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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

That the self-styled godmen beguile the gullible is understandable. What, however, is surprising is the manner in which the educated persons, quite rational otherwise, block their critical faculty before such a godman even when the godman has been proved to be a crook. It may not be out of place to cite an instance from my student days in Varanasi.

One Jhumari Tiwari disappeared from home and after several years surfaced in Bombay (as it was then known) and assumed the name of Ram Lakshman Acharya. It was rumoured that he had spent the intervening years in the Himalayas where he had practised yoga and attained divinity. While teaching the citizens of Bombay how to attain moksha, he landed in the police dragnet on a complaint from the wife of an influential industrialist. He was prosecuted and awarded seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for the offence.

Sri Prakasa, an eminent citizen of Varanasi, was then the Governor of Maharashtra. A delegation from Varanasi approached the Governor with the request that the godman be transferred from Bombay jail to Varanasi jail. The Governor obliged (those days there was not such a public scrutiny of the actions of Constitutional authorities as it is now). As soon as Ram Lakshman Acharya entered the Central Jail in Varanasi, he was declared ‘ill’ and shifted to the Shiv Prasad Gupta (district) Hospital at Kabirchaura.

Still a convict and undergoing sentence, the godman could not be allotted a private or special ward under the rules. He could not be put up in a general ward, along with lesser mortals. So a way was found out. General Wards 6 and 7 were connected by a small corridor. In the middle of the corridor was a room where the nursing staff assigned duties for the two wards had their paraphernalia. The pieces of furniture and the almirahs were dumped in Ward 7. To create room for these items, some beds of Ward 7 were moved out into the veranda. The nurses’ room was allotted to Ram Lakshman Acharya.

Every morning the ‘hospitalised’ godman would walk some four kms (a couple of constables trailing half a km behind) to take his bath in the Ganga. On return he would shut himself up in the room for a few hours to perform pooja. By the time his pooja was completed, top government officials, Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi Division, the DIG of police and the Jailor downwards, most of them along with their wives, would be waiting outside to touch his feet and obtain his blessings. All the surgeons and physicians of the District Hospital — barring one — took turns to pay their obeisance to the convicted godman. Dr Dutta (I am unable to recall his initials) was the only doctor who would, after completing his round of Ward 6, head straight to Ward 7 without casting a glance at the room situated between the two wards.

I was witness to this shocking degradation of the educated class. During that period, I was an inmate of Ward 7 undergoing treatment for pleurisy.

A man in my village in Punjab was a member of a cattle lifters’ gang which had its operations in the nearby villages. For a while, he was also involved with an inter-state gang of girl abductors and had narrowly escaped from the police dragnet. Some people in the village did have suspicions about him but no one cared much because he did not follow his criminal intents in the village.  

He brewed (illegally) his own liquor from the acacia bark which occasionally landed him in police custody. He would drink heavily in the evening. Though ever ready to pick up quarrels with any one on the most insignificant issues, he would seal his lips once he started drinking at his house in the evening. That went in his favour. 

Under some peculiar circumstances, I became his confidant in his later years. Whenever I visited the village during vacations, he would sometimes come to me and tell me about his exploits — both successes and failures. One incident, which he narrated to me, would explain his modus operandi. 

One day, he said, he and his colleagues in the gang had stolen a camel from a particular village and hid the animal in another village till the dust had settled down. The owner of the camel lodged an FIR at the police station and gave his name as the suspect. The Thanedar sent for him. As the Thanedar had recently come on transfer, he had not yet made his acquaintance with him. As soon as he reached the police station, he touched the feet of the Thanedar and pressed one foot with two fingers. The Thanedar asked him some peremptory questions and let him off with the loud observation that he was not the thief. Once the heat had died down, they sold the camel for Rs 700 and he promptly went to the police station and gave Rs 200 to the Thanedar. (Rs 200 was a princely sum in the 1950s). 

The girl abductors gang, with which he was involved for some time, once picked up a girl of Class Eighth from Kanpur. She, along with four or five other girls, was kept in a ‘safe house’ in a village, not far from my village. The girl somehow managed to send a post card to ‘Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, New Delhi’ in which she gave the information about their incarceration. Nehru sent the post card to Punjab Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon who constituted a team of policemen and instructed the team to quietly raid the house without informing the local police. 

The man from my village was sent on some errand by other gang members and he had left the ‘safe house’ only minutes before the police team from Chandigarh raided it. ‘I thanked my stars and decided to keep away from big crimes and stick only to local cattle lifting affair’, he said.

May 2017
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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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