"Bihar ko aage le jaana hai ki nahi?" - Mithilesh Maharaj said from the back seat of the Fiat Mumbai taxi. He was telling me and Satyanshu about the Hospital Project of the Muzaffarpur Center of the Ramakrishna Mission. I was so engrossed in the matter being discussed that although I was sitting in the front, I had almost completely turned backwards, folding my legs on the seat.
"When was the last time I had heard such a statement regarding development of Bihar coming from an official of the Bihar Government?" - I wondered. Probably never. And here was a monk, owning almost nothing material, so passionately discussing his plans for the Muzaffarpur Center and how one day, three years down the line, this project will, by the grace of Thakur, be bringing a gamut of cheap yet quality medical services to the people of Muzaffarpur and its surrounding areas.
Mithilesh Maharaj was in Vidyapith during my time there. He was transferred from Deoghar to Patna before I passed out of Vidyapith in 2002. I had stayed with him for one year in Subodhananda Dham, of which he was the Dham Warden along with Kanak Da. Later he was transferred to the Muzaffarpur Ashrama, which has been running a small charitable dispensary there since 1926. He plans to turn this dispensary into a big three storey multi-facility partially charitable hospital. The project has already been given green signal from Belur Math and it was in order to raise the funds for this massive Rs. 8 crore project that he had come to the financial capital of India.
When Brajesh called me up last Saturday to tell me about his presence in Mumbai, I was in the office. It was instantly decided that the following day we will be going to the Khar Ashrama from where we will pick him up and show him a little bit of Mumbai. He had, after all, come to Mumbai for the first time in his life. Tudu and Satyanshu were also to join us.
"Main aajkal Muzaffarpur Ashrama mein hoon, aur aapko ye jankar aashcharya hoga ki main wahan ka Mahant (Secretary) bana diya gaya hoon."- Mithilesh Maharaj said and started laughing at the joke made at his own cost. The four of us joined him. It reminded me of the beautiful informal relationship we shared with our teachers in Vidyapith.
I don’t remember Mithilesh Maharaj taking many of our classes. He was more involved with the carpenter section of Vidyapith that looks after the numerous wooden material needs of the institute. However, I do remember the Sanskrit examination that we had taken in either class V or in class VI. If I remember it correctly, it was he who was our Sanskrit teacher at that time. That exam is probably the most unique examination I have ever taken in my life. There was no question paper at all and the instruction given was simple: “Write what ever you remember. And then just sprinkle the ink on the paper from your pen.” The sprinkles were supposed act as the bindus and halants and give a touch of Sanskrit to the matter written in the Devanagari Lipi. It goes without saying, no one failed in that examination.
Vidyapith really had some innovative ways of teaching and made an otherwise boring education a bit of more fun. Visits to the Aam Bagan and Gaushala under the supervision of Lal Da to get a practical feel of the biology at work in nature and screening of the movie Battle of Britain by Vishwaroop Maharaj during the course of teaching 2nd world war in History are just some of the examples.
We went to Nariman Point and Colaba and had lunch at a Chinese Restaurant in Worli owned and managed by the descendants of the Chinese population that settled down in India during the British rule. We had discussions on a number of topics ranging from religion, Vedanta, Upanishads and Swami Vivekananda to the current state of affairs in Vidyapith. Later we went to Brajesh's place for some time where we had a small bhajan session comprising of the bhajans that we used to sing in the morning prayer in Vidyapith. Sadly, we realised that we have forgotten a majority of them and needed active support of Maharaj in recollecting them. Brajesh was so enthusiastic about the session that he had in fact purchased a Mrindang from a road side vendor at the Gateway of India for Rs 500.
In the evening I and Tudu went to drop Maharaj at the Khar Ashram, where he asked us to wait and attend the Evening Aarti. Two of our seniors, one each from 1989 and 1991 batches, were coming to meet him after the Aarti. We were sitting in the small Ashrama dining hall when the seniors joined us. Over the simple snacks of biscuits and tea, we discussed the various possible ways of raising funds for the Hospital Project. The two seniors have a good experience in the corporate sector and they gave inputs and shared contacts as to from where we could start. It was decided that first of all the information about the project must be spread in the Vidyapith fraternity all over India and abroad.
It was a different feeling altogether being a part of a discussion of such a massive project. After all, it is not very far back in time that we were just simple little kids in Vidyapith. Also, it reminded me of the numerous discussions that I and Brajesh have had as to why does Vidyapith takes children from the better-doing sections of the society and not from the lower strata that needs its services more than us. After all, don't most of us just comfortably slip into normal routine life once we are out of Vidyapith? How many people are out there in the world who will ultimately gain from our life? Isn't investing so much time and effort in raising us actually a wasteful expenditure on the part of Vidyapith? We often use to ponder.
The ongoing discussions that evening in the Ashrama were important for me as they also gave me the answers to these questions.
My batch was the first +2 batch of Vidyapith. I remember, when the idea of starting +2 was mooted by Secretary Maharaj, the school had zero infrastructure to support it. But then, not only was the required capital of Rs. 1 crore raised in a small place like Deoghar, but the complete infrastructure was ready within a record time of 1 year. A huge part of that 1 crore must have had come from the ex-students of Vidyapith. That evening I realised that somehow today I am attached not only to Vidyapith but to the whole Ramakrishna Family in a manner more intimate than I had ever thought of. And somehow, even though I may not personally be able to benefit even a single person in my life directly, Thakur, just by giving me an opportunity to be a part of Vidyapith, has given me a reliable and sure-shot way of contributing back to the development of India in particular and the whole human race in general.
Last Sunday was one of the best Sundays I have spent till now in Mumbai. Not only was I blessed enough to be a part of such a serious and mass-impacting discussion, it was the closest that I could have come to Vidyapith while staying in Mumbai. I just hope that someone or the other keeps turning up from Vidyapith in my city of stay. Such meetings not only keep reminding us of the higher purposes of life, but also inject some sanity in an otherwise mad rush to make as much big bucks as one can.
Satyanshu, Myself, Mithilesh Maharaj and Tudu in front of Gateway of India. Brajesh is the one who clicked this photo. Satyanshu came with us in-spite of having a fracture in his leg.
1. The incidents described here took place on 7th of February, 2010, Sunday.2. All the donations made to Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama, Muzaffarpur and Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Deoghar are exempted from tax under Section 80-G. To have more information on the Hospital Project, please keep visiting the Ashrama website. The complete information is expected to be uploaded soon.