Dr. Shekhar Bagul
Our Saviour was just 65 and nobody thought that he would leave us so suddenly. Everybody had great hopes of better future as he had shown us the way of the Buddha and gave us a new identity as Buddhist. The world to us was appearing a new, with new horizon, new expectations, new hopes. Those, like me, who had just returned taking Diksha only six weeks earlier at Nagpur, were projecting many things ahead.
We all thought Babasaheb will show us the light and would explain us the path of the Buddha, how to practice it, how it will brake the shackles of slavish religious practices which made us to believe that we are born slaves and that we cannot worship in any temple, any God which we could call ours.
We, one and all, were looking for the Star in the Sky to throw rays lightening the path which we were eagerly waiting to follow. Our star was sending messages from the capital New Delhi’s Alipur Road that he has planned to organise a mammoth Diksha Ceremony in Bombay, the citadel of his Depressed Classes movement. Within the span of six weeks the Buddha shrines were coming up in every colony, chawals, hutments, Zuggis zopadis and even on roads in those places. In BDT and Port Trust chawals of single rooms, Worli, Byculla, Nagpada, Matunga, Koliwada, Wadala and many places families were getting ready for the Day when they were going to take Diksha from the Saviour. Messages were coming from villages to us who were in Bombay that families and relations are coming for the Diksha. They were sending messages that they would come day or two earlier because they want to buy white saries and shirts as they could not get one in their places. They were asking what they have to do, will they get a chance to see Baba and bow to his feet?
The Mumbapuri (Bombay) was in many moods; particularly:
1) Jubilation for the proud Mahars, Mangs, Bhangis and some Chamars and our Brahmin friends too.
2) The majority Hindus, minority Christians and Muslims appeared surprised and thought what will happen.
The tradesmen were busy in replenishing their stocks with white garments. The Mali brethren were ordering truck loads of flowers and decorations. The South Indian poor men’s restaurants were getting ready and cleaning more spaces around their small restaurants. To those student activists like me, there emerging new contacts and friends from non-Mahar Communities. The South Indians, Biharis, Punjabis were declaring and telling us, as never before, that they belong to our ‘Kome,’ same caste, our Majjab and grateful to Baba as they too are enjoying facilities which he acquired for all us. The brotherhood was emerging fast in Mumbapuri and surrounding areas up to Kalayan, Varsava, Vasai and Panvel , etc. Many were planning to make arrangement there with their relations. Most of them were planning to sleep in open in Parks and pavements.
Such was the Jubilation, great were the efforts, unbound hopes to take Diksha from the Saviour. They did not know what Disksha is, what it expects, how it looks and what happens afterwards. They only knew that the saviour will show the light through dark tunnels and will lead us to our spiritual home where they will live in self respect and dignity. They will have shrines and places to gather for collective worship and talk about each other’s problems and get organised for the next step the Saviour would expect them to follow.
Such was the jubilation, all eyes on the star, waiting and getting ready for the day. Alas, the shadow of darkness fell suddenly on us, there was darkness everywhere, there were tears and sadness. Instead of jubilant dancing, women were fainting and falling, emotions were holding the breaths. The message from Delhi was that the Star is no more, the Saviour, the Boddhisatva has embarked on the journey to Nibhana. The Boddhisatva, true in his compassion and deeds, we heard was shading tears even on his last day for the poor of the villages, his poor, oppressed and poverty stricken lot. That is the lot who was planning to come to take Diskha from hundreds of miles to see the star. But the star was no more. Nonetheless many of them kept their plans to come to Mumbapuri as the announcement came that Baba’s Parthiv Deh will be flown to Bombay for the last rituals.
