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A light house for every Swayamsevak

                                       21 June is the 128th ‘Smruti Din’ of Dr. Hedgewar 

His life mission

Dr. Hedgewar spent every ounce of his energy for the realization of his one all consuming dream of seeing the Hindu Nation become invincibly powerful and shine in its full and effulgent glory ; and this, he was convinced, could be achieved only by nurturing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to its full stature. In his total self-offering to this mission of his life, even the most malicious eye could not detect the slightest speck of selfishness. He was like the self-effacing and self-sacrificing sannyasin who dedicates himself totally at the altar of human service. True, Doctorji did not wear ochre clothes. Nor did he shy away from the mundane world. But his mental horizon transcended narrow personal and domestic confines and encompassed the entire Hindu people. He remained a lifelong celibate with a view to serving the country’s cause to the utmost of his capacity. But he never made a show of it. He mixed freely and equally with all others in society and strove to change people’s attitudes by his personal example and friendly persuasion.

An ‘ordinary’ life

An ordinary dhoti, shirt, conventional coat, a high black cap on the head, a casual pair of footwear — this was his simple attire. When going out he carried a walking stick with a knob bearing the inscription ‘Swayameva mrigendrata’, propounding his dictum in life that one becomes great by the sweat of one’s brow. He occupied the front upstairs room in his house. Visitors sat on a clean carpet. After the visitors departed he would immediately dust it clean and re-spread it. Portraits of Lokmanya Tilak, Swami Shraddhananda and Bhauji Kawre adorned the walls. A bust of Chhatrapati Shivaji was kept encased in a small glass case. The upstairs portion was built in 1926 and was not very secure. Doctorji weighed well over 175 lbs. ; and whenever he climbed up or down, the stairs creaked and the walls shook ! The house, though small, was tidy. Everything had an allotted place, and Doctorji was habitually methodical. No work was too insignificant for him. After the congregation of Swayamsevaks every Sunday, he would thoroughly clean the upstairs portion as well as the hall and passages downstairs. Unless he was sick, he would also chop firewood along with his elder brother Seetaram Pant. Doctorji’s house was a confluence of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’. Seetaram Pant was highly religious and conservative. But Doctorji’s upstairs rooms were ever open to people of all castes and sects. However, the strongest of bonds subsisted between the two. They addressed each other in the singular; and on many a day both managed with the same set of eye-glasses! Doctorji’s sister-in-law, Ramabai, was the very embodiment of forbearance and adjusted herself remarkably to the brothers’ different life-styles. Her spirit of service was exemplary. Doctorji too was ever ready to attend to the household chores such as taking care of his brother’s children, cooking or preparing tea in the absence of his sister-in-law, nursing his brother in sickness, etc. Doctorji’s uncle Abaji was an elderly man. After moving to Doctorji’s place in Nagpur, he began observing Doctorji’s activities. Gradually, his interest was aroused and by 1932-33 he whole-heartedly collaborated with Doctorji in Sangh work. While Doctorji revered him as his uncle, Abaji too, just like other Swayamsevaks, gradually began to respect Doctorji as the Sarasanghachalak.

