SOME INTERESTING ENCOUNTERS
It was in the midst of this misery that I met Rain Swarup. He was my senior by one year in the same college. But I had never seen or met him in my college days. I had heard that some of the best speeches made in the college parliament by some student leaders had been written by Ram Swarup, and that some of the good poems contributed to the college magazine by a classmate of mine in his own name had in fact been composed by Ram Swarup. Thus I was familiar with the name but not with the face. I was also intrigued a little. Why did he have to hide behind another person for publicising his poems?
Meanwhile, I was drifting away in my intellectual perceptions from my philosopher friend of college days who was also out of college and unemployed like myself in spite of his first class in the M.A. examination. He could see no meaningful message in Marx. He had also what I thought to be a bad habit of arguing for the opposite side in order to bring out the best from the supporter of a philosophical system. He was, however, full of praise for Ram Swarup whom he had known. He had one day described Ram Swarup as the most impersonal person he had met.
One day a common friend invited me to a meeting over which Ram Swarup was to preside. I went to the appointed place and met him for the first time, face to face. I found him full of Shavian humour. His looks had a kind of beaming love for which I fell immediately. We became friends on the very first day. After that we started meeting almost everyday, sitting in a restaurant in Chandni Chowk or on the lawns under the walls of the Red Fort. The subject of discussion was a novel theory which Ram Swarup had evolved. At first I thought that he had got it out of his hat.
Ram Swarup admitted the validity of Marx regarding the role of class conflict in human history. But he raised a more fundamental question which I had not heard or read anyone raising before I met him. How did classes come to be constituted in the first instance? This was his question. I did not know at that time that Marx had an answer to this question. Classes, according to Marx, had arisen in the primitive communist society when means of production got accumulated and some people appropriated them to the disadvantage of the others. The owners of these means became the haves who now started lording it over the have nots. But even if I had known this answer, it would not have satisfied Ram Swarup. His probe went deeper than that of Marx. How did the haves manage to appropriate the means of production?
So I waited for Ram Swarup to provide his own answer to his own question. He explained to me that classes were in fact the outcome of national conflicts in which one group of people conquered and imposed itself on another group and misappropriated die means of production. TO his way of thinking, national conflicts had primacy over class conflicts. The secondary conflicts should not be allowed to obscure or obstruct the resolution of primary conflicts. Ergo, our national conflict with Britain had primacy over whatever class conflicts were present in Indian society. It was indeed a very dexterous use of a Marxian concept to outflank Marx. I could not meet the challenge or defeat the logic.
But I protested when Ram Swarup requested me to provide the historical facts to prove his point. He had not been a student of history like myself. To my way of thinking, facts came first and conclusions were logical deductions from whatever facts were available at any time. But here was a man who was out to reverse the process. I pointed out the illogic of it to Ram Swarup. He smiled and stated that to him the conclusions came first and that facts could follow. I told him that his way of thinking smacked of fascism. He smiled some more and looked at me with an expression of so what on his sharply intellectual face. The swear word which made many intellectuals quake in those days had no sting for him. In fact, sometimes I suspected that he was a supporter of fascism.
This suspicion had some ground for me in his unabashed sympathy for the RSS which I had come to regard as a fascist organisation by now. Not that I knew anything about the RSS. I was only repeating what I had heard in my earlier intellectual circles. But Ram Swarup knew some RSS workers. One of them, he told me, was the manager of a famous milkshop in Connaught Place. He permitted a sweeper employed by the establishment to serve milk bottles to the clients who came to this shop in large numbers. One day a Muslim gentleman objected to a sweeper being allowed to touch the milk bottles served to the gentry. The manager replied that he was a Hindu and that his religion recognised no untouchables. I was touched by this story. I wished that all Hindus could make the same statement. But I did not change my opinion of the RSS.
I wonder how I would have shaped if I had continued to live in Delhi and to meet Ram Swarup regularly. He was not a Marxist. But he was definitely an atheist who believed that butter was more important than God. He had read some of Sri Aurobindo and had come to the conclusion that yoga was an instinct for suicide. Obviously, the human personality for him at that time was constituted by the human ego. He had been strongly influenced by Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley and valued very highly an individual's capacity to look at himself, remorselessly and with the help of reason. He introduced me to these great writers whom I had not read so far. On the whole, he had no use for any conventional morality or code of manners and could see clearly how they were mostly used to put the other fellow in the wrong.
I am sure I would not have ended as a Communist and a neutralist vis a vis Muslim communalism had I continued under his direct influence. His letters written to me during my stay outside Delhi did influence me at decisive points in my evolution. But the impact of his whole personality, face to face, would have been much more effective. For he continued to evolve and grow under his own impulsion which was not the case with me. I needed to be pushed ahead by my betters. More over, his growth was faster and of a deeper design than I could ever manage on my own.