I was at my desk in PMG’s office (GPO) when our office superintendent, a Parsi Bawaji, came and stood behind me. Before he could tell me the sad news, I was surrounded by half a dozen men and women. One Mrs Desai holding me and in her tears said, ‘Shekhar, Babasaheb is no more with us, he has passed away, my husband heard the news on radio.’ I knew the lady but we never had a chance to talk. So also one Mr Prasad from UP, another Sidhaye from Andhra and Vhatkar from Karnataka came and stood with others with tears. I never thought these (non-Marathi) are my people. Baba brought brethren together even in his death. I was shocked, lost my voice. Our Superintendent, though a strict disciplinary, told us that we could go home, he too was in tears seeing our grief. I rushed towards Dadar Rajgriha with one or two friends.
When that news came, there was about 10 hours gap before the plane could land at Santacruz airport with Baba’s Parthiv Deh. Many started to go to the airport. It was obvious that Baba’s, the Boddhisatva’ s Parthiv Deh would be brought to Rajgriha, his home where he meditated, contemplated, read and wrote most of the treatises. At that time Rajgriha was turned into a hostel for Siddharth college students. I was a frequent visitor there to see my classmates and friends. I rushed there with my friends, others were already there. There were many people there. We were there almost 8-9 hrs before Boddhisatva’ s Deh was expected.
We occupied one room on the second floor. We looked through the windows, people were coming not one by one but by loads and loads. Crying and sobbing with emotions. Women were beating their heads and scratching their faces. So great was the grief, many men and mostly women fainted. Within an hour or two the surrounding area and the streets were full of people, men women and children. The Road from Dadar Rly station to Matunga was fully packed. The ground opposite Rajgriha was covered inch by inch. The road to the right side of the Rajgriha and the girls school was fully packed so also the surrounding roads. In the Hindu Colony all the houses were of affluent people. They were locked. They could not get out or get in. Nonetheless the mourners were considerate and were giving way to the house-holders.
We looked through the windows again and again, whole surrounding area was covered. Looking at the gathering we could not stop our tears too. What an irony, the women, men and children were dressed in all white. They bought their sarees, dhotis and shirts bright and whiter white for the Diksha Day but they had to wear them for Parinirvana Day. When I looked outside the window the whole area was in white just like a flamingo colony, calm but simply the tears running from every eye.
By this time local leaders gathered in Rajgriha claiming their places. We did not move and locked the doors of our room upstairs. The leaders were squabbling for their places, rights and duties and preferences, who should seat where. There were messages coming every minute. One message was that Baba’s Parthiv Deh is already on a special flight with handful of close ones. It was also announced that Sohanlal Shashri and other trusted disciples of Baba were also on that plane.
At this time I had an opportunity to make announcement for a minute or two as the main lot was holding their places in the main hall where Baba’s Deh would rest for DARSHAN. There was calm silence. There were trouble makers and speculators too. I had to simply announce that the people should keep calm and stay where they are. Every one gathered would get a chance of Baba’s Darshan.
In that calmness and grief, the speculators were causing more anxiety. There were rumours after rumours about Baba’s sudden death. Evening papers were adding fuel to these rumours. Everybody’s thoughts were flying wild about Baba’s sudden death. Some thought it was a conspiracy at the high level to sabotage the Dhamma Diksha programme in Bombay scheduled at the end of the month. The wrath was falling on the poor Brahmins and the Hindu houses around Rajgriha were all worried. No wonder they were shut and there was no IN or OUT. When I looked out again, I saw one Mr Deshpande with a huge bouquet of flowers in the shape of a car wheel. To me it looked like a Dhamma Chakra. Many people knew him. I sent a word inside and one leader came to the window and announced that people should give way to him, he is Deshpande. Gathering quickly gave way and he was coming in. At this time situation became tense as one leader inside said he should not be allowed as he is General Secretary of Hindu Mahasabha. But others ruled him out and Mr Deshpande was allowed in.
From suburbia many families went direct to Santacruz airport hoping that they will get the first glimpse of Babasaheb’s Parthiv Deh. I don’t know if they could manage that. They travelled back to Rajgriha. There were not much cry and tears. They were all dry after about 10 hours waiting without food.
