The boy turns 150…
I don't remember when the first time he was introduced to me. I was very little, but was mesmerised by his antics. Though we were quite opposite, I had developed a liking of him. I was a typical good boy, very shy and not much adventurous. He was just the opposite. Very naughty- always did something or the other, got into troubles, challenged all the conventions- in short very dynamic. I used to get very thrilled thinking how exciting his life might have been. I started admiring him and secretly wanted his life. Once I had asked my mom, "why do you scold me for being naughty, while every one goes ga-ga over Byle's naughtiness?"* Mom said, "Because he was very good at studies too". I was left speechless, "Well… In that case, er.. um…"
Today is his birthday. 12th January. Had he been alive, he would have been 150 years today. Though, I never had the opportunity to meet Narendranath Dutta, who would later be known as Swami Vivekananda, he was an integral part of my growing up. By the time I was 10, I had read a bit more about him, beyond the coloured pages of Amar Chitra Katha or "Shishuder Vivekananda" (Vivekananda for Children). He had said, "Never give up on your dreams. You have all power you need, just be conscious of it and bring it out." Really!!! I was not convinced- but it gave me some reassurance. Luckily, I was in a school that also believed in his ideology. So, double influence of both school and home made sure I take Vivekananda as my ideal at quite early age. I won a district level quiz competition on Swami Vivekananda, organised during his 125th birth anniversary. I was also an automatic choice as speaker during an inter class celebration on Swamiji. Very soon one of his posters cut out occupied a prominent place next to my studying place.
I started reading the complete works of Swami Vivekananda, when I was in class XI. I could see a new side of his personality. A youth of 25 years- moving from one place to another, meeting people- understanding their life at the same time keeping his quest for truth and god in focus. Soon he realised that talking about religion to half naked, hungry countrymen is not only a waste of time but also rude and inhuman. The letters that he wrote during those days had etched some permanent marks on my thought process. "Those who are educated at the expense of poor and downtrodden but never bother to look back at them are traitors, not worthy of being called as educated". My neo-socialist mind could not agree more. He had laid a new principle of religion- "Atmano Moksharthe, jagat hitaya cha" (For one's own salvation, and for the welfare of the world). This was essentially an echo of what his guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa had said, "Tui sala keetanu keet, Jeeve daya karar tui ke? Korbi to Shiva gyane- Jeeve seva" (Who the bugger are you to be kind to people? You are nothing more than an insect, If you really can- serve people as god).
When I went to University, his letters were one of the best guiding force behind me. Whenever in doubt some or the other letter of his would throw some light on the problem. His life, writing, speeches had such positive energy, I would feel recharged, reassured and see hope at every disappointment, doubt and hopelessness. "But, my dear boy, no great things were ever done without great labour", "I promise, whoever would read this letter, would get my energy- I can feel it". He himself had faced Himalayan difficulties before and after his now famous speech at parliament of religion at Chicago. He had thought of giving up, but had bounced back. His letters during those days capture the tension of 30 something's mind and make him relatable and human.
Vivekananda has always been with me. Pre-school, University, first job, moving abroad- he never left me. At every success and difficulty- he still stands by me- gives me a reason to stay positive, believe in myself and most importantly stay focused on people- Atmano Moksharthe, jagat hitaya cha. Today at his 150th birth anniversary I can say only one thing- "Thank you".
(Note: Not related, but can't resist sharing this incident. When I was seeing Alpa, one of our senior managers, Mukul Lahiri on hearing this, had said, "Ore baba, Vivekananda je dekhchhi Devanand hoye gechhe" (Vivekananda has turned into Devanand (Bollywood actor)). See, Vivekananda had not left me during romancing as well J
* Byle- was Narendranath Dutta/ Vivekananda's pet name at home.