Satish C. Bhatnagar : Apart from getting a few chores which are better taken care of during my India stay, the most intellectual and soul nourishing experiences for me are only met in my reading of the issues of Maitri, a Hindi monthly publication of the Brahma Vidya Mandir (BVM). The BVM is one of the six ashrams founded by Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) during his thirteen years of walking on foot in every state of India. Vinoba is the greatest social and political thinker, and a revolutionary – unmatched in the history of the world. On the top of all this, he had the sharpest, widest and deepest intellect I have ever come across. No other person has given me both challenges in the understanding of his certain ideas and gratification in the appreciation of some others.
One may ask, if Maitri is so great, then why not to have it subscribed at my US address? In fact, I did have it for a year or two, but changed the mailing address to the one in Panchkula. Why? Its material engages me to such a depth of my thinking that even after reading it from cover to cover, it won’t leave off my mind. One may wonder as to what does it mean? In simple words, I was left with no quality time to pursue my professional and reflective writings!
A corollary of the above question: if the writings of the Maitri are so good, then why not to devote my entire life to the mission of the Maitri? This has never occurred to me until now. I seem to have followed a path of my own. The point is that where I am today was not hitherto in any one of my plans or dreams. I have all the satisfaction in my life lived so far. The next step in my pathless path may not suggest a clear destination ahead, but I cannot walk onto the footsteps of any ‘great’ person.
Maitri is mainly devoted to the ideas and works of Vinoba Bhave. Gandhi is not too far away in the Maitri, as Gandhi used to call Vinoba as his manas putra (mind son; because of the similarity of their ideas). At my age, reading material is getting scarcer. I am aware of the cliche that one must learn something every day; this is applicable to people before the age milestone of 50 or 60, when another cliche kicks in – that says the old dogs can’t learn new tricks. My synchronicity with Maitri is about the knowledge that transcends information and mundaneness. In a recent issue, Vinoba is quoted as saying: that he hardly takes 5-10 minutes in looking at the books and articles that are regularly sent to him.
At times, reading someone’s writing is like arm wrestling for me or a tug of war. I want to be challenged intellectually the way one gets out of breath in mountain climbing. While reading, I pause to digest an idea, admire an idea, or even marvel at the author’s mind. For me, it is synonymous with the pleasure of having a mature Scotch. Sipping whiskey and brooding become so intertwined in my mind that I often run away with a great idea the moment it flashes into my mind – thus, leaving my unfinished drink to be discovered a day later.
Yes, I have come to a point in life, nearing 80 years of age. that I outthink some of the great minds whom I admired in my youth. Gandhi and Vinoba are the exceptions – the two individuals that once I have not come close to in their heights of thinking. Of course, I do have differences of opinion with them on certain points.
Let me add that I am light years behind many people when it comes to my actions following my ideas. Both Gandhi and Vinoba were revolutionaries living upto the highest moral code. Think about the fact that no other person has been honored by the nations of the world by issuing the postal stamps other than Gandhi. Gandhi’s life had 50% global appeal and 50% local.
In the context of the above remark, Vinoba was at most 10% directly global and 90% indigenous. In the 1950s, Vinoba single-handedly stopped the tsunami of communism coming down to India from Russia, China and Cambodia, where 10-50 million people were killed by their own people. Vinoba met the intense hatred, class war and exploitation in communism with Gandhi’s message of love, classlessness and cooperation in Gandhian sarvodaya (uplifting of all) movement.
Well, every issue of the Maitri (36-40 pages) is filled with small stories and conversations which touch at least my core. Gifting away of the old issues to friends and relatives in India is bigger than anything that is brought to them from the US. I urge my near and dear ones to send for its annual subscription (Rs 200, equivalent to US$ 3.0). Finally, Maitri is the true representative of the soul of India!
Thanks to my sister Madhu/Baby for introducing Maitri to me. In 1980, she went to the BVM to be its permanent resident. After a few weeks, Vinoba, the great jeweler of the people, told her that her place was in the US. She could not understand it. She took another 12 years before moving to the US straight on the immigrat visa. Most people do not wait even a day longer when their immigrant visas are approved. The point is that Vinoba was right.