I had to leave Delhi in December 1944. My first job was in Bombay where I was treated very shabbily by my boss. I broke down completely and wrote some very pathetic letters to my relative in Delhi. After two months I left Bombay for Calcutta where I expected my father to find some new opening for me. He did help me get a job. But he could not save me from the scornful jibes of my relatives and countrymen from Haryana. They often contrasted my high education with my small salary and bestowed on me the honorific of padha likha baker, that is, an educated nincompoop. These same people were to hold me in high regard in later years when I succeeded in making more money. But in my early years in Calcutta they were a pain in the neck.
I have never been very much bothered about what other people say about me so long as I am true to my own lights and inspirations. Nevertheless, it was a great punishment to live in a crowd of people who cared for nothing except ready cash. I could understand them very well. I knew that they knew no better. I could even sympathise with them, prisoners as they were of a traditional culture which had suffered terrible corruption. But I could never understand their preoccupation with me as a scandalous subject. Why could they not mind their own business and let me mind my own?
A letter from Ram Swarup which I received within days of my reaching Calcutta was nothing less than a command and a directive. He wrote: "I have read your letters which you have written to your relative. I can sympathise with you in your situation but I cannot support you in your mood of self pity. Society has given you nothing, not even the right to protest. But that is no reason why you should whine and whimper. I would like you to develop your personal predicament into a more purposive protest against the social system as a whole." This message was like a powerful medicine. I started trying to be more impersonal.
My job was that of a travelling salesman and it took me from Calcutta to Peshawar. I visited almost all important cities and towns in Bihar, U.P,, and the Punjab of prepardtion days, It was a great experience, meeting people and seeing places. It broke down many of my orthodox habits. I was a vegetarian and have always remained a vegetarian. But I had never got used to different types of food and drink served by people belonging to different communities, including Muslims. One day I was shocked and felt very unclean when the Sikh proprietor of a hotel in Ambala told me that the water with which I had bathed that morning had been brought to the bathroom in a waterskin.
On my way from Sitapur to Lucknow, I was absorbed in an interesting discussion with a middle aged Muslim gentleman about the existence of God. He did not know any English but spoke a very chaste Urdu. I was amazed that this language had such an extensive vocabulary of technical terms in philosophy. He helped wherever I could not understand the Arabic terms. A co traveller was listening to us intently. As soon as he discovered that I was an incurable atheist, he enquired about the examinations I had passed and the divisions. I had secured. Then he concluded very contemptuously: "Tusi malak nu nahin manade tavi pakhe bechde firde ho, nahin tan inni talim pake kui o hada nahin pa jande (it is because you do not believe in God that you are wandering from place, to place selling fans. Otherwise your degrees would have made an august officer out of you)." I retorted that I was prepared ' to believe in God if he could get a good job for me. The Muslim gentleman smiled benevolently on these crudities but kept quiet These were hits below the philosophical belt. Obviously, he felt helpless. It was not his cup of tea.
On my way to Peshawar from Rawalpindi, I became a witness to a very violent argument between two middle aged Muslims about the desirability of Pakistan. One of them was a Punjabi, the other a Pathan. They were talking in a dialect of the Punjabi language some of which I could not understand quite clearly. The Pathan clinched the argument by saying that Jinnah "sale sooar da puttar eh," that is, Jinnah was the son of a swine. The Punjabi rose up in his scat, red in the face, and challenged the Pathan to repeat the sentence. The Pathan kept his cool and remained seated. He stared at the Punjabi and said: "Asi pher dasada han. Jinna sale sooar da puttar eh (I repeat that Jinnah is the son of a swine)." The Punjabi did not dare assault him, such was the self possession in the Pathan's voice and face. Our journey to Peshawar was completed in benumbed silence.
On my way back from Peshawar I shared a lower berth with a middle aged Englishman. He had just retired as a Major in the British army and was on his way home via Bombay. He was very gentle and had the British talent for understatement. He took a liking to me as we talked about the war which was now drawing to an end. He became a father figure for me after an hour or two and offered to share his lunch which I could not because I was a vegetarian. I bought something for myself from the platform on the next station. As he prepared to have his afternoon nap, in his own corner, I took out a book to read. It was Imperialism: The highest Stage of Capitalism by Lenin which I had bought earlier from the Communist Party office in Lahore. It had the emblem of the raised fist on its cover. Suddenly the Major had a look of horror on his face. As a pious Christian he crossed himself and moved farther in his corner. But he did not utter a word. I immediately put away the book in my suitcase and did not open it or any other communist book again till we parted company at the Old Delhi Station. He invited me to visit him if I ever went to England and gave me his card which I did not keep for long because a journey to England was an unheard of dream for me at that time.
