A legend lives on

My Babuji! I grope for words, especially adjectives, to draw his pen portrait. Innocent, unassuming, intelligent, brave, pious, suave, simple, benevolent and farsighted are some of the words that rolled into one to make my Babuji, Kamind Kumar Pandey. Even his anguish would have a veneer of disarming smile.

Some 50 years ago Babuji left for his heavenly abode. During this long period I remained engrossed in fulfilling my duty of completing the tasks left by him. And added to this were my own responsibilities. In this mad race to accomplish the task, no time was left for me to enjoy my life, my heritage and ecstasies. In one of rare occasions Babuji came in my dream recently. When I got out of the slumber in the morning, my thoughts slipped in my dream. Babuji was not angry. He wore his innocent smile. The same simple man!

For the last 30 days or so, since the dream, I am stumbling for right words to describe Babuji. Finally, I write this piece mainly for children to know their heritage and draw some lessons. I have no intention to hurt anyone. However, I offer sincere apology for any unintended narration that may come jarring to others. In fact, my Babuji’s life could be a portrait of common Indian farmers, especially of Bihar and Jharkhand. Like a bee, my Babuji toiled hard to collect honey for others, but kept nothing for himself. He would give away his dhoti and motia chadder (hand-oven coarse wrapper) to the needy without worrying if he has another for himself. Majority of people lovingly called him Bachchanji. To all children in the family he was Babuji; a genuine towering father figure.

Eldest of two brothers, Babuji had to shoulder the yoke of family burden at a tender age. His cousin, Barinda Kumar Pandey, alias Nathanji, was also his responsibility. Ours was a large joint family. My grandfather, Rudra Dutta Pandey, had died at a young age. Our great grandfather, Bhagawanji Pandey, was the towering figure left to look after his orphaned grandsons. Since he was in his late seventies, the family burden devolved on Babuji. His great uncle, Vankatesh Ramanacharya, was a renowned Ramayan scholar. He lived at Varanasi almost all the time, delivering and regaling his audience with Ramayan pravachans (discourses). He could spare little time for the family chores back home.

Tyaag (relinquishment), Tapasya (devotion to work), Nishtha (unflinching faith), Dharma (benevolence) and Daan (helping the needy) have been the cardinal principles of the Indian culture. Babuji was an epitome of this heritage. He came from a family of scholars. The patriach Bhagwanji was well versed in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and Bhojpuri. Rudra Datta’s untimely death and large family had left little options for Babuji. He sacrificed his education for the sake of family and his younger brother. He was a great visionary. He knew the value of education in one’s life and career.

My uncle, Arvind Kumar Pandey, alias Chhotanji, was studying at Varanasi. He studied up to B. Sc. Later he encouraged Arvind Kumar to afford medical education (MBBS) to his niece Shanti Pandey. Dr. Pandey is now settled in USA. Babuji, however, was a renowned pehalwan (wrestler) of the area and had won many bouts. He had to look after farming and grow enough grains for a large four-generation family in my village Bandu, then in Shahabad district, and the extended family at Varanasi. It may be recalled here that my Ramayani grandfather was a beckon light and shelter for the Brahmin boys from Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh, studying at Varanasi. In the extended family was also immortal freedom-fighter Chandrashekhar (Mishra) Azad. Some co-villagers were also there in the entourage. I have mentioned these things only to give inkling into the burden Babuji had to carry at that time and tender age.

Brave and benevolent

Babuji’s heart bled for one and all. He offered any help, in cash, kind or in person, to anyone seeking it. One incident needs to be mentioned here. A village aunt, bhabhi to my Babuji, was in deep waters. Her husband was employed in the nearby Japla cement factory at Deori in Palamu district. The river Sone divides Shahabad and Palamu (now Jharkhand). He cared two hoots for his household and land affairs and left it to his wife. Their son was almost a kid. Her share-holders wanted him to accompany them to village Tiura for settling certain land problems there. There was every chance of breaking out a physical fight. She narrated her agonies to Babuji and requested him to bail her out. He readily agreed and went there. Babuji’s mere presence did a miracle. The land problem was sorted out with minimum use of force. My Babuji was a renowned wrestler of the area. His ‘mudagar’ (heavy wooden club) is still in our house. His grandfather was also a renowned pahalwan (wrestler) and great hunter and had won many prizes from the then rajas. At that time our country was under British rule.

