And Thus a Revolutionary was Admitted
It was when life was all fresh and youthful that I sought admission to the Benares Hindu University (it was spelt that way). There was nothing very unusual about it. But my case was different. I had a political past, suspected of association with the revolutionary movement. Just after I passed the matriculation examination from Barisal, (under the Calcutta University then) I was one day arrested while on my way to Carrom competition. But there was no specific charge. The same evening I was sent by steamer to Jessore jail (in Bangladesh now) to be detained under the Bengal Criminal law Amendment Act, nicknamed the ‘lawless law’ under which the police could detain a person for an indefinite period.
As I was keen to take up the Science course the Detention Camp was not suitable. My elder brother, Prof. Devaprasad Ghosh, moved the Government of Bengal and got me released under an order of exterment from Bengal. I went to Indore, far off from Bengal, the hot-bed of the revolutionary movement. It was a ‘native state’. The Maharaja was known as the Holkar. My brother-in-law, Dr. P. Basu, was the Principal of the Holkar College. He was a strict disciplinarian. The Government thought it safe to keep me there. At Indore, I kept myself scrupulously away from politics, even the milder politics of the Praja Mandal. I did not even know if there was anything similar to the revolutionary movement I left behind.
But this ill-star of externment did not leave me long in peace. The local police suspected me of complicity in the Dhar Dacoity Case. Dhar was another small state near Indore. But they did not formally ‘extern’ me in view of high position Dr. Basu enjoyed. They only saw that I left Indore at the earliest. Much activity went on behind my back, between my brother and brother-in-law.
One day, received a telegram from Calcutta; join me at Varanasi. I started on the unforgettable date, 1-2-34, Dada was at the station to receive me. We went to a relative’s residence and discussed the problem of admission. I was told that all the colleges were known to my brother, and he knew many, had declined his request for my entry into their institution all in view of my political past. The only was the Hindu University. Its Vice-Chancellor, Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya, was a great nationalist leader and very well-known to my brother. Both were leaders of Hindu Maha Sabha.
Disappointed at our first venture, we returned home. Next morning we both brothers paid a courtesy call to Dr. Bhagwandas at his spacious bungalow. My bother knew him well. The veteran, a landlord-cum-saint (known as Mahatma to many) heard the whole story of my ‘encounter’ with Pandit Malaviya. My brother had to return the same evening. Dr. Bhagwandas took me to Pandit Malaviya in his Buggi. He heard the arguments of the ‘father of the University’. Raising his voice, the learned doctor demanded that I should be admitted, government grant or no government grant. He was held in such a high esteem that the venerable Vice-Chancellor admitted to the University. But there was a condition that I shall have no place in the hostel and the police spy, Inderpal Singh, pursuing day and night, would not enter the campus. He could wait for me at the university gate. The ‘deal’ was done and I became a student of the highly prestigious Hindu University. Panditji also felt happy at the face saving formula. Inside his heart he had all sympathy for me.
Accordingly, I shifted to a small rented room, quite close to where I was temporarily staying. The monthly rent was Rs. 2/-. The area was surrounded by a low boundary wall with a small gate. The constable on 24 hours duty used to sit just outside the wall near the gate, all the time dosing while sitting. It was an interesting sight for others, particularly the children of the neighbourhood.
Indrapal would faithfully follow me by his cycle. When we reached the University gate, he used to sit in a corner. I attended my class. While returning both came to my Gouriganj, (Bhelupura) residence. The constable, as usual, was outside the wall. In the afternoon I would go to the ‘Ganga Ghat’ and stroll about. I was still to make friends. Indrapal, at some distance, was always with me like a shadow, an unfailing companion. It was almost a sight for passersby.
One day I suggested that he could well remain sitting near my house and that I would faithfully report on return what all I did or did not do during my evening stroll. But he loyal to his employer would not leave me alone for a moment. A mischievous idea came to my mind. I walked from Ghat to Ghat till I reached Manikarnika Ghat. It was a steep one. Indrapal, like a shadow, was a little distance behind me. I ran up to the top and stopped there. The spy with a bulky body, had to also follow me. He had been panting for breath. Just as he reached the top, I started running down the stairs. He, to save his job also ran after me. I repeated the process three times. He was almost on the point of collapse and yielded to my initial suggestion to stay back near my little home. I was scrupulously honest in reporting to him about the movements. There was nothing political. A truce was made. He saved his job as well as his life. I was free from the constant shadowing by a police constable.