But the most important event during my travels was a visit to the Communist Party office on Mcleod Road in Lahore. My classmate whose father had humiliated me years ago had migrated to Lahore and become a party member via the All India Students Federation. It was he who took me to the party office. This was my first contact with the Communist Party of India and its official publications. Quite a few of the young men and women working in the party office were from Bengal. They took to me immediately when I talked to them in my bhanga (broken) Bengali. I bought a few books by Lenin and several party pamphlets, mostly on the subject of the demand for Pakistan. I finished reading all of them by the time I returned to Calcutta.
During my short sojourn in Lahore I had long discussions with my friend regarding the validity of the Muslim League demand for Pakistan. He was convinced and tried to convince me that the demand was just and fully democratic. But I had the large number of Sikhs and Hindus in my mind. I had met many and talked to them on the subject during my travels in the Punjab and the NWFP. They were all violently Opposed to the idea of living in a State dominated by Muslim mullahs. But as far as my friend was concerned they were not the real people. He continued to talk of some progressive people who were united as brethren in language and culture irrespective of religious differences. I thought I was also a progressive. But I could see nothing progressive about Pakistan. The Muslim League was totally dominated by knights, nawabzadahs, khan bahadurs and fanatic mullahs.
On my return to Calcutta I told my employers that I was not prepared to travel any more, job or no job. They allowed me to settle down. I was a frequent visitor to the coffee house in College Street where I took to writing my first novel. I could not write in my small cell which I shared with four other people. So I acquired a habit of writing in coffee houses which lasted even after I had a comfortable home. It is during these sessions that I met a group of Bengali students who were members of [he Congress Socialist Party (CSP). They took me to their leader whose name I cannot recall now. He commissioned me to translate from Hindi to English some writings of Acharya Narendra Deva and Shri Jayaprakash Narayan so that they could he translated into Bengali. It was difficult to find a Bengali in Calcutta who could translate directly from Hindi to Bengali. I suppose the situation is the same today.
I did the translations very fast. I agreed with every word of what these leaders of the CSP had written. These were their writings from the early thirties when the CSP had not broken with the Communists. I was not aware of the serious quarrel which had divided them from 1940 onwards. I do not know if my English translations were ever rendered into Bengali. But I earned the respect and regard of the socialist leader. He was a lean, thin and dark man of medium stature. He had been a revolutionary and had spent long years in British jails, including a spell in the Andamans. His living inside a dilapidated dwelling place in a narrow, dark lane was very austere. His shirt always had several patches on it. He sat on a small mat without any other accoutrements around him. Sometimes he smoked a bidi. But his looks were stern. And he was a man of very few words. He inspired in me a great respect bordering on awe.
His confidence in me led him to suggest that I become the editor of a weekly in Hindi which the CSP had been publishing for some time for the benefit of the Hindi speaking people of Calcutta. I was very diffident This was a field in which I had no earlier experience. But he encouraged me. He told me that I could not do worse than the existing editor who, in his own words, was a mere matriculate from U.P. I accepted the responsibility and wrote the first editorial a few days later. It was my last for that Socialist weekly.
The leader could not read Hindi. But he could understand very well if something in Hindi was read out to him. He became very impatient as he listened to the earlier editor reading my piece to him. He sent for me immediately.
I was expecting a pat on my back for what I had written after a great deal of thought and polishing of language. But I was taken aback when I saw the hard lined face of the socialist leader. He asked me point blank: "Are you a Communist?" On my denying the charge forcefully, he protested; "But the line you have taken in this editorial is the Communist line. How do you explain that? The Communists had wormed their way into our party earlier also with disastrous consequences for our party. We cannot allow that to happen again. Not in the city of Calcutta. This is not a small town where some of our comrades may get hoodwinked by.clever Communist talk." His temper rose as he talked. It was for the first time that I had heard him utter so many words in such a small space of time.
I do not remember the subject of that editorial. It was perhaps about the Cabinet Mission proposals. I did not know the CSP line on the subject or any other subject for that matter. Nor did I know the Communist line except on the subject of Pakistan. I expected my friends from the coffee house to save me from the wrath of their leader. But their own looks had also become rather hostile. In my desperation I touched the leader's feet and swore by all that I held sacred that I was innocent of any deliberate distortion. The great man cooled down immediately. He blessed me by placing both his hands on my head and asked me to come again for a discussion on different party lines. Meanwhile, I was to write no more editorials for his weekly.
I never met him again. The 16 August, 1946 communal riots broke out in Calcutta after a few days. I would have been killed by a Muslim mob in the early hours of that day as I walked back towards my home from the coffee house which I had found closed. My fluent Urdu and my Western dress saved me. My wife and two year old son had joined me a few days earlier in a small room in a big house bordering on a large Muslim locality. On the evening of the 17th we had to vacate that house and scale a wall at the back to escape murderous Muslim mobs advancing with firearms. Had not the army moved in immediately after, I would not have lived to write what I am writing today.
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