One more incident needs to be mentioned here. A civil suit was being argued in a law court at Sasaram. Suddenly a problem cropped. An important document had to be brought from the village home and put up the next day. The time gap was small and the task urgent. Babuji caught a day train and disembarked at the Haidernagar station. From there he covered a ten-12 km-distance almost running to reach the village on the other side of the river. (At that time there was no public or private transport system.) The Sone and its tributary Koel were in high floods. The ferry service had been stopped. The Sone then was hundred times mightier than today. In those days his tributary rivers, cascading down from Palamu, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, were not caged in barrages and dams. And heavy downpours in rainy seasons were more a routine than an exception. My village cradled in the high forests of MP, UP and Bihar, a la Lord Ram’s parnakuti (hut) in Chitrakut. Now the forests and hills stand denuded. An hour or two was left for the Sun to go down the horizon. With no options left, Babuji invoked Dasasheeshanath Mahadev, the village deity, and jumped onto high waves of the mighty river. (Dasasheeshanath Mahadev was established on the tri-junction (triveni) of the rivers Sone, Koel and Saraswati by Ravan himself in lieu of freedom from King Sahashrababu’s prison.) And before the sun-god could bid adieu Babuji was in home, swimming across some more then two-km. distance. Next morning he trekked down 30 km. distance across the high Kaimur hills and dense forests to reach the court on time. Today a dusty track of over 50 km. meanders along the plateau to reach Sasaram, district town of Rohtas.

End or beginning?

Death is as inevitable as birth. The mortal remains are consigned to fire but ‘atma’ (soul) is immortal. The legacy of Babuji lives on. He had left for his heavenly abode before me. So were present my mother, sister, my wife and children. The area was reeling under severe drought and famine. Grains were hard to be procured. People had to struggle for every morsel of grains. Corrupt government machinery had made life hard and miserable. August 15 of 1967 was the date Babuji got ‘independence’ from this world. I had gone to the village to look after paddy transplantation as good rains had ended the lengthening drought shadow. My month-long leave had ended. I was required to resume my duties in The India Nation the next day and was left with money just sufficient for the back journey.

His death upset the whole schedule. I had to arrange wheat and sugar for the last rites. The then Nauhatta Circle Officer Lakshmi Kant Dubey had come to my rescue. One quintal wheat was arranged. The mortal remains (ashes) had to be sent to Varanasi for immersion in the holy Ganga River. Despite money crunch and lack of support, everything went on well. A snag cropped up after the ‘Dasawan’ (the tenth day rituals). Sugar had not been bought. As I was ready to go to Nauhatta for the special quota sugar, my villagers advised me that ‘one should not cross any river before the ‘Brahmin bhojan’ (priest feast), the last ritual of the Shradh. There was none to do the job. I jumped the advice and brought sugar by night DRLR narrow gauge train. Ramprit Dusadh, people lovingly called him Bhagatji, was the lone man to stand by me in this crisis. My best colleague and well-wisher Keshav Kumar too had come to my rescue. He had sent me money from his own pocket, when the company refused a salary advance. (Three years later, Keshavji had taken on his own expenses the uncle and others from Patna for the tilak of my sister’s marriage.)

