Friday, February 22, 2008

An Important Letter written in 1920 from Benaras to Mysore


Sri P.Ramaswamayya


(This letter was written by my father studying in Benares to my grandfather who was in Mysore. He talks about how he met Mahatma Gandhi and his decision to stop the studies and jump into the freedom movement. The letter is interesting for several reasons :(1) How an important turning point was reached in the life of a student (There were many like him in India of those days) (2) A letter written in times (even today it is true)when the interaction between a father and a son was very little (3) How he defies a father who commands and demands respect(4) How the old gentleman ( the grandfather ) preserved this letter for fuure in a country which is innocent of record keeping etc)


C.H. College



Dear Father,

Your post card to hand. I am glad to learn that you are recovering. I am also glad to learn that all are doing well at home. … I am sincerely sorry to know about Mr. A…’s death. I would have wished that the old man lived little longer to see that I was not as bad as others represented me to him…. I always act on high principles, and bow down to men not out of force, but out of pure love and consideration.

Dear Father, now I must enter upon an important matter, which so to say, has solved my life. That is, God shown me in his all merciful way to a path of life for me, and a noble object in life. He also gave me a great Guru under whom I can work and to whom I am responsible. …. I have come to realize that I shall realize the best in me, not by hankering after riches or favours of men, but, by thinking of God and my country and serving the motherland at all costs. In one word, I have made up my mind to lead a religious life. The highest religion these days is the service of the motherland. Working for the country is the highest duty of man.

As you know, the British government of the present day has been treating Indians more or less like slaves. They are ruling India not for the good of Indians but for the good of Englishmen. They are exploiting India and carrying away the riches of India into their own lands. They are disregarding the interests of Indians. They passed the Rowlett bill against the opinion of the non-official members. They passed martial law in Punjab. Added to all this, they have made the bonds of India tighter and tighter. They, in the course of the war, asked the Indian Mohammedans to help them fight against Germany and Turkey. When the war was over, they dismembered Turkey and occupied the religious centers of Mohamedans. The Indian Mohamedans felt it a great wrong and they requested the prime Minister of England to bring those places under the control of Mohamedans. Bu the request was of no avail.

The Special Congress of Calcutta passed a resolution of Non-cooperation according to which all the co-operation with the Government should stop. The lawyers should give up their practice and establish independent courts free from governments influence. The title holders (C.I.E, K.C.S.I., etc) should renounce their titles. The students of government aided institutions should leave those institutions and study in independent institutions. This non-cooperation movement is led by Mahatma Gandhi who is a saintly personality. His whole life is sent in service of India.

Coming to the spread of the movement, there were many who opposed it. Some said the nation was not prepared. Some said the plan is not practicable. Some said the whole country will be disturbed. But M. Gandhi went on with his campaign. The response is not so good as it ought to be.

Now to go to myself, from the beginning of this year, I was very regular in my studies and was working as hard as my health and energies could allow me. But now and then I used to have discussions on this topic and was reading papers regularly. So day by day, the idea of non-cooperation grew in my mind. I had to think of the present movement with reference to my own life.

I shall give a translation of my thoughts as they passed in my mind. As I think, it was only in my 15th year, that there was a turn in my life. Before that time, I think that I was quite dull and all those who saw and knew me took me to a useless fellow. However, at this point, I must say that the sort of education and training that I got upto that time had much to do with my dullness. Had there been more of reasonable and useful treatment, instead of mere beatings, I am quite sure that I would have done better in my life. However, the fact stands that from my fifteenth year, I began to realize that I was a human being, and I began to think. I made a serious attempt at education. I must say, with no disrespect to you, that I was independent and my attempt was independent. Beginning from that time upto my 18th year, you know what happened. But, any unpleasantness during that time was due to your old idea of discipline according to which you thought that a son as long as he was dependant on his father had to obey him implicitly and should not exercise his conscience. I must tell you, my dear father, how much trouble you would have saved for you and for myself, had you only left the question of marriage in the year 1911 to myself. But you did not do it. You would say that was God’s making. Why blame God when you see your own error. However, let that go. I can tell you with a free mind that whatever you did, you did with the best of motives. I cannot charge you with the blame of doing anything evil to me. With regards to matters of food and raiment, you gave me all much more than I needed and wanted, but you did not give me independence of thought and conscience. You have been doing that even now. Again, there is one more tendency (you will pardon me) in you: you have more faith in what is called fate than in men. In the year 1913, when I was appearing for matriculation, even before my appearing fro the exam, you told me that I would not pass because so says the Jatak (horoscope). But, may I ask you, even if I were so, ought you not to have been kind enough, not to disclose it to me or to anybody else until the result was out? This was, I must say, an error. Much of my failure is due to the weakness produced by your saying. By this, I do not mean that I would have passed had you not old me. But, I say that fate can be conquered by man. Man is not a mere straw, he has also independent will. God is great, he can help him.

