Thursday, December 10, 2009
A Mystic,an Officer and a Gentleman
It was a little after 3.30 p m,but it felt as if the sun had been firing the oven called earth for ages,not hours.The winding road in the sprawling housing colony in Bopal was totally bereft of anything moving,and so are the trees. Beyond the Club House,a small hand-painted board catches attention:C\19 and an arrow,in the spartan military style. As one opened the small iron gate to the compound,a camel bell attached to it clangs.The door-frame revealed a man in dark glasses,attired in pale blue, loose-fitting kurta and pyjama.He did not look much beyond 60,although Lt.Col.C C Bakshi was then 82,if a day.His face did not have the pallor of the aged.Nor had his walk-ing gait the burden of his years.It would be difficult to imagine that the man had three heart attacks; he did not look cowed down a wee bit,even by the fierce heat.Chandudada,as Bakshi was almost universally knowns,gave an impression of a man in a different mould. And, he was.Not because,barely a matriculate,he rose to become the deputy director of the cipher bureau,the store-house of secret information,in the Indian Army,nor because as a lieutenant,Bakshi was adviser at the time of the liberation of the former princely state of Junagadh in his native Saurashtra whose Nawab had foolishly tried to join Pakistan.Not even because later even as he was slowly rising in rank,Bakshi was picked up and seconded to International Commission in Indo-China. There was something beyond all this in the personality of this grand old man that made him stand taller than the sum total of all the things he had accomplished.A soft-spoken,unassuming man,who would love to merge in a crowd and still would stand out.He had not only been a model of physical fitness but he had also excelled in exploring the mind,becoming something of a secular ascetic. If Chandrashanker Bakshi had just written Jeevan-Na Rang,a small book,he would have left behind a glittering memorial to him-self.The 120-page book is actually a bunch of letters to a young girl on the art of living, the culmination of a life-long journey in search of something that enables the human being to rise above himself. Says a reader: "Mind you,Bakshi does not write like a literary genius not even like a pundit.He writes as if a grand father is talk-ing to his favourite child,passing on nuggets of wisdom on how to live even as one evolves as a good human being." Books on self-improvement,whether of body or mind,have a tremendous following the world over.Many advocate therapies and methods that are good as advice,but hardly ever followed by the preachers them-selves.They invariably are good prescription,very lucrative to pre-scribe but damn difficult to digest and benefit from,the Catch 22 be-ing that it was really the fault of the reader that he or she could not derive much from the devices suggested. Bakshi's letters to the daughter of an acquaintance were not even written with an intention to publish.In the first quarter of 1992,he suffered a heart attack an was bed-ridden.The girl used to visit him and talk about herself,her problems,life around.The kindly old man,feeling as if living on borrowed time,was weak,not able to talk much,and yet eager to help.So he took to putting on paper what he had to say. The girl naturally was delighted;but so were others who came to know of the 26 letters. The upshot of it was Jeevan-Na Rang,brought out in 1993.Within three years now,it has gone into a second edition. Chandudada,say those who have come in contact with him,is a man who was very near realising the Self.This sounds like a mystical statement,but there just is no other explanation for his joi d' vivre at an age when many of his contemporaries are gone,some others may be in bed,losing all interest in the world around.Bakshi,on the other hand,had just learnt how to paint and was engrossed in doing caricatures of birds and beasts,seen from the windows of his son,Nikhil's house in Bopal.He never got bored,nor felt tired of living. What he is talking about in the letters is what he had distilled from a life full of ups and downs,a result of his spiritual bend of mind,something that took away the killer instinct one normally comes to associate with a life of physical activity as in the army.He had a curious detachment about everything.He was disinterested but not uninterested-- which means he would not be curious to gossip-ping for want of anything else to do,but he would be listening with rapt attention if one tells him something.He could empathise and sympathise with his visitor,and yet remained unaffected. Said Mr Narbheram Sadavrati, a veteran journalist who had known Bakshi for years,"He comes across as an eternal student,on a permanent quest, a totally