A rare gem among men

Many in the Congress camp were Doctorji’s close friends. Even Barrister Abhyankar, a Congress stalwart and staunch opponent of Dr. Moonje, had great respect and admiration for Doctorji. A friend of Doctorji once urgently needed rupees five hundred. He approached Doctorji around 11 p.m. It was by no means easy to raise that amount at that odd hour. Doctorji went straight to Abhyankar’s house, and expressed his need. Abhyankar at once handed over the amount to Doctorji. Doctorji said, “Well, Barrister Saheb, may I have a piece of paper and a pen ? I shall leave a promissory note with you.” Abhyankar replied, “Doctor Saheb, I have not yet gone out of my mind, to take a promissory note from a man like Dr. Hedgewar !” It was Doctorji’s integrity and purity of life that had inspired such implicit confidence. None had a harsh word for him. In a certain election Dr. Moonje had contested against Abhyankar. Abhyankar was a consummate orator, and was a pastmaster in pecking at his opponents’ failings and shortcomings. Abhyankar was under the impression that Doctorji had supported Dr. Moonje’s candidature, and thought of lashing out at Doctorji. But when he started addressing the meeting, he was forced to confess, “I am afraid I am unable to utter a single word of criticism against Dr. Hedgewar, with whose support my opponent has made bold to contest against me.” And this, amidst the heat of an election campaign ! Like Yudhishthira of the Mahabharata, Doctorji was that rare gem among men who could command the respect and trust even of his opponents. To his friends, of course, he was the very heart-beat of their lives. When Doctorji’s friend Nanasaheb Talatule of Sindi was on his deathbed, he requested that the picture of Doctorji be placed in front of him. He breathed his last paying his last homage to Doctorji. It was this unimpeachable, transparent character and utterly dedicated life of Doctorji which had won over the future Sarsanghachalak, Sri Guruji, also to the Sangh. This is how Sri Guruji himself, while speaking before the provincial workers’ meeting at Pune in December 1942, described in graphic detail his transformation : “I was known for my reckless and unbending ways of behaviour. I never stuck to any rules. In my school and college days my teachers had always the same grouse against me. I had gone through thousands of books. I was proud of my vast learning in varied branches of knowledge. When I first heard Doctorji I never found in it any flash of intellect or profound learning. Still, gradually, the rock of my haughty nature was pierced. Doctorji’s words began to sink into my heart. I myself was surprised at this transformation, this total submission on my part. The strangest part of it all was that I was not in the least sorry that I had surrendered my ego, my pride and everything at the feet of Doctorji. How could this metamorphosis take place? Because, Doctorji’s mind, his intellect, his entire being had become saturated with the thoughts of the nation and Sangh. Even the silent company of that rare soul carried an eloquent message to my heart.”

