«Edited by Govindjee Urbana, Illinois, USA and Shyam Lal Srivastava Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India i The Cover A photograph of Krishnaji (Dada), 1980 ...»
It was a coincidence that when the boy was 7 year old, his mother gave birth to a baby girl. On the auspicious occasion of Bhai Dooj his mother put the baby girl in his lap, raised the girl’s hand to put vermillion mark on the forehead of the 7½ year old boy. Although the sister was unaware, brother must have been overwhelmed. When I grew up, I became aware of this incident not forgetting the powerful emotions that engulf me every time I think about it.
This special boy was Krishnaji, eldest son of Sri Vishveshwar Prasad and Srimati Savitri Devi, and I, his sister Malati, who was nicknamed Bitti at home. Krishnaji was my eldest brother, our ‘Dada’, and my other brothers are : Gopalji (3 year older than I) and Govindjee (3 year younger than I).
The locality where we lived had a large concentration of Bengali families. We learnt to address our eldest brother Dada, a possible influence of the Bengali culture. Many people found it strange that ‘ji’ (or ‘jee’) was added at the end of my brothers’ names (Krishna, Gopal and Govind). In reality, these names were given by my father’s uncle and were accepted by my father. Anyone of his character, certainly in those days, would accept his elders’ wishes with all his heart and without any complaint.
When Dada was a student of MSc, our father (Babuji) expired in the December of 1943; the final Exams of Dada were scheduled for the next March. Our uncle (Sri Har Prasad) accepted us in his home, and we lived there for a few months. In April or May of 1944, Dada was awarded a research fellowship. The results were declared after awhile. Dada became overprotective towards us. Before the money from research scholarship started to come in, he picked up tuition work so that there was a cash flow in our house. At a convenient time, we moved from our uncle’s home to a rented house. Since then, Dada remained steadfastly engaged in our lives, our education, our mother’s care, our weddings, getting the two brothers abroad for higher studies; he was even involved in solving our children’s problems.
We four (3 brothers and a sister) grew up together. Allahabad was such a place that we did not have to go out for education. I remember vividly that Dada was the one, who gave up his rights and endorsed our freedom. He was the armour for Govindjee, who was the youngest and I for one was constantly teasing him. I kept finding faults with him and Dada constantly protected him. At times it so happened that Govindjee could have been made a laughing stock, specially when the one ‘enemy’ (me) was bent upon humiliating him but Dada’s front was very strong and he kept no stone unturned in keeping Govindjee’s image crystal clear (clean). Dada’s actions were dictated by pure love and affection, and the child Govindjee slept near Dada.
I don’t remember much about interactions between Bhaiya and Dada (see, however, the write-up by Gopalji, Part B, #20). I remember a few stories. When Bhaiya (Gopalji) was preparing for MSc examination, he fell ill. He would lie in bed, while Dada sat in a chair next to him and helped him with his Exam preparation. Bhaiya completed his MSc examination with that help. A few years after he became independent, his salary surpassed Dada’s salary. Moreover whenever need arose Dada’s sacred wheel (Sudarshan Chakra3) cast its spell to calm all.
Bhaiya is soft natured and has sophisticated taste. Whenever he got emotional, sensitive, or went through a shock of illness, he called upon Dada for rescue. Dada would travel from Allahabad to Delhi to help him resolve his problems. Bhaiya would then pull himself together. This situation remained even after Bhaiya’s retirement and is proof that no one has been luckier than him who has received such enduring support from Dada.
Amma (our mother) remained bedridden all her life4, whereas Babuji (our father) was mostly on tour on his job (he was representative of the Oxford University Press, Northern India). When Dada had appeared for his BSc examination, Amma came down with Bronchitis/Pneumonia. He remained in a chair next to Amma’s bed, read to her Ramayana and cared for her. Engaged in these activities, he would spend the entire night awake. Although younger, we were not that young that we couldn’t share his responsibilities. I have to admit that we lacked the ability and an innate sense of responsibility that drove Dada’s personality. The feelings that arose seeing him cannot be described in words. An unspoken emotion engulfs me always.
When Babuji left us, then Dada was present. The affection and protection that I received since childhood from Dada was fatherly.
