Wait for my "Okay...."
I am standing before the "Elephant Gate" of my primary school... and that gate started many things in my life. I was not standing alone of course; my father was standing with me. He had come to enroll me at the school. I looked at the tall gates and said to him, "No."
I can still hear that word. A small child who has lost everything.... I can see on the child's face a question mark as he wonders what is going to happen.
I stood looking at the gates, and my father just asked me, "Are you impressed by this great gate?"
Now I take the story into my own hands:
I said to my father, "No." That was my first word before entering primary school, and you will be surprised, it was also my last word on leaving university. In the first case, my own father was standing with me. He was not very old but to me, a small child, he was old. In the second case, a really old man was standing by my side, and we were again standing at an even larger gate....
The old university gate is now dismantled forever, but it remains in my memory. I can still see it - the old gate, not the new one; I have no relationship with the new one - and on seeing it, wept, because the old gate was really grand, simple but grand. The new one is just ugly. It is modern perhaps, but the whole of modern art has taken up ugliness, just because it has been rejected for centuries.
Perhaps taking up ugliness is a revolutionary step; but revolution, if ugly, is not revolution at all, it is only reaction. I saw the new gate only once. Since then I have passed that road many times but always closed my eyes. With closed eyes I could again see the old gate.
The old university gate was poor, really poor. It was made when the university was just beginning and they were not able to create a monumental structure. We all lived in military barracks because the university had started so suddenly and there had been no time to make hostels or libraries. It was just an abandoned military barracks. But the place itself was beautiful, situated on a small hill.
The military had abandoned it because it had only been meaningful during the second world war.
It was at a height they had needed for their radar, to look around for the enemy. Now there was no need, so they abandoned it. It was a blessing, at least for me, because I would not have been able to read and study in any university other than that.
Its name was the University of Sagar. Sagar means "ocean." Sagar has a tremendously beautiful lake, so big that it is not called a lake, but sagar, an ocean. It really looks like an ocean, with waves rising on it. One cannot believe that it is only a lake. I have seen only two lakes with such big waves. Not that I have only seen two lakes, I have seen many. I have seen the most beautiful lakes of Kashmir, the Himalayas, Darjeeling, Nainital, and many others in the south of India, in the Nandi Hills, but I have seen only two with waves which resemble the ocean: the lake of Sagar and the lake of Bhopal.
Compared to Bhopal, of course the lake of Sagar is small. The lake of Bhopal is perhaps the greatest in the whole world. In that lake I have seen waves that can only be described as tidal waves, rising maybe twelve or fifteen feet high. No other lake can claim that. It is so vast. I once tried to go around it in a boat, and it took seventeen days. I was going as fast as you can imagine; more so, because there were no policemen around, and no speed limit. By the time I had ended the tour I simply said to myself, "My God, what a beautiful lake!" And it was hundreds of feet deep.
The same is true, on a smaller scale, of the lake of Sagar; but in another sense it has a beauty which the lake of Bhopal does not possess. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains, not so vast but tremendously beautiful... particularly in the early morning, at sunrise and in the evening, at sunset.
And if it is a full moon night you really know what beauty is. In a small boat on that lake, on a full moon night, one simply feels that nothing more is needed.
It is a beautiful place... but I still feel bad because the old gate is no longer there. It was bound to be dismantled. I am absolutely aware of that, not only now; even then everyone was aware that it needed to be dismantled. It was only temporary, made just to inaugurate the university.
This was the second gate I remember. When I left university I was standing by the gate with my old professor, Sri Krishna Saxena. The poor man died just a few days ago, and he had sent a message saying he wanted to see me. I would have loved to see him, but now nothing can be done unless he is born quickly, and to a sannyasin, so that he can reach me. I will recognize him immediately, that much I can promise.
He was a man of exceptional qualities. He was the only professor out of the whole lot that I came across - teachers, lecturers, readers, professors and whatnot - he was the only one who was able to understand that he had a student who should rather have been his Master.
He was standing at the gate persuading me not to leave the university. He was saying, "You should not leave, particularly when the university has granted you a Ph.D. scholarship. You should not lose
this opportunity." He was trying in thousands of ways to tell me that I was his most loved student. He said, "I have had many students all over the world, particularly in America" - because he had been teaching in America most of the time - "but I can say," he said to me, "I would not have bothered to convince any of them to remain. Why should I care? - it had nothing to do with me, it was their future. But as far as you are concerned" - and I remember his words with tears in my eyes - he said, "as far as you are concerned, it is my future." I cannot forget those words. Let me repeat them.