An inspiring and heart winning personality

An unfading smile was part of Doctorji, as inseparable as fragrance from the flower. And his sense of humour was infectious. Doctorji’s baithaks (informal chats) were full of gaiety and at the same time an unfailing source of instruction. Twenty to twenty-five youngsters always surrounded him. The doors of his house were open to people at all hours of the day and night. All kinds of topics, from politics to religion, figured freely in the conversation. Doctorji brought his vast experience to bear on each issue, and his exposition left a vivid impression on the minds of his listeners. Even those who came with the intention of leaving early forgot themselves and stayed on to listen to Doctorji. During such informal baithaks Doctorji would guide the Swayamsevaks in all matters, big and small. Once he described how a letter has to be drafted with regard to organizational matters : “The tone and contents of the letter should be such that even if by chance it were to be pasted in a public square, we should have no reason to entertain fear or shame.” Swadeshi was another topic which he often emphasized. And he himself had practised it as a principle of life. So long as Swadeshi metal-polish was not available, he polished his buckle with brick powder. A question which he would often pose to the Swayamsevaks half-humorously and halfseriously was : “Has the ghost of Sangh possessed you ?” The Swayamsevaks lost no time in grasping the intent behind the question. Just as a possessed person forgets his own personal desires and acts only as an instrument to fulfil the wishes of the possessing spirit, so should the Swayamsevaks become instruments for carrying out with single-minded devotion the objects of Sangh. If a Sangh worker felt depressed and run down, a few moments with Doctorji would put new life into him. The nature of the human ego, the right conduct of a true follower, spirit of true friendship, power of strong resolve – many were the subjects of Doctorji’s exposition, tinctured with accounts of travel, problems facing the society, plight of the oppressed, etc. These informal baithaks became a most effective tool in the hands of Doctorji in moulding the minds of workers in a constructive fashion. Whether at Nagpur or outside, Doctorji was never tired of going to elderly people and speaking to them about the Sangh. Doctorji used to call it Deva-darshan’ or ‘appointment with god’. God, not having to move out, confers blessings on devotees from his own place. Likewise, said Doctorji, these elderly persons blessed the Sangh work from their own places ! By 1937-38 Doctorji’s health had greatly deteriorated. Walking had become impossible. Friends occasionally used to send a car or some other vehicle for him, but being shy of nature he hardly ever used them. With a view to putting him at ease, friends pooled funds and bought a car for him. It was a peculiar vehicle, of a very old model. When it was in motion there was no need for a horn. The rattle of the car would announce its arrival from afar. Doctorji never moved out alone. The car was thus always full; and others joined on the way. One often had to sit on the other’s lap, like children at the time of adoption. They all called it ‘state car’! Doctorji’s rail travel was always by third class, and often he had to stand throughout the journey. But Doctorji never complained about it, nor did he ever think of travelling in some other class. On 25th March 1938 Doctorji had to leave for Nasik to inaugurate the Bhonsle Military School. The train was crowded, and there was not even standing room. Sangh workers who had come to see him off pleaded that he might travel by second or first class. But Doctorji rejected the suggestion, and travelled by the next train. Doctorji scrupulously avoided vain argument. His mind was always preoccupied with but one thought — that of winning over people’s heart. He was adept at avoiding unpleasant or rancorous exchanges. He had once gone to Nagar in Maharashtra for a Sangh programme. Nagar was a stronghold of Socialists. They had decided to heckle Doctorji with embarrassing questions. As soon as Doctorji concluded his speech, they were up on their feet : “We have a few questions : We want your replies.” Doctorji calmly replied, “This type of casual and public type of question and answer is not in vogue in the Sangh. Nor is this a public meeting. If you have any questions you may come to my residence. I shall be glad to furnish my answers there.” Seeing the disciplined atmosphere at the meeting, the Socialists withdrew. Late that evening they came to Doctorji’s residence armed with several books. Before they started questioning, Doctorji posed them a straight question : “Do you believe in the concept of a ‘Nation’ ?” It was a simple question, but the Socialists found themselves flustered and replied, “No, we don’t”. “Our Sangh,” said Doctorji, “is one hundred per cent nationalist, and therefore it differs basically from your way of thinking. There is thus no meeting-ground for discussion between us. You may work according to your ideology, and we shall continue to work in accordance with our own way of thinking. However, nothing need come in the way of our being courteous towards each other.” Doctorji’s words were logical and truthful. And the Socialists too realized it. The arguments they had proposed to advance had lost their foothold, and they returned without uttering a word. Sri Guruji wrote his observations about this unique trait of Doctorji. “The art of knowing the other man’s mind and conveying to him in a convincing manner the Sangh’s viewpoint in a brief sentence or two and of overcoming the opposition of various types of people and winning them over into the organizational line, has been mastered by Doctorji. This requires a mental poise to an extraordinary extent – a quality so essential for carrying out the task of social consolidation.” Doctorji once went to the house of Ruikar the Socialist labour leader for the morning tea. “0 the scion of the solar race, wake up !” shouted Doctorji. “Come in, please,” welcomed Ruikar. Over a cup of tea Doctorji asked Ruikar casually, “Ruikarji, I have a question to ask of you. Would you mind giving a frank reply ?” “No, not at all,” said Ruikar. “What would you say if Shivaji took birth again tomorrow and established his kingdom here ?” “What kind of a question is this, Doctor ? I would be the happiest man. I would distribute sweets to all !” Doctorji then said, “If this is so, why should you go on calling us names ? At heart, both of us desire the same thing. It only means that we have the guts to speak out what we feel as truth, whereas you do not have it, that is all !” Though imbued with self-effacing humility and deeply-felt affection for one and all, Doctorji could be quite caustic at times. A gentleman once made a suggestion to him – “Why don’t you register the Sangh, so that the people will be inclined to offer financial assistance to it ?” Doctorji’s reply was short and incisive : ” It only means that you seem to place greater trust in the foriegn British than in ourselves ! If the people are not as yet placing confidence in us, then we shall win their confidence, through our selfless actions. Then, what of mere money, the society will place its entire resources at our disposal.”