My political past and my activities within the University helped me enjoy a soft corner in Malaviayji’s heart. I had once exploited it. In need of some pecuniary relief, I thought of an ingenious ploy and applied for a free studentship. I wrote out an application and appeared before Panditji in a pitiable condition. My friends, and I had many by that time, suggested that I should wear a dirty Khadi Dhoti while meeting the Vice-Chancellor. I had only one such Dhoti, always kept in my box Dhobi-washed. It was not dirty. I hit upon the plan and took it out, crumpled it on the dirt and the dust outside, and appeared as a poor and pitiable political sufferer. It worked and the Vice-Chancellor granted my request immediately. But this act of ‘mischief’ before a really noble soul made my conscience prick for years. I had an occasion to confess my guilt before Malaviyaji on 11-8-1939 when I met him at the Birla House in Calcutta for a testimonial. After the work was done and I found that he was in a very affectionate mood, I made bold to tell him all about the ‘dirty-dhoti trick’. He hugged me warmly.
Pandas of Vishwanath Temple
Now to two more incidents of interest about my days described here. We were the students of the University. I had a dual personality. I stayed in the city and studied at the University. The city was holy home of Lord Vishwa Nath. Shivratri was the most important festival when lakhs of people visited the temple. There were the ‘Pandas’ the custodians of God, who used to openly molest the women devotees, mostly illiterate. After an ablution in the holy waters of the Ganga they rushed to the temples in wet clothes. The ‘Pandas’ taking advantage of the enormous crowd of superstitious ladies openly molested them. The ladies for fear of God and also of the society, would not protest. This happened year after year. As a resident of the city, I knew more about it.
Once we decided to teach ‘Holimen’ a lesson of life and beat them on a Shivratri day and in their own ‘den’, the Vishvanath lane. There were two impediments on our way. Revered Pandit Malaviya was highly religious and a respected person. We had to have his blessings. A few of us at the University approached him with the idea which appeared to many as preposterous. He listened to us patiently. He, also, had been hearing about the incidents over the years. As a great moralist, he used to be shocked but he did not know that there could be any remedy.
When we suggested ours, he almost readily responded in the affirmative. But his consideration of the practical side of the problem, our safety and the attitude of the police, made him hesitant. We assured him that we knew how to defend ourselves and also knew how to neutralize the police. The S.P., one Mr. Tom, used to play tennis with me. As someone important in police eyes, I was different from the common man to him. I told him about the plan and requested him only to instruct the Dashashawamedh Ghat police station just to turn their eyes when there would be turmoil in the Vishvanath lane just opposite.
It all happened within the twinkling of an eye. We posted ourselves with hockey stick in hand, at a little distance from one another and scattered throughout the lane. The ‘Pandas’ loitering about in search of their, ‘Prey.’ Their big bamboo lathis were kept on the ground in a corner. The moment the hand of one came on the breast of a half wet devout belle, our sticks not only fell on the person but on the other ‘Pandas’ within few seconds and we came out of the surging crowd all safe. The ‘Pandas’ took some time to collect their big lathis which they could not wield in a thickly crowded lane. It was an incident worth remembering even after sixty years and worth narrating today.
But the most memorable was the ‘Shantibai episode’. She was well known nautch girl and was the heart throb of many, young and old, who used to visit her residence in the top-notch Dal Mandi lane in the red-light area. One fine morning we all heard that she had married one Bhatt, an outstandingly attractive young man studying at the University Engineering College in the B.Sc. Final Class. To add to the excitement it was further learnt that Pandit Malaviya, a puritan to the core, had expelled Bhatt from the University. Many rumours were current in the city throughout the day.
Next morning educated citizen of the holy city had a printed pamphlet in his hand. It was Shantibai’s appeal to the Vice-Chancellor to rescind the other. Her logic was simple and convincing to a common man. She was, admittedly, a ‘fallen woman’, not acceptable to the society. Bhatt, by his bold action gave her a chance to be socially rehabilitated. By the order of rustication Panditji threw him out to the streets. Shanti, as a consequence, lost her opportunity to gain an entry into society. She mentioned many names of persons in various vacations who enjoyed a respectable status in the society, who regularly visited her. But they were readily accepted. This, to Shantibai was a sheer hypocrisy and double standard which a magnanimous person like Pandit Malaviya should never encourage.
A copy reached the hands of the high-priest of our University. He was shocked and pondered over the whole matter. A small committee was constituted of three senior professors and three senior students to report, particularly about some of the professors whose names were mentioned in the leaflet. The committee could not make much headway because none of the other residents of the red-light area agreed to disclose anything about the matter.
At long last, someone suggested that the Committee might approach one ‘Mataji’, a retired member of the fallen women fraternity, then working with Arya Samaj. When she escorted them, the task was made easy and it was shocking to the members when they learnt about the doings of their own colleagues. Probably the order was rescinded. I wonder where Shantibai and her benefactor, once my friend, could now be.
My four years stay at the University came to an end in 1938. Two factors coincided to get me out of the place which was a haven for me full of rich and varied experiences. My academic career ended with M.A. Final and my order of externment was withdrawn as an outcome of the government policy of amnesty to the detenus. The Hindu University days are remembered with a nostalgia, unforgettable and enjoyable, every moment of a four year tenure.