He said, "Those other students' future was their own concern; your future is my future."
I said to him, "Why? Why should my future be your future?"
He said, "That is something I would rather not talk about to you," and he started crying.
I said, "I understand. Please don't cry. But I cannot be persuaded to do anything against my own mind, and it is set in a totally different dimension. I am sorry to disappoint you. I know perfectly well how much you had hoped, how happy you were that I topped the whole university. I have seen you, just like a child, so joyous about the gold medal that was given not even to you, but to me."
I didn't care a bit about that gold medal. I threw it down a very deep well, so deep that I don't think anybody is going to find it again; and I did it in front of Doctor Sri Krishna Saxena.
He said, "What are you doing? What have you done?" - because I had already thrown it down the well. And he had been so happy that I had been chosen for a scholarship. It was for an indefinite period, from two to five years.
He said, "Please reconsider again."
The first gate was the "Elephant Gate," and I was standing with my father not wanting to enter. And the last gate was also an "Elephant Gate," and I was standing with my old professor, not wanting to enter again. Once was enough, twice would have been too much.
The argument that had begun at the first gate lasted up till the second gate. The no that I had said to my father was the same no that I had said to my professor, who was really a father to me. I can feel its quality. He cared for me as much as my own father had cared, or perhaps even more. When I was ill he would not sleep; he would sit at my bedside the whole night. I would say to him, "You are old, doctor," I used to call him doctor, "please go to sleep."
He used to say, "I'm not going to sleep unless you promise that by tomorrow you will be perfectly well."
And I had to promise - as if being sick or not depended on my promise - but somehow, once I had promised him, it worked. That's why I say there is something like magic in the world.
That "no" became my tone, the very stuff of my whole existence. I said to my father, "No, I don't want to enter this gate. This is not a school, it's a prison." The very gate, and the color of the building....
It is strange, particularly in India, the jails and the schools are painted the same color, and they are both made of red brick. It is very difficult to know whether the building is a prison or a school.
Perhaps once a practical joker had managed to play a joke, but he did it perfectly.
I said, "Look at this school - you call it a school? Look at this gate! And you are here to force me to enter for at least four years." That was the beginning of a dialogue that lasted for many years; and you will come across it many times, because it runs criss-cross through the story.
My father said, "I was always afraid..." and we were standing at the gate, on the outside of course, because I had not yet allowed him to take me in.... He went on "... I was always afraid that your grandfather, and particularly this woman, your grandmother, were going to spoil you."
I said, "Your suspicion, or fear, was right, but the work has been done and nobody can undo it now, so please let us go home."
He said, "What! You have to be educated."
I said, "What kind of a beginning is this? I am not even free to say yes or no. You call it education?
But if you want it, please don't ask me: here is my hand, drag me in. At least I will have the satisfaction that I never entered this ugly institution on my own. Please, at least do me this favor."
Of course, my father was getting very upset, so he dragged me in. Although he was a very simple man he immediately understood that it was not right. He said to me, "Although I am your father it does not feel right for me to drag you in."
I said, "Don't feel guilty at all. What you have done is perfectly right, because unless someone drags me in I am not going to go of my own decision. My decision is 'no.' You can impose your decision on me because I have to depend on you for food, clothes, shelter and everything. Naturally you are in a privileged position."
What an entry! - being dragged into school. My father never forgave himself. The day he took sannyas, do you know the first thing he said to me? "Forgive me, because I have done so many wrong things to you. There are so many I cannot count, and there must be more which I don't know at all. Just forgive me."
The entry into school was the beginning of a new life. For years I had lived just like a wild animal.
Yes, I cannot say a wild human being, because there are no wild human beings.
Only once in a while a man becomes a wild human being. I am now; Buddha was, Zarathustra was; Jesus was - but at that time it was perfectly true to say that for years I had lived like a wild animal.
But it is far superior to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Napoleon, or Alexander the Great. I am only naming the worst; worst in the sense that they thought they were the most civilized.
Alexander the Great thought himself to be the most civilized man of his time, of course. Adolf Hitler, in his autobiography, MY STRUGGLE.... I don't know how Germans pronounce the title - all I can remember is, MEIN KAMPF. It must be wrong, it has to be. Firstly it is German: M-e-i-n K-a-m-p-f.