Poverty amid plenty

And back to the main theme, Babuji had inherited the legacy of a zamindar family with a large heart and benevolent disposition. The zamindari was abolished in the last phase of Babuji’s life. He lived in contradictions; paucity amid plenty. His over 100 bighas of land in villages Bandu and Amarakha grew luxuriant crops of paddy, wheat, madua, kodo (a kind of coarse paddy), mustard, til, gram, arhar and other pulses and grains. Even spices grew in abundance. Red chillies and sugarcane were the main cash crops. The income was good and sufficient to meet family expenses. But, he lived in simplicity. A dhoti, ganjee, gamachha (long scarf) and shoes made of crude animal skin (chamaraudha jutta) made his profile. The only kurta was worn only when he had to visit some relatives. He was a chain bidi smoker (later he switched over to chewing tobacco) and non-vegetarian. The Sone fishes, considered to be the best in taste, used to make his lunch or dinner almost every third day. He loved to recite or sing ‘Alha-Udal’, depicting heroic tales of the legendary great warriors of Mahoba kingdom in UP. He loved history and historical tales. Benevolence was his creed, help the needy was motto and tolerance forte. Babuji had no ego. The marriage of his daughter Baban (Shyamsundari) brought out this fact. The details are avoided for the sake of decency. Other ugly episodes are also avoided because that may create bad blood in the family. Gone are gone. Babuji’s plenty made others happy and rich. But he lived in paucity. He used to send some 20 maunds of rice, 16 maunds of wheat, arhar pulse, buffalo ghee, potatoes, spices and sundry household articles to his younger brother, Chhotanji at Patna regularly. The two brothers had infinite love for each other. When a house was being built in Patna’s north Mandiri on a five-kattha plot, the labour contractor was given rice in lieu of cash.

This grain drain, however, made Babuji to live in scarcity. He had to seek money from private money-lenders to buy bullocks for farming work. Babuji maintained the high family tradition of not accepting wealth, gifted by others. His grandfather Bhagwanji turned down his father in-law’s request to accept his property in village Bhadara. His wife, Kallu Devi, was the only daughter of her parents. His father, Rudra Datta, did not agree to receive property from his father in-law, Devidayal, alias Setha Shukla though Lakhmani was the only inheritor. Setha Shukla was persuaded to go in for a re-marriage. He took Barto Devi, also known as Bartokanaeya, as the second wife. This worked and two sons and three daughters were born in the Setha family. Babuji too spurned property offer from his first wife’s father in Choka. Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that I too refused landed property, given by my uncle Barind Kumar. I, however, regret that the family land has gone in wrong hands. A part of this property has been sold out to persons beyond the family bounds. And the crooks continue to harass us for no reasons. This trait, along with urge to help the needy, has percolated down to my children. My daughter Suniti (now living in USA) helps the needy financially and otherwise. Alok too has the same traits. So have Swarnlata and Amit. The happiest point for me is that all the four bail out each other in the hours of crisis. They are well-qualified, professionally sound and farsighted. It is blessings and benevolence of Babuji that his all four grand children with their families live happily and continue to spread his message of ‘vasudhaieva kutumbakam’ (entire world is one family). Babuji never thought anyone outside his family. His only surviving daughter Usha is equally prosperous and happy. Her daughter Sandhya is an MBBS doctor and the son Prabhat an MCA. All of his six grand children today have luxurious four-wheelers. At the time of Babuji even bullock cart was a luxury; and Babuji had it.