This quality of his, in Babuji’s absence, was a gift of God, and not an artificial plastered responsibility. Enforced responsibility would not have a sweet feeling; it would be dry and filled with complaint. Today at the age of 81, I very well understand the difference between the two.
Dada was appointed as a Lecturer in the Physics Department at Allahabad University. His personal responsibilities included two brothers and a sister, all of whom were still in school or college, a wife, children, who arrived after a few years of marriage and an ailing mother, who required medication, regular doctor’s visit and care. If mother was the epitome of love and affection, then Dada was ‘Shravan Kumar5.
Our lives carried on without any question mark. Every body’s needs were taken care of and the one who was executing all of this exhibited no signs of stress. Dada had a sunny disposition equally matched with a jolly personality. He lived with the mentality of ‘Let It Be’ (Avamastu). How he assembled everything cannot be fathomed but I never felt a lack of anything.
To be sheltered under such a personality is to be showered with blessings. I was always shielded from the negativity that is normally a part of growing up in people’s lives, hearing repeatedly ‘No’; thus ‘No’ becomes a part of one’s personality.
Even if I try to reminisce the affectionate incidents of my life, the importance that Dada placed upon me, and his struggles that I have witnessed together with him, I will not be able to convey my thoughts in its entirety ever.
Dada had sharp eyes, an exceptional capability of sensing others’ needs and wants. Once a Fair (Numaish) had come to our town, and we all went to see it. We went into many shops, looked at some exhibits, and bought some things from some vendors. One of the shops was a Sari shop, where without realizing that Dada had caught me prowling on a sari I liked, we headed home. He made a note that I liked that sari. That was enough. Quietly, without saying anything to anyone, he walked the next day, 3-4 miles, back to the shop to buy the sari. Consequently, he was left with no money. It overwhelmed me.
I am reminded of a second incident. My violin teacher suggested that a violin was up for sale for 35 rupees and I ought to buy it. I came home and mentioned it to Bhabhi. She did not have that kind of money. Dada came to know about it. I don’t know what he told Bhabhi but I received the money for the violin.
I was a friend freak. Friends visited me all the time in groups as well as alone. Bhabhi had to play host but that was a homebound issue. There was always a hustle and bustle in the house. Dada was everyone’s Dada, Bhaiya was Bhaiya to all, Bhabhi was everyone’s Bhabhi and Amma was Amma. The problem arose when I had to go to friend’s houses for partying. Dada had given us immense freedom but I was not allowed to go alone anywhere. Although I had learned to ride a bicycle, Amma did not allow me to use it to go anywhere on it. Dada would instruct Govindjee,”Escort Bitti wherever she has to go and bring her back.” If Govindjee was reluctant, Dada would not force him, as he did not like to impose on anyone. But he made sure that I went. He would look for an alternative, for example, our elderly gardner (Mali). His name alone would make me feel uncomfortable because this gardener would sit on the rickshaw floor, next to my feet and give my friends a reason for ridicule. But the atmosphere remained so vibrant that I would keep quiet. If the gardner was unavailable then Dada himself, then a Lecturer at the University, rode on his bicycle alongside my rickshaw escorting me. This would sadden me and I would promise myself never to go out again, a promise that always got broken.
To encourage others was an integral part of Dada’s personality.
Once I came home after my examination and sat crying. Dada learnt about it. He came to me and asked,” What happened?” I replied that 20% of the Exam was tough. A powerful voice over my shoulders said,” Well Done!, very good, you have attempted 80% of the questions, what more do you want ? Do you want to “rob” the examiner”. Then, he turned to Bhabhi,”Oil her hair and feed her something”, then went away to accompany his friends in the lounge.
My hair got oiled and I felt the miracle of touch healing. Relieved I started to plan my next day.
This was a time when I was studying in my first year of ‘Inter” Exam (IA, Intermediate in Arts). There was a send off ceremony for the second year students. I was part of the organizing committee in the College. The caterers suddenly ditched us at the last minute. We were tearful. But I knew I had someone to depend upon with unending support. Our ‘cry for help’ reached Dada; and, soon the relief came to us in the form of a caterer whom he brought along himself. Even today when I meet my friends, they remember Dada.