Whatever the pronunciation, it does not matter to me.
What matters to me is that in his book he tries to prove that he has attained the status of "superman,"
for which man has been preparing for thousands of years. And Hitler's party, the Nazis, and his race, the Nordic Aryans were going to be the "rulers of the world," and this rule was going to last for one
thousand years! Just a madman talking - but a very powerful madman. When he spoke you had to listen, even to his nonsense. He thought he was the only real Aryan, and the Nordics were the only pure-blooded race. But he was seeing a dream.
Man has rarely become a superman, and the word "super" has nothing to do with "higher." The true superman is one who is conscious of all his acts, thoughts and feelings, of all that he is made of - of love, of life, of death.
A great dialogue started with my father on that day, and it continued on and off, and ended only when he became a sannyasin. After that there was no question of any argument, he had surrendered.
The day he took sannyas, he was crying and holding my feet. I was standing, and can you believe it... like a flash, the old school, the "Elephant Gate," the small child resisting, not ready to go in, and my father pulling him - it all flashed by. I smiled.
My father asked, "Why are you smiling?"
I said, "I am just happy that a conflict has ended at last."
But that is what was happening. My father dragged me. I never went to school willingly.
Devageet, moisten my lips....
I am happy that I was dragged in, that I never went on my own, willingly. The school was really ugly - all schools are ugly. In fact, it is good to create a situation where children learn, but it is not good to educate them. Education is bound to be ugly.
And what did I see as the first thing in the school? The first thing was an encounter with the teacher of my first class. I have seen beautiful people and ugly people, but I have never seen something like that again! - and underline "something." I cannot call that something "someone." He did not look like a man. I looked at my father and said, "This is what you have dragged me into?"
My father said, "Shut up!" Very quietly, so that the "thing" did not hear. He was the master, and he was going to teach me.
I could not even look at the man. God must have created his face in a tremendous hurry. Perhaps His bladder was full, and just to finish the job He did this man and then rushed to the bathroom.
What a man He created! He had only one eye, and a crooked nose. That one eye was enough! But the crooked nose really added great ugliness to the face. And he was huge! - seven feet in height - and he must have weighed at least four hundred pounds, not less than that.
Devaraj, how do these people defy medical research? Four hundred pounds, and he was always healthy. He never took a single day off, he never went to a doctor. All over the town it was said that this man was made of steel. Perhaps he was, but not very good steel, more like barbed wire! He was so ugly that I don't want to say anything about him, although I will have to say a few things, but at least not about him directly.
He was my first master, I mean teacher, because in India school teachers are called "masters," that's why I said he was my first master. Even now if I saw that man I would certainly start trembling. He was not a man at all, he was a horse!
I said to my father, "First, look at this man before you sign."
He said, "What is wrong with him? He taught me, he taught my father - he has been teaching here for generations."
Yes, that was true. That's why nobody could complain about him. If you complained your father would say, "I cannot do anything, he was my teacher too. If I go to him to complain, he could even punish me."
So my father said, "Nothing is wrong with him, he is okay." Then he signed the papers.
I then told my father, "You are signing your own troubles, so don't blame me."
He said, "You are a strange boy."
I said, "Certainly we are strangers to each other. I have lived away from you for many years, and I have been friends with the mango trees and the pines and the mountains, the oceans and the rivers.
I am not a businessman, and you are. Money means everything to you; I cannot even count it."
Even today... I have not touched money for years. The occasion never arises. That helps me tremendously because I don't know how things go in the world of economics. I go my own way; they have to follow me. I don't follow them: I can't.
I told my father, "You understand money, and I don't. Our languages are different; and remember, you have stopped me from going back to the village, so now if there is a conflict, don't blame me. I understand something you don't, and you understand something that I neither understand nor want to. We are incompatible. Dadda, we are not made for each other."
And it took nearly his whole life to cover the distance between us, but of course, it was him who had to travel. That's what I mean when I say that I am stubborn. I could not budge even a single inch, and everything started at that Elephant Gate.
The first teacher - I don't know his real name, and nobody in the school knew it either, particularly the children; they just called him Kantar Master. Kantar means "one-eyed"; that was enough for the children, and also it was a condemnation of the man. In Hindi kantar not only means "one-eyed,"
it is also used as a curse. It cannot be translated in that way because the nuance is lost in the translation. So we all called him Kantar Master in his presence, and when he was not there we called him just Kantar - that one-eyed fellow.