Princely traits

Babuji had inherited the best of the zaminadri traits. Luxury was not his forte. But some aristocracy was there. Winter months were gala time for all farmers. The fruits of their hard labour and toil would yield results in the shape of paddy grains. A bird-trapper, Guraru, would stay with my father and have meals from our kitchen. He would trap seasonal birds, like bageris, harils, partridges, etc., in the day for Babuji and also for sale. (In those days bageries, a tiny bird of sparrow-size and shape, were found in plenty.) He would sleep at night on my ‘darwaaja’ (out house) and tell interesting stories for us almost for whole night. His stories would continue even if we go into deep slumber. The khalihan (paddy thrashing yard) would attract hordes of people, like tilkutwala, malahori (traditional gardener), barber, washer-man, carpenter and iron-smith and, of course, the shoe-maker. All of them would get grains in bonus; their wages/ prices were paid as and when they did the work or service. These people were called ‘pawanias’ in local parlances. Bhaat (bards) and pawarias were added attractions. (Pawarias sing songs on a child’s birth and Bhaats recite poems in praise of the zamindars. Now they have changed their profession and track.) The heavy annual grain drain, however, used to have spiralling fallouts. Grains would be scarce by August, the prime transplantation time. In addition to feeding the family, grains would be needed to provide mid-day meals to the transplanting women (ropanis) and male farm helps. Money was needed to pay wages for the work. Here Sita Dhangar of Kamal Khairawa and Gulabchand Sao of Tikarpar would bail out Babuji. Sita would give maize to feed the family and ropanis and Gulabchand cash to meet the expenses. They would carry away paddy from the Khalihan (thrashing ground) itself. Thus, a big chunk of the yield would go to pay back the dues. In those days chemical fertilisers were not used in the crop field. Farmers had their own compost of cow-dung. In addition the Sanaha, a rivulet that had underground water oozing, used to carry fertiliser in the shapeof leaves and others forest products during high floods. The Sanaha then was the main source of irrigation during the non-rainy days. Now underground water source has dried up and there are no trees or forests to supply fertilisers. The villagers are now ruing their fate but doing nothing to bring the Sanaha back to its old glory and shape.

Deeply devoted

Babuji was deeply devoted to his land and agriculture. He saved his land like a mother shields her offspring. It is not precisely know as what made my younger grandfather to sell off the entire family property to the Ranka raja. When Babuji came to know of this sad development, he did not lose heart. Not a word against his uncle was uttered by him. He went to the Ranka raja and served him for five to six years. His hard and sincere work and honesty pleased the raja. Babuji got back the land. He saw to it that the names of all brothers, including cousin, were entered in the sale deed. Triumphant Babuji returned, with the property papers, to tend the plots of land. Decades later I followed suit. The names of my two cousin brothers were also entered when I got land settled from Bihar government. (My uncle Chhotanji had cleared the loan, taken for saving the land in Amarkha from the auction wrath of Sonepura raja.)

It is this devotion of Babuji that makes me sit up when my family members suggest selling off the village land. No doubt, they have disarming arguments: “All children now live far away from Bandu and would not like to go there to maintain the property”. But Babuji’s innocent face comes in my eyes vivid. His sacrifices for the land disarm me. And it is an uphill task to maintain heritages but a child’s play to destroy them. For me the choice is between the devil and the deep sea.

I was the only surviving son from his two wives but rarely enjoyed the privileges of being only one son. My father would not bother for deprivations for fear of the family being split. My education had started rather early. I had graduated and got into employment at the age 20 years. At the age of ten years I had moved on to Patna to study and live with my uncle. A man with a soft heart alone can imagine the sacrifice Babuji made for the sake of my future. Only wearers know where the shoes pinch. I was the first Brahmin boy in the area to be married after completing education and landing in a job. In those days a boy was married normally while studying in class IX or X.

It was my bad luck that Babuji could enjoy fruits of his sacrifices for a very brief period. I had joined The Searchlight for a salary of Rs. 100 per month in 1960. His health had started deteriorating by 1964 or so. He remained in bed for four months in the Rajendra Surgical block of PMCH in 1966. A severe gangrene had taken the toll of his left leg. There also hangs a tale. Babuji’s mama wanted to marry his daughter to my sala (wife’s brother). The marriage was virtually settled. But a small tiff between my uncle and my wife’s uncle broke it. (Both of them worked together in The Searchlight, English daily of Bihar.) The blame, however, was thrown on my wife and me. Babuji did not know the truth. He felt guilty. He went to attend the girl’s marriage function. In the train a rusted iron nail injured his leg fingers. He was somewhat neglected by the mama’s family, which had, in the past, reposed great faith in him. To save his property the mama had transferred his entire land in the name of Babuji. The mama family got back their land only during revision survey of land, after the death of Babuji.

Babuji’s philosophy was ‘chalaachal and fikir not’ (keep moving on and on and don’t worry). He could not get his most loved daughter married. The marriage ceremony was performed in 1970 by me. Usha’s is a very happy family. It is blessings and good deeds of Babuji that keep his families blooming.