Doctorji firmly believed that strict discipline and the mental stamina resulting from it are essential for the Swayamsevaks. He bestowed much attention on this aspect. This was the rationale behind his insistence on daily attendance of Swayamsevaks at the Shakha. Doctorji made it a rule that if a Swayamsevak was out of town, he should even then not miss the Sunday morning parade at any cost. Doctorji had once gone with a few Swayamsevaks to attend a special programme at a village thirty-two miles from Nagpur. It was a Saturday. By the time they finished their food it was already late in the night. It had started to rain, and no buses were plying at that late hour. However, Doctorji decided to return to Nagpur on foot. A thorn embedded itself in Doctorji’s foot, but he went on as if nothing had happened. But fortune seemed to favour him. When they had covered a few miles, a bus turned up by chance. Though it was already overfull, Doctorji and the Swayamsevaks somehow got in and reached Nagpur by 2 a.m. Everybody was surprised to see Doctorji at the Sunday morning parade on time and in full uniform. The incident carried its own lesson for them. During the course of an inspection — after the switch-off for night rest — of the various tents in a camp in Nagpur, he asked the chief of a tent about the number of Swayamsevaks in his charge. When the adhikari replied ‘twenty-seven or twenty-eight’, Doctorji became furious and remarked : “What is this muddled reply you are giving ? Tell me accurately whether it is twenty-seven or twenty-eight.” On another occasion at Pune, after an inspection of the Swayamsevaks’ uniform he remarked : “I am happy that so many Swayamsevaks have equipped themselves with uniform. However, I don’t find the military type of precision in it. It all appears Brahmanical’!” Another trait of Doctorji was to provide opportunities for the flowering of the Swayamsevaks’ personality on constructive lines. The Congress session in December 1936 was held in Faizpur. When Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was unfurling the flag, the thread got entangled and the flag got stuck. Many tried to climb the 80-foot pole, but failed. Everyone looked on helplessly. But a Swayamsevak of the Sirpur branch by name Kishensingh Pardesi volunteered; he climbed the pole with ease, immediately disentangled the thread and saved the situation. All heaved a sigh of relief, and expressed hearty appreciation for Kishensingh. After he got down, the leaders carried him aloft on their shoulders in jubilation, and people around threw currency at him amidst cheering. It was decided that he should be honoured at the public session ; but as soon as it came to be known that he was a Swayamsevak of Sangh, the proposal was dropped. When Doctorji heard about the episode, he felt proud about Kishensingh and deplored the petty-mindedness of the Congress leaders. And when he went to Dhule he seated Kishensingh by his side and felicitated him saying, “When there is a call of the Nation, one must obey it irrespective of one’s party or group.” Doctorji’s personality was made up of many unique qualities like a thousand-petalled lotus. He had built a countrywide organization by his constructive genius and rare ability. Doctorji’s work was truly epoch-making, inasmuch as Bharat had not witnessed such a truly all-Bharat build-up of Hindu unity during the past one thousand years.

