Dec 06, 2023
Dec 06, 2023
by Rajesh Dev
'You Dog! Go to your homeland.'
Surendra Nath Paul was dumbstruck. Never had anyone before, least of all his students, in the last thirty-five years questioned the nature of his being or nationality status. Though calm and reflective, and known for his witty repartee, Surendra Nath, baffled by the impetuous blurt, found it impossible to force a single word escape his mouth. There was that sudden sense of desolation and emptiness, which of late had, often disturbed his poise. Suren'as he is dearly called'stood with a stoic silence very much like the old Banyan tree, which could not protest its sacrifice last winter to an extension of his institute. It was increasingly becoming evident to Suren that under a masquerading modernity all-things associated with the past was expendable except our exclusionary prejudices and stigmatizing bigotry.
Slowly moving towards his chair, a steadfast and comfortable companion that always soothed his tired body, Suren slumped into its warm familiar embrace. He felt exhausted and tired, forlorn and desolate'suddenly becoming aware of the loneliness, which usually accompanies one at this fag stage of life's journey. He groped for reason and logic that were his tools with which he empowered innumerable generations to engage evenly with life. He had always exhorted his students to make uncomfortable questions because that is the way of change and evolution of new knowledge. Notwithstanding his blind belief on reason and logic, Surendra Nath, however, was unable to engage these tools to overcome his present challenges. Was it possible to reason with unreason?
Born during a historical cusp when freedom was to triumph over bondage and suppression, Suren was inspired by the charisma and character of the personalities who held the torch of freedom under compelling circumstances. Even during his school days Suren ran through the countryside fluttering a flag that symbolized a harmony of peace, prosperity, sacrifice and aspirations of an emerging nation. It was to be a harbinger of the new light and liberty that sought to redeem the bonded history of the last two hundred years, and mould a new nation that embodied varied cultural, religious or ethnic groups with autonomous histories, often conflicting claims, and different stages of development. The new nation was to attain a difficult but emancipating bond that transcended all parochial and exclusionary horizons instilled by the 'civilising missionaries'.
Like many others of the age, Suren also joined the Freedom Struggle, inspired by the revolutionary ideas and insurgent acts of Surya Sen, Bhagat Singh, Muzaffar Ahmed and many others who were the usual actors of his elders' conversations. He had to spend countless days in dark dungeons, made darker by the inhuman treatment that his fellow humans blinded by a racial arrogance meted to his countrymen. But it had become evident that these were merely the last waves of the storm that was beginning to subside.
Nonetheless, instead of treating his tormentors with hate and bitterness, the pain that Suren endured slowly strengthened his resolve to widen the horizons of his claim to the 'ruling race'. He realized that his tormentors were also people denied their freedom and emancipation, since they were also held bondage by their racial arrogance and conceit. Suren realized that there could be only one true claim, and that is the claim of humanity. However, Suren's claim suffered a serious breach when his dream got balkanized into two, legitimated by the same claim of arrogance and difference that Suren had fought hard to surmount, just that, now it was religion.
Suren had suffered his first lesson for being a na've idealist.
Completing his post-graduation from the university of Calcutta, Surendra Nath wanted to take up teaching, for he thought that right knowledge might be helpful in molding a society overcome its parochial and unreasonable passions. Inspired by Tagore, he assumed that quest for truth would 'help to kill racial, sectarian, caste and other prejudices and be a real fountain of Universal light.' He believed in Tagore's vision that 'Education is in a real sense, the breaking of the shackles of individual narrowness,' and equipping people with the tools of logic and reason was the best way to achieve it.
Surendra Nath came back to the place where all his kin had now settled, and joined a reputed missionary college that had a dynamic and inspiring bellwether. Despite the limitations imposed upon his dream by a few individuals who shape history through their ambitions and conflicts, Surendra Nath with courage fired by his dream dedicated himself again to its realization.
He would not know the result, until now.
Today, a teenager'a student of his'head furrowed as if by a plough over barren rough earth, eyes blood-shot, enthusing an audacity inspired by the pint of devil's nectar available very near to the institute, impressed an epithet upon Surendra Nath's dream'a dream that sustained and inspired him through the struggles of life for the last twenty-five years.
History, it seemed, had once again proved the fragility of his dreams.
Surendra Nath seemed to have suddenly woken up to a world that had become completely bounded by hate, warmed by mammon and sewn together by malice and vengeance. Reason and logic acquired a warped meaning that justified darkest orgies and paroxysm of racial arrogance.
'Go to your homeland', Surendra Nath, reminisced.
The toil of the last twenty-five years that produced two chief-ministers and unaccountable number of officials, entrepreneurs, professionals and members of Parliament had never been lymphatic because he was physically and linguistically different, never was his ability interrogated because he wore a dhoti.
Surendra Nath had never ever, thought about 'his homeland', where is it, if there is any, beyond this place where he sought to build up his dream. Where is it, beyond this society he helped to nourish and sustain, shape and transform. Did he not share the same dream, the same aspirations and longing for higher ideals? Was it these 'narrow domestic walls of dead habit' that Surendra Nath had thought would be questioned and challenged by the quest for truth? Was it this cultural balkanization legitimated by a perceived notion of antiquity the truth? Was it this racial hate and abuse that was to be a 'preface to our deliverance'?
Surendra Nath recollected his constant emphasis upon equality and compassion, in his thoughts and actions. He recollected moments that had almost cost his life for his dogged insistence on a standardized norm of reason and justice. Surendra Nath recollected how a few months back one of his colleagues was assaulted for being unable to gratify a student's [who happened to be an ethnic 'other'] dishonest claim. He recollected how he had consistently sought to embrace a self-definition dramatically inconsistent with the identity stubbornly imputed to him by an ethnically polarized society; how his 'self-identity' was being defined and determined by the dynamics of an increasingly misanthropic social interaction. However, despite the changing social context he could not recollect an incident when he reflected bias based on linguistic or any other perceived affinity. He had never failed in his obligations of equipping the society with the necessary ability to build up this homeland, that today does not embrace him.
As Surendra Nath struggled tenaciously to brace his disintegrating dream, he could not help conciliate to the thought that maybe we can never eliminate prejudices and discriminations from human psyche, but only replace them upon new hosts with new meaning and justification.
It must have been quite late in the evening, when Surendra Nath came out of his subliminal cerebration, for the lovely bright daylight was snuffed out by the pall of ominous darkness that had crowded all else aside. Surendra Nath radiated an emptiness and desolation that seemed to stifle his drive to defend his dream.
Just than a group of youths stood near the ornate doors to his room exchanging an expression of silent horror and anguish. Surendra Nath regained his composure, enough to enquire, what had brought them. After a moment's silence one of them gathered the courage to mention the incident and that they had all come to seek pardon on behalf of their erring friend.
Surendra Nath, almost forgetting the grievous episode, was stirred by the thought that probably life was offering him another chance to dream his dream.
Or was it?
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