centred man who knows what he wants." Bakshi himself said,rather dismissively,he did not want any-thing. "I have very few worldly possessions,a meagre bank balance and the pension as a retired army officer being two." Half-mockingly,he takes the visitor to an ancient bicycle which nobody can use today :"This is the only thing here I can call my own." In addition to Jeevan-Na Rang, there are 15 other books Bakshi had penned.Among them, Minara is again a small collection of profiles of un-usual people,mostly those who came in his life,such as Bajrangdas Bapu of Bagdana.The other is a volume with pen portraits of Sufi saints,including that of Pagal Baba of Ranchi,who was his Guru.A linguist,who learnt severa languages,Bakshi has made studied the traditions of sufism. The third volume is the biggest, a 435-page treatise on comsic consciousness,called Vaishwik Chetna.It has come out in Gujarati,although Bakshi wrote it first in English,soon to get published soon as Cosmic Contact.It is a bit esoteric for a lay reader since it seeks to explore spirituality and allied world,vibrations,swarodaya system of achieving unity with nature,drawing on work done else-where in the world in allied topics.It took years for the Lt.Col to marshal his material and arguments,and he admits it is only a be-ginning.The subject of cosmic consciousness required a deeper,and more scientific study. Born in 1914,Chandrashankaer had a chequered career, a career none could imagine then,and very few prepared to follow suit even today."I was an indifferent student,never learnt much.He passed matriculation in the third attempt,went to Shamaldas College in Bhavnagar for a month and a half and took a temporary commission in the army at the age of 31 in 1945.His father had been in the service of the former princely state of Jasdan."I cam more in contact with the Kathis,rather than my own community of Nagars.I learnt horse-riding,shooting,swimming,motor driving,but did not excel in routine subjects." His father's sudden illness compelled him to go with him to Bombay for his treatment and while there he learnt typing,short-hand,radio engineering and electrical engineering.He got married to Harshidaben in 1934 at the age of 20 and took up a job with the Jasdan ruler as personal assistant,including looking after the royal stable of some 50 horses and 20 cars besides looking after the correspondence. Nothing very exciting,but even then ups and downs came. He had to give up the royal service and went to Porbandar,working in a cement factory ,earning eight annas (fifty paise today) a day.He had also enrolled for training in the police in Jamnagar and was all set to become a police officer when he fell sick.Later he did a year and a half's course in police in Baroda.He had ambition to join mili-tary right from the age of 15 but the opportunity never came."Despite all these setbacks,I was a voracious reader and had a gift of learning languages quickly. I had a good command over the English language." He went to Ratlam in 1942 ,taking up a police job at Rs.40 a month,but fell sick again.Doctors in Rajkot had washed their hands off his case when by chance he came in contact with Swami Di-gambar at Kaivalyadham who cured his illness through yogic exer-cises and practices.In 1943,Bakshi joined service with another princly state ,Bantwa ,as teacher of the ruler's sons and personal assistant at a salary of Rs.50 a month."I was always ambitious and dreamt of joining the army.I went on trying and eventually in 1944 got selected for training as a commissioned officer at Mahu and was made a commissioned officer in 1945."But he was tenacious,if anything and quickly learnt cryptology and ciphers which took him as officer in Lord Mountbatten's headquarters in Delhi.After Inde-pendence,when the Junagadh problem came up,Bakshi made bold,and went to see Sardar Patel on his morning walk."I had heard the government was raising a Kathiawad Defence Force and wanted to see if I could have some role to play. I was just a Lieu-tenant then but nevertheless saw Patel's secretary,M C Bhatt,who said the best bet was to catch the Sardar's attention at the time of his morning." Armed with a brief note of who he was and what he could do,Bakshi met Patel and got sent to Junagadh as adviser for the army.Bakshi has a detailed diary of those days in Junagadh and its eventual liberation.Later he was posted on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir, a posting given normally for a year since it was deemed to be a field area and which got stretched to four years. Recalled Bakshi,"I had hoped to be posted after this stint either in Bombay or Pune,nearer my home in Saurashtra but much to my dismay got sent to Ranchi.In retrospect,however,I think it was all for my own good because