Not to let go in difficult times was Dada’s nature. It could be anyone in difficulty: an acquaintance or a relative, he would always find a solution. All felt they had a right to seek help in difficult times.
So many families stayed at our house on so many occasions. Many girls were married from our house. Life carried on without any debt and selfishness, supported by a firm pillar of strength –Dada. Only God looked after his wallet.
Dada’s love, his care, his heed and worries can only be described in deeds not words. Once I fell ill. I was given homeopathic medicine by our family doctor. I was not getting better. One day, upon his return from the University, Dada enquired, “How is Bitti?”. He learnt that there had been no improvement. He immediately went to the doctors’ clinic and threw him an ultimatum, “Listen, if Bitti does not improve by tomorrow morning, then I’ll get your clinic destroyed”.
These were empty words; in reality it was an expression soaked in pure anger emerging out of sheer concern for me. These words carried no literal meaning. Ah! With God’s grace the clinic remained intact.
I was thin and slim. The doctor suggested that I should be given calcium injection. The ‘compounder’ came. While searching for a vein to give me an intravenous (IV) injection, he punctured it severely.
That was the worst day of his life. He was shouted upon and scolded so harshly that he ran away and probably never heard the warning given to him, “Do not ever come back”.
I was married in June, 1953. I went to Chhapra, and then to Bhagalpur, both in the neighboring Bihar. All matters that cause uproar, situations that make living for young boys and girls unbearable and the issues that parents go through having a young person at home were solved intelligently. My future husband (Radha Krishna Sahay (RKS), a classmate of mine) and I wanted to marry. In the home itself, Bhabhi acted as an intermediary between me and Dada. Dada ran an enquiry line, then gathered all the necessary information needed and got me ‘hitched’ to a class fellow of mine (RKS). I don’t know if the bride and groom’s horoscope ever matched, but the horoscopes of the two brothers-in-law (Dada and my husband Radha Krishna) matched so perfectly that this sister of a loving brother— who would lay down his life for her—never ever had any regrets. Dada was utterly a person for justice- loving, truthful, and self-respecting for whom money was a means not an end. After Babuji’s death, my school fees were waved; this situation lasted for 6 months. When Dada received a research scholarship from the University, my school was informed that Malati’s fees needn’t be waved any more. I then walked with my head held up high amongst my principal and my teachers.
I can cite innumerable examples of human touch when it comes to describing Dada. It was this particular quality of his that commanded love and respect from all corners. Everyone addressed him as Dada with love whether it was a peon, people from our neighborhood, his juniors, servants or anyone else. Once a girl came to our house on a bike and she looked worried. Dada asked her,” What do you want?” She replied,” I need a letter of recommendation”.
Dada asked her all relevant information e.g., name, office, and the post (job) she was applying for. Her answer to all of these was that she did not know. Dada kept quiet for a while. Then he gave her a letter based upon her education. I questioned his judgment; when she left, I said to him,” Why do you help such an idiot?” He turned towards me and said,” Only those who have less of a brain need help”. His answer calmed my agitation slightly.
Dada respected human beings. Whoever, it may have been.
Amma also had this quality; perhaps this had trickled from her heart onto his heart and made it shine. He did not have a negative answer for priests, the poor and the beggars. Once he was returning with a wedding party after his second son’s marriage. On the railway station a priest spread out his palm before everyone to beg. Dada’s friends ignored him. But he took out his wallet and gave him something. His friends joked, “He has conned you”. Just then this priest or Sadhu picked some earth and said to Dada, “Take this and make a fist”. He went on, “Now open your fist”. When Dada opened his fist, the earth had turned into a fistful of rice. Before leaving Dada the priest predicted, “Keep this in your wallet, in the month of Ashwin you will receive such a large sum of money that it won’t fit in your purse.” In August (or was it September?) that year, C.V. (Chandrasekhara Venkat) Raman award was bestowed upon Dada. Surely that would not fit into his wallet.
In our house, Amma would organize Puja ceremonies. She would consult the pundits or priests regarding children’s horoscope and have puja performed for peace (Graha Shanti). Although Dada was a student of science he had faith in astrology. He would have horoscopes matched in weddings. There were times when it wouldn’t match.