The moral of the story is that his descendents must not twiddle with his sacrifices. They must study and work hard and attain new heights. His legacy has to go on and on.

The family tree

Bhagwanji Pandey, the grand man of our family tree, was in the fourth generation of the patriarch Chootiram Pandey. Chootiram (Gotra: Kaushik, Shakha: Katyani, Sutra: Madhyayini and Ved: Rig) or his parents had migrated to Parata from Khurhia in UP. He was married to Magaja Devi of village Jholi Baheri, near Sasaram in Shahabad (now Rohtas) district. They had four or five sons. While, Hansraj stayed back, Raman Ram came to Bandu, Gajadhar, Yadu and others went to Kunarahe, Oochari and Aamar. All these villages are in Jharkhand; only Bandu is in Bihar. Raman Ram had five sons. They were Shivnarain, Ramsharan, Ram Manorath, Ramjivan and Dukhaa Ram. Since Dukhaa Ram had opted for cash compensation, the village lands were distributed among remaining four sons. Dukhaa Ram’s descendents now live in village Nawara, in the west of Bandu.

Ram Manorath Pandey had four sons. They were Parmanand (wife: Anupama Devi, Muratvanshi Devi and Simrikha Devi), Ramji (wife: Champakali Devi and Bichkali Devi), Bhagwanji and Indrajeet. Indrajeet died issueless. Our branch head Bhagwanji was to married Kallu Devi, daughter of Ajgaibi Tewari of Bhadara. (The Tewari family had shifted from Kasnap). They had two sons and three daughters. The eldest son, Rudra Datta was married to Lakhmani Kunwar, the only daughter of Vishunmani Devi and Setha Shukla of village Chaura in Palamu and Vankatesh Pandey, later known as Vankatesh Ramanacharya, was married to Anarkali Devi, daughter of Ramsharan Shukla of Chaura. Of three daughters of Bhagwanji, Siddheshari Devi, alias Boby was married to Ramdhan Dubey of village Khairi in Aurangabad, Bageshwari alias Baabi was married to Ramchandra Dubey of village Khaira and Bareshwari alias Putu to Tarachand Shukla, Man Mandir, Varanasi (UP).

Rudra Datta had two sons, Kamind Kumar, alias Bachanji and Arvind Kumar, alias Chhotanji. Vankatesh also had two sons, Barind Kumar, alias Nathanji and Gulab. Gulab had died young. Barind was married to Radhika, daughter of Jagdev Mishra of village Amawan in Palamu district. Leaving behind a girl child, Radhika died some years after the death of her only son Phani.

Kamind Kumar was married to Kawalpati Devi in a Dubey family of village Choka (Palamu). They had five sons and daughters but all had died young, except Shyamsundari Devi, alias Baban. Their mother too had died. (Shyamsundari was married to Narsingh Tewari of Tiwaripatti, Bhabhua, now in Kaimur district. She died two years after her marriage.) Kamind Kumar then married Ramjani Devi, daughter of Rituram Dubey and Jagmati Devi of Village Nauhatta in Rohtas district. Bachanji had two sons and two daughters from this marriage.

Paripurna Nand, alias Maganji is the eldest son while Mani was the youngest. Shashi was the elder one while Usha is the youngest daughter. Both Mani and Shashi died young. Paripurna Nand is married to Krishna Rani, alias Nayantara, and daughter of Sahdeo Ojha and adopted daughter of Sarvadeo Ojha of village Koel Bhupat in Arwal district. Sarvadeva Ojha, assistant editor of The Searchlight, had performed the Kanya-daan. Paripurna Nand has two sons and two daughters. They are Suniti Prakash, alias Buchi, Alok Kumar, alias Sanjay, Swarnlata, alias Suchi and Amit Kumar, alias Pankaj. Suniti is married to Anil Kumar Pandey, son of Hridyanand Pandey of village Tarake in Garhwa district. Alok Kumar is married to Sushma, daughter of Surendra Nath Pandey of village Kunrhi in Garhwa district. Swarnlata is married to Sanjay Kumar Dwivedi, alias Dhanji, son of Kamalakant Dwivedi of Village Barhaki Basauli in Buxar district. Amit has married Kamini, daughter of Nandkishore Tewari of Sabalpur, off Sonepur in Saran district.