I met a Bengali sadhu,Pagal Baba,my Guru there.It changed my entire perspective on life,although from the very beginning I had attraction for spiritualism." A year later,he went to Indo-China,a job under International Commission chair-man,Mr M J Desai." I enjoyed the work a lot and had an opportunity to meet people like Ho Chi Minh as also witness the heroic battle for independence the Vietnamese waged." By the time he retired in 1969, Bakshi had risen to Lt.Col's level and had been a deputy di-rector of the cipher bureau, a strategic assignment in those days. Bakshi did not talk much about his spiritual evolution,underlining again and again that he is nothing.But his letters in his book reveal a lot.He counselled against allowing the tongue to talk loosely and endlessly."Learn to control it.Speak in lower tone,softly.Do not react to injustice,humiliation or insults hurled at you personally.Jealousy is common and one should not feel upset by it.Hold your temper and do not react.You cannot order the world to suit you.Nor do you have to get bogged down in argument about anything." Bakshi was a great believer in the power of the human mind and thought that if one learns how to concentrate it,one can do wonders.Anger,he felt,disturbs the mind and so do other tendencies such as craving for attention and praise,fear,greed and envy.He also put a great store by service to humanity."Help others without expecting anything in return and you will be happy,even without seeking after the happiness." He was all praise for the sufi saints whose tolerance of others was legendary and whose affection for others as also willingness to serve and help others were bound-less.He thinks that various religions and their basic practices lead to a common goal of making the human beings realise their own Self."I do not criticise any religion,nor do I say there is only one way.I can pray in a temple,mosque and church.What is needed is a faith in the Supreme Element that pervades everything." He did not make any claims of being a realised soul."All I have learnt is to be able to feel tremendously for everything around me. I see the manifestation of the Supreme Element in nature around us, in birds and bees,in everybody.The same cosmic consciousness manifests itself in all of us.Respect it,adore it,serve it." In so many cases,words like these sound hollow.Bakshi would desist from declaiming these as his original declaration.But he led a life that was a living example of what he believed.He was in a sort of bliss,never losing his temper and cool,never feeling put down or put on a pedestal.In fact, he would forbid anyone from doing a pranam to him,arguing that he was not worth it. His approach to life was to accept life as it was and as it came,both at flood and at low ebb,without preference for either.He rejoiced in both.He was fond of quoting Pagal Baba:"Bhutkal bhut ho gaya" (The past has become the past tense).Why remember it and feel upset.The future is not here yet and nobody knows exactly what it will be like.The future,of course, depends on what one will do today. Bakshi recommended a self-introspection,or monitoring,every night,before going to sleep: "Did I feel angry,jealous,greedy or in-sulted during the day? Why? Try finding an honest answer to these posers about our day to day action,and our entire attitude and be-haviour will change." Do these words go hand in hand with the de-mands of modern day living,where competitiveness is everything and failure is the modern equivalent of sin? They do.Said Bakshi:"The art of living does not change from age to age.In a faster moving world,in truth, one might require a more and more stabi-lised mind.If everything is spinning at a mad rate,you have all the more reason to strive for stilling the mind so that a human being is not overwhelmed by passing fads,desires,notions and emotions." He quoted Dr.S.Radhakrishnan who said in 1962-63:"The greatest valour is in conquering one's mind." The way to do this is through continuous introspection,added Bakshi,rather modestly. The old man suddenly realised he had been talking,"talking too much".In his introspection session in the night,"there will be hell to pay for this.Who am I to teach anybody,anything? I am nobody,do not know anything." Somehow,he speaks with full conviction,a visitor does not want to believe these last words because only those who are aware of their ignorance are the one who are in the know. Bakshi lived happily till 93, which he had been saying for five years coincided with completion of education of his granddaughter, Meghna. In the earlier years, he had said repeatedly about his desire. When that happened, he fell sick.He slipped into coma several times only to recover. Then, as the dawm heralded New Year,2008, he passed away.