He was not only ugly; everything he did was ugly. And of course on my very first day something was bound to happen. He used to punish the children mercilessly. I have never seen or heard of anybody else doing such things to children. I knew of many people who had left school because of this fellow, and they remained uneducated. He was too much. You would not believe what he used to do, or that any man could do that. I will explain to you what happened to me on that very first day-and much more was to follow.
He was teaching arithmetic. I knew a little because my grandmother used to teach me a little at home; particularly a little language and some arithmetic. So I was looking out of the window at the
beautiful peepal tree shining in the sun. There is no other tree which shines so beautifully in the sun, because each leaf dances separately, and the whole tree becomes almost a chorus - thousands of shining dancers and singers together, but also independent.
The peepal tree is a very strange tree because all other trees inhale carbon dioxide, and exhale oxygen during the day.... Whatever it is you can put it right, because you know that I am not a tree, nor am I a chemist or a scientist. But the peepal tree exhales oxygen twenty-four hours a day. You can sleep under a peepal tree, and not any other because they are dangerous to health. I looked at the tree with its leaves dancing in the breeze, and the sun shining on each leaf, and hundreds of parrots just jumping from one branch to another, enjoying, for no reason. Alas, they didn't have to go to school.
I was looking out of the window and Kantar Master jumped on me.
He said, "It is better to get things right from the very beginning."
I said, "I absolutely agree about that. I also want to put everything as it should be from the very beginning."
He said, "Why were you looking out of the window when I was teaching arithmetic?"
I said, "Arithmetic has to be heard, not seen. I don't have to see your beautiful face. I was looking out of the window to avoid it. As far as the arithmetic is concerned, you can ask me; I heard it and I know it."
He asked me, and that was the beginning of a very long trouble - not for me but for him. The trouble was that I answered correctly. He could not believe it and said, "Whether you are right or wrong I am still going to punish you, because it is not right to look out of the window when the teacher is teaching."
I was called in front of him. I had heard about his punishment techniques - he was a man like the Marquis de Sade. From his desk he took out a box of pencils. I had heard of these famous pencils.
He used to put one of those pencils between each of your fingers, and then squeeze your hands tight, asking, "Do you want a little more? Do you need more?" - to small children! He was certainly a fascist. I am making this statement so it is at least on record: people who choose to be teachers have something wrong with them. Perhaps it is the desire to dominate or a lust for power; perhaps they are all a little bit fascist.
I looked at the pencils and said, "I have heard of these pencils, but before you put them between my fingers, remember it will cost you very dearly, perhaps even your job."
He laughed. I can tell you it was like a monster in a nightmare laughing at you. He said, "Who can prevent me?"
I said, "That is not the point. I want to ask: is it illegal to look out of the window when arithmetic is being taught? And if I am able to answer the questions on what was being taught and am ready to repeat it word for word, then is it wrong in any way to look out of the window? Then why has the
window been created in this classroom? For what purpose? Because for the whole day somebody is teaching something, and a window is not needed during the night when there is nobody to look out of it."
He said, "You are a troublemaker."
I said, "That's exactly true, and I am going to the headmaster to find out whether it is legitimate for you to punish me when I have answered you correctly."
He became a little more mellow. I was surprised because I had heard that he was not a man who could be subdued in any way.
I then said, "And then I am going to the president of the municipal committee who runs this school.
Tomorrow I will come with a police commissioner so that he can see with his own eyes what kind of practices are going on here."
He trembled. It was not visible to others, but I can see such things which other people may miss. I may not see walls but I cannot miss small things, almost microscopic. I told him, "You are trembling, although you will not be able to accept it. But we will see. First let me go to the headmaster."
I went and the headmaster said, "I know this man tortures children. It is illegal, but I cannot say anything about it because he is the oldest school teacher in the town, and almost everybody's father and grandfather has been his pupil once at least. So no one can raise a finger against him."
I said, "I don't care. My father has been his student and also my grandfather. I don't care about either my father or my grandfather; in fact I don't really belong to that family. I have been living away from them. I am a foreigner here."
The headmaster said, "I could see immediately that you must be a stranger, but, my boy, don't get into unnecessary trouble. He will torture you."
I said, "It is not easy. Let this be the beginning of my struggle against all torture. I will fight."
And I hit with my fist - of course just a small child's fist - on his table, and told him, "I don't care about education or anything, but I must care about my freedom. Nobody can harass me unnecessarily.
