“It’s just Gober”- Aajoba

It was the usual morning rush. My grandmother trying to pack my lunch while shooting orders over to me to get ready for school. I have been a bit of a procrastinator since childhood, obviously. The bell rings, my perfect man in the world walks in. White khadi kurta and pajama, his usual attire since his ‘Sarvodaya’ days began at the age of 15. Finally after some clamoring over where my socks might be, my grandfather and I head out. Our usual routine is to accompany that walk with some chapter from ‘Geetai’. Geetai is a marathi translation of Bhagvad Geeta by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, a staunch Gandhian and one of those exceptional figures that we in our busy smart lives have forgotten.

So while I was on the first ‘adhyay’ of geetai, I suddenly heard a thud. I turned around and my grandfather was flat on the road after a sudden slip on a pile of cow dung. His white clothes, well let’s just say were not so white anymore. At 10, I didn’t know better than to crack up into my usual hysterical laugh. I quickly realised, this is neither the time nor the place and as I began to “un-laugh”, my grandfather chuckled. Some kind strangers gave him a hand, he got up and started marching towards my school like nothing happened. It’s just Gober he said, the gutter cleaners (manual scavengers) go through worse. And there. An eventful morning turned into a teaching moment.

That’s how things were all through my childhood. If they noticed how clumsy Madhu was, nobody would have believed he had fought the British during the Indian freedom struggle. Other than being a freedom fighter, he was also a journalist. I think at the time, journalism was a profession taken up by those who wanted to reform the society. Before he took to journalism, Madhusudan Raokar aka Madhu spent 14 years of his life participating in a movement called ‘Bhoodan’ alongside great reformers like Vinoba Bhave and Jayprakash Narayan. He spent most years of his youth shadowing Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Since I spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparents’ house, I spent the most beautiful years of my life with Madhu. He was my perfect man because he created a world out of nothing.

He left home at the age of 14 and came to Mumbai. Eventually bought a house, met my grandmother, started a printing press, a weekly called ‘Yugarambh’ (beginning of a new era), raised four children (well bigger part of the credit goes to Aaji) and touched millions of lives while doing that. He travelled throughout India and on an average was gone 3–4 days a week. Not once has he stayed in a hotel though. It was always someone he met on a train ride, someone he hitchhiked with, someone who was a sarodayee. He had friends in the remotest part of the country. Friends that he cultivated, helped and supported. He sure had a big heart!

He wrote letters to me from wherever he went. A letter he wrote from Kaziranga, Assam really stuck with me. He said “Kaziranga is beautiful. While I write to you, there are peacocks dancing in front of me. Praju, the whole world is as beautiful. There is so much to do, so much to see, so many people to meet. You should grow up and see it all. Go, conquer it.” At the time though his travel was exciting because I got goodies from all over India. Clothes, shoes, a certain traditional hat, handicrafts. Now when I read the letters, they become defining moments. The one thing he always brought back was a traditional sweet unique to the place. Everybody knew Madhu had a sweet tooth. Madhu also had diabetes. The one that he couldn’t finally beat.

For a couple of years, Madhu was in and out of the hospitals. It was partially health but was also this court case he was fighting. He had written an op-ed on Sanatan Prabhat, an organisation that dealt in illustrious illicit activities under the banner of spirituality and religion. An organisation that was also allegedly involved in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition activist.

At the time, thousands of youth were disappearing from homes over night in konkan belt of Maharashtra. They were leaving jobs, wives, families, children to go and be a ‘sanatani’ (Follower of the cult). Madhu had been there, he had left home to create a better world and when he stumbled upon this phenomena, he had a nose for it. He dug deep and found that thousands of young men and women were being kept against their will by the cult and were roped into immoral activities. Madhu picked up the weapon he was best familiar with, a pen. He started writing article after article in Marathi dailies about Sanatan Prabhat. It was not long before he was slapped with a defamation suit by the cult. That warranted almost bi-monthly trips to the High Court of Goa to fight this battle. He spent all the money and all of his will power over this case but soon the health too started giving up. The diabetes, the stress started taking the better of him.

It was April 2008, he was admitted to KEM Hospital with high levels of creatinine. My study break was on and what better place to study than next to Aajoba. I spent three weeks by his bedside in the hospital. Madhu, the fighter was finally discharged and was put on a diet. The one that I am sure he broke time and again. He was rejuvenated to fight again but our judiciary can be an expensive and expansive mindfuck. As the cash started drying and loans accumulating, my grandfather started deteriorating. He passed away on 19th February, 2009. The light in my life dimmed but the lessons I learnt being around him stuck. Some of them became the fundamental philosophy and purpose in my life.

I went to the birth home of Acharya Vinoba Bhave today, where Madhu’s ashes are buried. He thought of ‘clean ganga’ much before Modi did. Holding Geetai though was not the same when I had him by my side, ensuring my pronunciations were perfect. There are many great men that history shall not be kind to. Some of them were my grandfathers contemporaries I met, some that continued with the torch to save humanity at large. Our smart phones have really shortened our attention span but amidst the chaos of change, let’s keep looking for that light in people. Because everyone and everything around us can be a teaching moment.

The birth place of Vinoba Bhave, Gagode (Raigarh District — Maharashtra)
The two stars of my sky — Aaji and Aajoba

Sources to verify some of my rather bold allegations:

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