A self-effacing person

But despite this achievement, Doctorji was totally self-effacing, and possessed not a trace of ego. In 1934 Shankaracharya Vidyashankara Bharati (formerly Dr. Kurtakoti) conferred the title Rashtrasenapati on Doctorji. This was publicized in the papers also. Many friends and admirers thereafter began appending the title to Doctorji’s name in their communications. Doctorji put a stop to it saying, “The title awarded by Sri Shankaracharya is of no use to our work. On the contrary, it gives a wrong and distorted image of Sangh being an army. We should therefore desist from using it.” At another time Damodar Bhat of Miraj wanted to write a biography of Doctorji. As soon as Doctorji got scent of it, he said : “I have not done anything worth writing about, nor am I so eminent as to merit a biography ” and immediately cried halt to it. Doctorji returned to Nagpur in 1940 after completion of the Training Camp at Pune. He was accompanied by Babuaji (Sri Krishnavallabhaprasad Narayansingh), the Sanghachalak of the Gaya branch. Sri Guruji, who was then the Sarvadhikari of the Nagpur camp, had come to the railway station with a huge garland to receive Doctorji. As soon as Doctorji alighted, however, he stopped Sri Guruji with a stern look. He then smilingly said, “Why should I be garlanded? I am only returning to my own house. On the other hand we must honour our distinguished guest from outside.” Sri Guruji then garlanded Babuaji. Recalling this incident, Sri Guruji emotionally reminisced, “It was only after life had left his mortal frame that I could garland his body.” Doctorji seemed to exemplify in his daily life the saying of Basaveshwara: “None is smaller than me; and none is greater than a Shivasharana (devotee of Shiva).” In his conception he was just a servant of the Nation — a Swayamsevak. It was a living faith with him. Describing an ideal public worker, Doctorji once said : “He is not like an ochre-robed monk. He does not proclaim, ‘I make no distinction between gold and mud.’ He knows the difference quite well, but he is not enamoured of the glitter of gold. He willingly says, ‘The gold is for the society. I shall be content with mud.’ He painstakingly churns milk and extracts butter. He knows the difference between butter and butter-milk (diluted curds) ; and yet he prefers the latter for himself and willingly offers the butter to society. It is only such a worker who can render true service and also inspire the spirit of sacrifice in the people.” Doctorji had indeed grown into a colossal stature. But his associates did not seem to notice it at all. Such was his warmth, simplicity and easy affability. People of all age-groups mixed freely with him. Once during the course of a baithak an elderly acquaintance of his suddenly realized the loftiness of Doctorji’s personality. He could not resist exclaiming, “0 Keshav ! To what heights you have grown ! I was hardly aware of your achievement !” Observing the childish pranks of Krishna, his mother Yashoda could scarcely perceive the glory of his divine powers. Yashoda once learnt that Krishna had swallowed mud during play. But when she forced his mouth open, she saw illimitable universes dancing in his small mouth. In the next moment, however, she saw Krishna engaged in play, and she forgot all about his divine status. Such indeed are the great ones. Doctorji had built a tremendous nation-wide organization which was nothing short of a miracle. But to the outward eye he was but a simple and ordinary worker, ever smiling, good-humoured and gentle. No words can capture fully the greatness of Doctorji’s personality. It was ‘high as the Himalayas and deep as the ocean.’ When paying homage to his memory, millions of young men of Bharat even today sing out of the fullness of their heart : “Endowed with but a spark of your effulgence, surely shall we dispel the darkness all around and light up the world.”