You have to show me the educational code. I cannot read, and you will have to show me whether it is unlawful to look out of the window even though I could answer all the questions correctly."
He said, "If you answered correctly then there is no question at all about where you were looking."
I said, "Come along with me."
He came with his educational code, an ancient book that he always carried. I don't think anybody had ever read it. The headmaster told Kantar Master, "It is better not to harass this child because it seems that it may bounce back on you. He won't give up easily."
But Kantar Master was not that type of man. Afraid, he became even more aggressive and violent.
He said, "I will show this child - you need not worry. And who cares about that code? I have been a teacher here my whole life and is this child going to teach me the code?"
I said, "Tomorrow, either I will be in this building or you, but we cannot both exist here together. Just wait until tomorrow."
I rushed home and told my father. He said, "I was worried whether I had entered you in school just to bring trouble upon others and upon yourself, and to also drag me into it."
I said, "No, I am simply reporting so that later you don't say you were kept in the dark."
I went to the police commissioner. He was a lovely man; I had not expected that a policeman could be so nice. He said, "I have heard about this man. In fact my own son has been tortured by him.
But nobody complained. It is illegal to torture, but unless you complain nothing can be done, and I cannot complain myself because I am worried that he may fail my child. So it is better to let him go on torturing. It is only a question of a few months, then my child will go into another class."
I said, "I am here to complain, and I am not concerned about going into another class at all. I am ready to stay in this class my whole life."
He looked at me, patted me on the back and said, "I appreciate what you are doing. I will come tomorrow."
I then rushed to see the president of the municipal committee, who proved to be just cow-dung. Yes, just cow-dung, and not even dry - so ugly! He said to me, "I know. Nothing can be done about it.
You have to live with it, you will have to learn how to tolerate it."
I said to him, and I remember my words exactly, "I am not going to tolerate anything that is wrong to my conscience."
He said, "If that is the case, I cannot take it in hand. Go to the vice-president, perhaps he may be more helpful."
And for that I must thank that cow-dung, because the vice-president of that village, Shambhu Dube, proved to be the only man of any worth in that whole village, in my experience. When I knocked on his door - I was only eight or nine years old, and he was the vice-president - he called, "Yes, come in." He was expecting to see some gentleman, and on seeing me he looked a little embarrassed.
I said, "I am sorry that I am not a little older - please excuse me. Moreover, I am not educated at all, but I have to complain about this man, Kantar Master."
The moment he heard my story - that this man tortures little children in the first grade by putting pencils between their fingers and then squeezing, and that he has pins which he forces under the nails, and he is a man seven feet tall, weighing four hundred pounds - he could not believe it.
He said, "I have heard rumors, but why has nobody complained?"
I said, "People are afraid that their children will be tortured even more."
He said, "Are you not afraid?"
I said, "No, because I am ready to fail. That's all he can do." I said I was ready to fail and I was not insisting on success, but I would fight to the last: "It is either this man or me - we both cannot be there in the same building."
Shambhu Dube called me close to him. Holding my hand he said, "I always love rebellious people, but I never thought a child of your age could be a rebel. I congratulate you."
We became friends, and this friendship lasted until he died. That village had a population of twenty thousand people, but in India it is still a village. In India, unless the town has one hundred thousand people it is not considered a town. When there are more than fifteen hundred thousand people then it is a city. In my whole life I never came across another in that village of the same caliber, quality or talent as Shambhu Dube. If you ask me, it will look like an exaggeration, but in fact, in the whole of India I never found another Shambhu Dube. He was just rare.
When I was traveling all over India he would wait for months for me to come and visit the village just for one day. He was the only person who ever came to see me when my train would pass through the village. Of course I am not including my father nor my mother; they had to come. But Shambhu Dube was not my relative; he just loved me. And this love started at that meeting, on that day when I had gone to protest against Kantar Master.
Shambhu Dube was the vice-president of the municipal committee, and he said to me, "Don't be worried. That fellow should be punished; in fact, his service is finished. He has applied for an extension but we will not give it to him. From tomorrow you will not see him in that school again."
I said, "Is that a promise?"
We looked into each other's eyes. He laughed and said, "Yes, it is a promise."
The next day Kantar Master was gone. He was never able to look at me after that. I tried to contact him, knocked at his door many times just to say goodbye, but he was really a coward, a sheep under a lion's skin. But that first day in school turned out to be the beginning of many, many things.