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Memories of a mentor retold

08 Dec 2019 | 12:40 AM

IN the year 1923, with the euphoria of youthful enthusiasm, I visited a student of the DAV College, Lahore, who was a self-avowed terrorist and believed in the overthrow of British rule by starting acts of violence.

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Mulk Raj Anand 

IN the year 1923, with the euphoria of youthful enthusiasm, I visited a student of the DAV College, Lahore, who was a self-avowed terrorist and believed in the overthrow of British rule by starting acts of violence. He was engaged, with some others, in making bombs in the basement of the Kali temple on the outskirts of Lahore not far from his college.

I did not know that “Shri KN” was actually helping to make lethal weapons when he took me to the shrine. He asked me to have a siesta in the veranda and said he would collect me later to go and have tea at Stiffles, on the Mall. I went to sleep on the cool marble floor, but suddenly heard a big blast, the shrine shaking as in an earthquake.

The CID men, who had been prowling around on suspicion, came and arrested five bomb makers and myself.

After a few days in the Central Jail I found, on being produced in court, that Dr Muhammad Iqbal (whom I had seen on the morning of the day on which the bomb burst) had come to secure bail for me in his barrister’s gown.

The Judge freed me.

As I felt guilty about having deserted my comrades in custody, I went to seek advice from the redoubtable Kalinath Ray, Editor of The Tribune, on how to communicate to my friends that I had not betrayed them but had been bailed out because of the efforts of my mentor, who saw my name as one of the accused in the Kali temple conspiracy case. The little wiry giant received me in his shabby office and the following talk took place:

Mulk Raj Anand (MRA): (With joined hands) Sir, Namaste...

Kalinath Ray (KNR): I am not an Englishman. So do not call me Sir... Namaste... You are....?

MRA: I am one of the accused in the Kali temple conspiracy case. I have been released because I was just visiting Lala Kedar Nath and was asleep in the veranda of the shrine. I don’t know what the other five will think of me... They may suspect me as an informer...

KNR: (Taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes and looking at me sideways). Are you an informer?

MRA: (Eagerly) No, sir.

KNR: Again sir! You boys learn to be servile from your English teachers! ... Are you from Government College?

MRA: No. I am from Khalsa College, Amritsar.

KNR: The Principal there is Mr Wathen?

MRA: But he is quite nice. Speaks Punjabi.

KNR: So did Henry Lawrence, who helped to deprive Duleep Singh of his kingdom and delivered him into the hands of Lord Dalhousie, who took the Koh-i-Noor from him and sent to Queen Victoria to be adopted as her godson...

MRA: I have heard the story... But Professor Harvey told me that Henry Lawrence was good to Duleep Singh and his mother, Rani Jindan.

KNR: Good! (with a smile)... I suppose the watchman in a zoo is also good when he pats little lion cubs from outside the bars of the cage. Have you ever been to a zoo?

MRA: To the Lahore zoo — when I was staying with my brother, who was Assistant Jailor at the Barstal Jail...

KNR: Oh, so you know all about prison life.

(At that juncture, a turbaned peon brought a cup of tea for Mr Kalinath Ray. The Editor moved in his chair, took the cup from where the peon put it before him and offered it to me. I politely shook my head. He insisted with a scowl).

KNR: Don’t let me unlearn the habits I have acquired from Punjab... (Turning to the peon) Ram Dayal, bring me another cup.

MRA: In Bengal I hear you have many terrorists.

KNR: If you are not an informer, as I don’t think you are, I will tell you something. We Bengalis don’t agree with Gandhi that India can win freedom with non-violence. We can embarrass the Government with non-co-operation. But they will not go with our dharnas. Some of our young students have turned terrorists ..... You know one of the men who threw the bomb at Lord Hardinge in 1911 was a Bengali called Rash Bihari.... He escaped to Japan afterwards... And one of our writers, Sarat Chandra, has written a novel lauding the gospel of tit for tat...

MRA: Rabindranath Tagore is not for violence.

KNR: He gave up his knighthood after the Jallianwala Bagh shooting of innocents.

MRA: I hear he does not approve of Gandhiji’s non-violence...

KNR: Yes. He says that the illiterate people in a non-violent dharna may not remain non-violent. The natural thing men do is to defend themselves. Only the Jains are supine. And Gandhi is from Gujarat, where Jainism is still practised.

MRA: (Bent head and confused) Then do you think Lala Kedar Nath and his friends were right?

KNR: (Looking at MRA straight in the face) I wish I had the courage to do something more than write editorials.

MRA: I came to you because I have been reading your editorial every day.... I want to be like you... I hope I learn enough English to join The Tribune one day....

KNR: You must learn Punjabi. You will get nearer your people.

MRA: That novelist Sarat Chandra ji — are his novels available in English?

KNR: I don’t think so. Not yet... Pity... There ought to be translations. The curse of foreign rule .... Our mother tongues are ignored.

MRA: (After a long silence). But there is no Tribune in Punjabi.

KNR: Worse luck!

MRA: But English is spoken all over India. I read a review of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora in The Tribune. If there was no paper in English, I would never have known about this novel. I got my college library to get it. And I and two friends have read it — wonderful...

KNR: Sarat Babu goes further.

MRA: I wish I could read more of Tagore’s novels. I hear he has written about love marriage against arranged marriage.

KNR: Yes, Nauka Dubi ... Macmillan has published it. Also Ghare Bahire.

MRA: Meaning?

KNR: Nauka Dubi is called The Wreck in English. And Ghare Bahire is The Home and the World.

MRA: I would like to go to Santiniketan.

KNR: Yes, go during your next holidays. I will give you a letter to the poet.

MRA: I wonder if he has read Iqbal’s Secrets of the Self?

KNR: I am sure he has (with a smile). They both think man can become perfect.

MRA: May I come and see you on my next visit to Lahore for the letter to Rabindranathji.

KNR: (Getting up from his chair) Before you go to him read all his books..... I like his stories..... Come, let me give you Hungry Stones.

MRA: Thank you....

KNR: (Fetching a volume from his shelf) I hope you will write stories of Punjab like these. (And he patted MRA on the back). 

MRA: (Withdrawing with joined hands and bent head) Namaste...

Memories of a mentor retoldIllustrations: Sandeep Joshi
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