Kamind Kumar’s daughter Usha has built her own house and is now settled in Dhanbad, coal capital of India in Jharkhand. She is married to Umesh Tewari, son of Surya Nath Tewari of village Teaap in Aurangabad district. Umesh retired from the BCCL. They have one son Prabhat and one daughter Sandhya. The eldest of the two Sandhya is an MBBS doctor and is married to Dr. Mrityunjay Tewari. Prabhat is married to Ranjana.

Suniti has moved on to Houston, USA, and settled there with Anilji. They have four daughters. The eldest Abhinita, alias Ruchi or Baua, is all set to become a doctor. Anima is working towards becoming an attorney. The twins, Gauri and Shivani are in schools and aspire to follow their sister’s path. Alok is settled in Delhi and has bought a house there in Paryavaran Complex off Saket. He has two daughters, Kopal and Komal and one son Ayush. All of them are in schools. Swarnlata has also settled in Houston, USA, with her husband Sanjay. They have two sons, Sankalp and Siddhant, alias Saheb. They are in schools. Amit lives on in Patna’s Lohia Nagar house and is a journalist. His two sons, Abhik and Anish are in schools.

Arvind Kumar was the first man in the family to opt for a job. He worked with a cement factory, a typewriter company and finally The Searchlight in Patna. In fact, he was the first generation to live in Patna. The earlier generations had lived at Varanasi. Arvind was married to Bhagwati Devi of Dubey family in village Bedaulia in Aurangabad district. He had two daughters and two sons. They are Shanti, Sarojini, Santosha Nand, alias Santuji and Sarvada Nand, alias Gopalji. The eldest son Sampoornanand, alias Dadu, had died young.

His eldest daughter, Shanti Pandey, alias Chhagan, has the honour of being the first Brahmin girl in Shahabad district to become an MBBS doctor. She is now settled in USA. Her husband Dr. Suresh Chandra Tewari was the son of Rajani Kant Tewari of village Tewari Parhari in Buxar district. In fact Dr. Suresh became the founder of Bandu ‘colony’ in America. Dr. Suresh, a reputed agriculture scientist, died a premature death recently in USA. Dr.Shanti has one son and one daughter. Both Salil Tewari, alias Pappuji, and Pinky are doctors. They are happily married and settled with their children in USA. Sarojini, alias Baby, is also happily settled in USA. She is married to Vishnudeo Pandey, son of Hridyanand Pandey of Village Tarake in Garhwa district. Vishnudev worked with the Bokaro Steels Limited before moving on to USA. They have two sons, Ajitabh, alias Bobby and Amitabh, alias Babbu and one daughter, Annu. All of them are married, have children and are well settled in USA.

Santosha Nand is married to Kusum, eldest daughter of Shashinath Tewari of Tewari Chak, near Patna and is settled in USA. He has only one son, Gautam Kaushik. Gopalji was married to Madhuri, daughter of Munni Pandey of village Kunrhi in Garwa district. He was a sub-editor in Searchlight and Hindustan Times, Patna and died a pre-mature death a few years back. He has one daughter, Amrita alias Ballu and two sons, Rahul Kaushik and Kirti Kaushik. Ballu is married to Nagendra Pathak of Punditpur in Jahanabad and has a son and a daughter. Rahul has been married to Renu, daughter of Suresh Pandey of village Ranideva in Palamu district. He has two daughters.The Bhagwanji tree continues to grow greener and greener, with the blessings of Dasasheeshanath Mahadeo and the family deity, Shokhababa. Roots and branches have crossed the barriers of seven seas.

This story can be the tale of any Indian farmer, especially of Bihar and Jharkhand. Efforts have made to bring joys and sorrows in a proper perspective, as far as possible. Knowledgeable persons are, however, requested to send in any correction or comments for future incorporation.