Now, coming to Benares career, I am very thankful to you for having allowed me to pursue it peacefully. Out of your love for me, you wrote to me to go out to Mysore, but I am happy to say that my determination kept me here. Whatever best I have in me is due to the seven years of life in Benares. I have cultivated many noble thoughts and I have made my life higher than I would have done had I been at Mysore. Many an hour have I spent on the banks of Ganges in holy meditation. It was here that I had the privilege of coming in contact with the greatest men of India. It was here that I thought about the mission of my life. And it was here, so to say, that I have realized the god in me. I am ever indebted to Benares and I cherish the idea of visiting Benares many times in my life. It may be that the bath in the Ganges purified my life and washed away much of the sins of my past life. Anyhow, I feel that I am purer in life than many of my friends and relatives.

I have cultivated independence of thought. I have cherished noble ideas of my life. I am also strong to say that I have cherished no ill feeling to anybody and I hope that I shall make my life out of plain living and high thinking.

For a long time, I felt that my thoughts looked like impracticable. I could not know why I did not like show and luxury. I could not know why I always liked the company of good and virtuous people. Now, I have got a solution to all of them.

I have fully realized that God has ordained my life to be one service. He has not designed me to heap up money. He has not given life to me to rule.

When I came to Benares in 1913, it was not my idea to make use of my education as a means of livelihood. It was not so even when I entered my college career. It was not so even upto the year 1918. but, very near the exam, some ideas of earning money came to my mind and God punished me and I failed. I could not know why inspite of my efforts I failed. I could not solve that problem. Now it is clear. In 1919, when I passed my B.Sc, I was all in confusion. I hunted after wealth. God rightly checked me.

In 1913, I had the idea that I should have education for its own sake. I hope you remember, 1914, in your letters to me not to join college, you gave as one of the reasons that B.A.s do now get much money. Then also I pursued education for its own sake. That I was because I was steady and I could do well during those years. Last year when I came home, our people confused my mind. They expected me to earn hundreds. I doubted myself. I thought that God had not made me for that. He had given me simple habits and a large mind. However, last year, I came to Benares and studied again for M.Sc. The whole year I spent my time in thought and meditation. I was anxious to find a Guru who would tell me what my life was meant for. I wanted to go on a short trip to Himalayas and meditate. However, I came home and then you know what happened. Here again, I must say what I feel (you will kindly pardon me. I know that you can feel for me and take me for what I am worth. I think that your knowing my thoughts will enable you to interpret me better). My whole life was embittered. The numerous quarrels we had were due to your wrong outlook of life. You wanted to please men, but not follow your own conscience, had you been firm in your conscience, nothing could have happened. As to myself, I have always thought that I should follow my conscience even if the world stands against me. I do now want to be worldly minded. Let the people call me dull, foolish or whatever they like. I cannot please them. Their praise or blame is nothing to me, I shall follow my conscience. In the course of the marriage, you displayed such a tyrannical attitude that I was made quite helpless. You forgot yourself and myself. You ought to have given me the liberty to act and you did not do it. Hence, the bitteredness of my mind. I had to leave my home in disgust. However, this only by the way. I have to write all this to that you so not misinterpret me.

Going back to myself, from the beginning of this year, I read regularly. However, I was all blind as to what I should do after passing, I had taken chemistry. I should work in a laboratory and do research. I felt that I would be able to do better work on other fields of life. There was a struggle and I went on and on. I finished my experiments and books.

I had always felt that I am not born to rule. I am born to serve. Serve whom? The Government? No. Because I had independence of character. Therefore, I should serve my country. Service is my mission.

In the course of this year, I felt that politics and education were the fields of life for me. I decided to take part in politics. In the beginning, I thought that I should postpone the idea until I took my degree. But, it was against the idea of non-cooperation to take the degree from an institution which took Government grants.

I heard many lectures. Mahatma Gandhi himself came and lectured. He said to follow the right in the face of the evil consequences was the part of a bold man. He said to follow the conscience was the right thing.

