Whenever he is in this state of engrossment I feel I just want to keep looking at him. I went in closer to him. He called me near him and asked me to sit assuming that I probably wanted to speak to him. He said, “Ok, what do you want to say?” I had not decided what I was going to say. There was so much tenderness in his behaviour that I spoke to him about many things. I even had the temerity to tell him where our saints erred. When I think of that conversation now, I laugh at myself. It was like “when a father is trying to feed the child from his own plate, the child instead takes hold of the spoon and tries to feed the father”. Something like that happened with me too. I had gone there to listen to him but instead, I spoke more than him. Even then, the surge of affection for me was studded with the luminescence of stars.
While this was going on, Vinobaji asked me, “you stayed here for eight days, saw everything, so what conclusions have you drawn?” I had been observing everything but had forgotten to arrive at any conclusion. Under a great mental burden, the words that came out from my mouth were, “Who knows what curse was upon Maharashtra that Gandhiji’s death should have occurred at the hands of a Maharashtrian – though I am not willing to say that Gandhiji’s life has ended – but the almighty has washed off this sin by sending another Maharashtrian to revive his philosophy”. Maharashtrian intellectuals should understand this and start working in that direction. I don’t know whose words I was expressing, but Vinobaji was so overwhelmed that tears started flowing from his eyes. He became very emotional. He wiped his eyes with the edge of his wrap around cloth. This unexpected divine scene brought tears to my eyes. People sitting around became like statues. His tears had much more power than his laughter. I was dazzled with his intellect but had not been won over; I was amazed to see his boundless energy but even that could not win me over; but these tears totally broke me down, I dissolved like sugar in water. It was from the saints of Maharashtra that I received the mantra / blessings to create poetry and these tears rekindled this relationship. I became speechless and waited for an opportunity to leave.
I went to meet him at 4:30 as scheduled. He took me along for a walk. While strolling in the veranda, we spent quite some time discussing the two questions I had raised earlier. My pen is incapable of describing the facets of his personality that I saw this time. I was convinced that this person was peace personified. I remained engrossed in my thoughts for a long time after this discussion. I was avoiding talking to anyone, no matter how dear that person was to me. Darkness was setting in and suddenly my attention was drawn to the sky. For the first time I realised how much more beautiful, mysterious, and different a star filled sky is compared to a moonlit night. For the first time I had first-hand experience of seeing how much infinite effusion of limitless emotions are stored in the womb of the fearful dark night. Vinobaji’s personality was like this dark night. It makes a person look inwards and leads words towards the voice of silence. Once we get a taste of this music, the path to detachment automatically opens up. Life starts becoming blissfulness.
Courtesy: Sanskruti, August 1954.