Whenever Doctorji was in Nagpur there used to be visitors from outside, and Doctorji treated them most cordially. He made enquiries as to where they were staying, their food, etc. If it turned out that they had not yet found lodgement, he would ask them to stay with him. Water for tea was kept boiling all day. On the one side there was the most hospitable Doctorji, and on the other was his sister-in-law ever worried about the wherewithal to keep the stove burning and cater to the guests ! Many were the occasions when there was nothing extra for the guest. But not once did Doctorji tell a guest, “Please be seated ; I shall have my food and join you.” It was always his practice to joyfully share with the guests whatever was available however frugal it may be, no matter even if it was only a couple of plain rotis. If even that was in short supply he would tell the guests, “I have just had my meal ; please come and have your food.” He would merely sit with the guests, regaling them with his banter. His dire poverty never showed in his face. Once some guests turned up late in the night. Even firewood was not available in the house. Doctorji took out some sitting-planks, split them and managed the emergency. Such was the domestic condition of the great soul who laid the foundations of an epoch-making organization! Doctorji was not habituated to tea in his younger days. An incident at Chanda started him on tea. He happened to visit the house of a poor weaver, and was treated to some beaten rice. People in the household were in a fix when they noticed that Doctorji was not used to tea ; and they were not in a position to offer milk. Doctorji, being sensitive, could not fail to notice their plight. The matter kept lingering in his mind long after he returned home ; his mind was harking back to the weaver’s hutment. After the evening’s work, he suddenly donned his coat and cap and said to his associates, “Come, we shall go to that Swayamsevak’s house again and have tea there.” After this incident Doctorji began the practice of offering tea to visitors at his house also. Sometimes, however, there were embarrassing moments on this account. Once Doctorji’s friend Vishwanathrao Kelkar came to see him. Doctorji entreated him to stay on for tea, and passed on the message to the kitchen. Conversation was resumed. Fifteen minutes elapsed, and still there was no sign of tea. Doctorji then went inside the kitchen himself. None of the requisites was available, except water ! His sister-in-law sat crestfallen in a corner. Hurriedly, Doctorji himself went to the grocer and brought some tea-powder, milk and sugar. Tea was somehow got ready. Vishwanathrao was quick to notice the severe economic hardship in Doctorji’s household. He had till then no inkling of it. Soon after, he called Guruji and asked him, “Why haven’t you given any thought to the problems of Doctorji’s household ?” Guruji calmly replied : “How can Ekddashi fill the belly of Shivardtri?” (Ekddashi and Shivardtri are both days of fasting according to tradition.) “I cannot bear to see this suffering. Hereafter you must regularly accept a contribution from me for him,” said Vishwanathrao, and after a while added, “At least to meet his expenditure on guests, I shall contribute rupees twenty-five every month. Please pass it on to the lady of the house. But take care that this does not reach Doctorji’s ears.” Guruji simply replied, “Kindly excuse me, I must ask you to do that job yourself.” Doctorji’s austere nature and stern nonacceptance were too familar to one and all. Doctorji was pious by temperament, and cherished deep faith in God. He invariably began his letters, and even entries in the diary, with the sacred syllable OM or SRI. Whenever he started out from his house he would invariably salute God. The Sangh work was for him a Divine Mission and this faith manifested itself in every word that he spoke or wrote. He sincerely believed that he was just an instrument to carry out His injunctions through the medium of the Sangh. Protection of the righteous and punishing the evil-minded is a divinely ordained task, and the Sangh, in Doctorji’s view, was born to do just this. In the letters that he wrote, the inscription at the top carried a saying of Tukaram : Daya tiche nay bhootänche pcilan anika nirdalana kantakdche (“Compassion means protection of the living and extermination of the wicked.”) Doctorji was a ‘human magnet.’ No one could escape from its charm. It was his sincere affection and warmth that lay at the root of this spell. In the course of his travels he once went to Satara. His visit had been announced in advance. An old-time revolutionary, Damodar Balwant Bhide, heard about it and waited for Doctorji at the Sanghasthan. As Doctorji arrived he recognized Bhide immediately. After Dhwaja-prandm Doctorji went and prostrated before Bhide. The fact that they had not met for a long time had not made the slightest difference in Doctorji’s attitude ; he was instantly as warm and courteous as he was in the past. Abaji was once out on tour for Sangh work. It was necessary to send a young Swayamsevak to accompany him. Doctorji went to the house of one Krishnarao Badekar and asked him, “Abaji is leaving on tour. Can you accompany him for these two months ?” He readily agreed. Krishnarao was a primary-school teacher. But unmindful of his job he went with Abaji. Doctorji’s slightest wish was so sacrosanct for him. Later Krishnarao gave up the job and worked for many years as a full-time pracharak. However, Doctorji sensed that Krishnarao was feeling depressed for having not completed his education. Doctorji encouraged him to continue his studies and gave him all the needed help. Badekar is now a practising advocate in Nagpur. Doctorji’s warmth and concern for his associates was as instinctive as of a mother for her children. A Swayamsevak from Wardha once came to Nagpur. He had brought a message that a taxi be sent to Wardha at 6 a.m. next morning. Doctorji had a bout of fever at the time ; and yet he himself set out to arrange for a taxi. He asked a Swayamsevak to bring a tonga for him. Fearing that exposure might further affect Doctorji’s health, a Swayamsevak volunteered to fix up a taxi. He made enquiries, but no taximan was willing to ply the vehicle so early in the morning. The Swayamsevak felt delicate about informing Doctorji of the failure of the mission ; after asking the Wardha Swayamsevak to inform the concerned people of the nonavailability of the taxi, he returned to the Karyalaya to sleep. Doctorji, however, came to know of it. At that late hour he draped a shawl around himself and started on the taxi-hunt. Around 1 a.m. he was able to secure one. He also went to the Karyalaya and informed the Swayamsevak of it, in order to put him at ease. He then came back home and wrote a note to Wardha. It was only after despatching the taxi around 5 a.m. that he went to bed. Doctorji’s warmth for others manifested itself in countless ways. The renowned Marathi litterateur and editor Madkholkar was in a fix being unable to secure his elder’s blessing for his marriage because of caste considerations. It was Doctorji who came to his help and saw through the successful conclusion of his union with the bride of his choice. He looked upon his friends’ joys and sorrows as his very own, with the result that whoever came to be acquainted with him soon began to trust him implicitly.

From the concluding Chapter of the book  ‘Dr. Hedgewar and epoch maker’


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