I thought about myself. Am I injuring others if I take up this course? The question of supporting the family members came. I thought with the qualification I have I shall be able to support them. I was on the point hat I would lead a life of simplicity. I do not care if people call me a mad man. I do not care whether I live in a palace or a hut. I do not care whether I wear silk or rags. I do not care whether I eat mrishtanna or ordinary rice water. I care to follow the mission of my life. I do not care if anybody praises or blames me for the steps I take. I know God is satisfied with me and I shall follow Him. I determined to cast off all ideas of luxury and show. Then the question came whether I shall be doing my duty if I do not give you luxuries or earn more money and relieve you. I thought that it was my bounden duty to relieve you if you find it difficult to pull on and enable you to carry on your religious work. I also thought that I can educate my brothers without difficulty because I myself shall be working for education. For the rest, whether I pleased anybody else, I did not care. I was not bound to please the rest. It is my desire that you should know what I do and I was quite sure that you would approve the idea as long as I was in the right. Another idea came whether I am disobeying you or doing a thing which will bring a bad name to the family. I thought that our family had earned a good and everlasting name for its generous actions. Grandfathers, both of them, gave food to many Brahmins. You also are following the same path and doing good to others in your own way. As to myself, what should I do? And what can I do? By serving under the government or even trying to earn more money, I shall not be able to do good to others. There are many who have earned money but cannot do good to others. And in these days, the idea of doing good centers not in giving food to Brahmins. He does the highest good, who serves the motherland. Therefore I thought that I was not against the spirit of the family and I was, if not increasingly, at least preserving the glory of my family. These were the ideas that passed through my mind. I indeed sacrificed much in giving up my degree. But this sacrifice has purified me and elevated the tome of my life.

And as to another idea. You had sent me money all along. I feel that your help was not so great as I did for myself here. I acknowledged that you helped me on very critical occasions. Along with the debt to you, I owe a great deal to the public. I got help from many people. Many friends helped me. My college helped me. I must do my duty to them also. Therefore, I should choose such a course in life in which I do good to both the parties. All these considerations urged me to decide to leave the college and take up the national work. Many friends and well wishers requested me to take the degree and then leave. But I thought that in taking the degree I am false to myself. I am not a real non-cooperator. I violate a fundamental principle. I am caring fro a degree which is given by a university, which takes money from a government whose hands are stained with the blood of my countrymen. Therefore I decided to give up the degree.

Then, where to work and how to work? I cannot work in Mysore state. In Mysore state, I cannot work for NCO. So, I should choose a place where I can do most good. I chose Bombay Carnatic. Canarese is spoken there and I can work there.

With these ideas, I went to Mahatma Gandhi and told him all my accounts… he deputed me to Belgaum. He introduced me to a political leader there.

I wrote to him and got his reply. He welcomes me there.

In the meanwhile, I talked with my professors and argued with them. They appreciated me. They too told me that I should wait and take the degree. But I could not agree with them as it is a violation of the fundamental principle of Non cooperation.

I then went to Pandit Malaviya who is the founder of this university. He is the present vice-chancellor of the university. I had to talk with him for two hours. He also advised me to take the degree. But on my telling him that I had promised Mahatma Gandhi and I felt I would be wasting time in the college, he encouraged me and blessed me with success in my work.

Not only this, he asked me to be corresponding with him on what I did.

Dear father, Malaviya is a very great leader. Is it not an inspiration to be encouraged by him and be in correspondence with him? Shall I not rise higher in life than what I am by being guided by Mahatma Gandhi and Malaviyaji? You will also be glad to know that Malaviyaji gave me a sum of fifty rupees to use for my needs. I feel that God has indeed designed me for the work that I am taking in my hand.

The letter is too long. I have not expressed all that I feel. However, I can assure you that I shall always do the best in me. I am activated by noble motives. I pray God Almighty to give me strength. I pray you also that you would send me all your blessings for the success in my work.

You do not care for what people say. See only whether I am doing the right thing. I am quite sure that people with any nobility in them will appreciate me and help me.

Now I have ended my letter. I am leaving Benares for Nagpur and from there go to Belgaum. I shall write to you what I do there.

One final request I have to make of you. Please, do not, in the name of God, call me from my work unnecessarily. Give me all the encouragement you can.

I am doing well. Herewith, I enclose a letter from my professor to make you know what he thinks of me and my work.


Sri P.R.Ramaiya



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shailaja said...

I have read this letter many a times. I just wonder about the clarity of thoughts and boldness of the writer.This should be shared with many people.