Volunteers, though, made arrangements of water at various places. Even the families of Hindu Colony served some food and gave water to those who were around their houses.
When Baba’s Deh arrived at Rajgriha, all stood in silence folding their hands in respect. Many of them have their little ones on their shoulders. Their tears could not stop but they were silent tears. They thought the good earth has given the way and taken their Saviour away from them.
I had a glimpse of Babsaheb’s Deh. It looked quite different from that I saw him few times in the past. It was calm and still as if the wisdom is radiating from his forehead. Baba was no more crying for his poor brethren who were gathered outside and lined up for the last Darshan. There was good discipline, the calm silence, simply wiping the tears while going in for Darshan. I saw through the window ladies coming out, many of them started crying and many fainted .
The procession started in silence. Baba’s Parthiv Deh was placed on the specially arranged desk top of a bus or a lorry so that everybody on the way could see, people on the foot path, on the road and in the surrounding buildings. Bhaya Yashwant, Mukund, Mai, Dadasaheb Gaikawad, Shashri and prominent leaders were seated around baba’s Parthiv Deh. It was a long journey to Dadar seaside. My fiends and I walked from Rajgriha through main Road (now Dr Ambedkar Marg) to Naigam point. Many people, irrespective of their caste or religion were offering flowers. When the procession came to Naigam point, myself and my friends pushed close to the carrier. There, one Dr More, an OBC, admirer of Baba had a bagful of flowers hanging on the high rope line across the road (just like at the Ganesh Utsav they hang madaki top on the rope and devotees clime to reach it). As soon as Baba’s Deh reached there, with an accurate precision the bagful of flower petals were dropped on Baba’s Deh. It was an extraordinary sight. The silent procession proclaimed at the top of their voice saying ‘Babasaheb Ki Jai, Babsaheb Amer Rahe.’
As our brigade knew all the roads, we took a short cut and reached the Chaitanya Bhoomi to find the nearest place. Well, there were already many people there. We told them the procession is at Naigam/Parel and it would be here in a couple of hours or so. We captured the spots from where we could see the pier clearly. While on the road, from Parel to Shivaji Park, we could not fail to notice the situation very calm but tense. Evening papers were already rolling across Bombay. Shivaji Park being dominant Brahmin area, we could notice their fears too. May be it was the Bania dominated papers writing and speculating about Baba’s sudden death. may be they wanted to instigate some troubles between Mahars and Brahmins. But Baba’s followers were calm and quite, did not want any trouble on that day. Otherwise, it was feared, the roads of Hindu colony would tern into rivers of blood.
When we reached Dadar Smashanbhoomi (now Chaitanya Bhoomi), there were many volunteers doing their jobs. Many of them with water containers ready to serve water to thousands of mourners. At the time there was no provision of water and the houses were far away from the smashan except one or two tin shade restaurants, they immediately ran out of their supplies and started serving water only.
When procession arrived at Chaitanyabhoomi, Baba’s Deh was unloaded from the Chariot. We could see beloved Bhaya Yeshwant with his family, Mukund, Maisaheb and other prominent leaders around. The rituals and chanting of ‘Buddham Saranam Gachami’ were going on non-stop. A silence, a deep silence, only tears were flowing from thousands of eyes. The sky was calm too and felt it too shading the tears. The sea, just a few yards away, was calm too but the waves were rising and engulfing the sand and lashing the water as if the sea was showering rain flowers on Baba’s Deh. It was making big noise, we thought the see is also crying too.
Once Deh (Body) was on the pier there were chanting by Bhikkhus and by all around. As soon as the pier was lit, the silence was broken. All raised their voice saying ‘Babasaheb Ki Jai, Long live Babasaheb.’ People’s emotions burst, they could not control, staring at burning pier, I too burst in uncontrollable tears.
I had a habit, to see Babasaheb for those last ten years, wherever and whenever I could hear or read that Babasaheb was coming or going. Once I took a train without ticket and reached Igatpuri station where a ticket collector caught me and said ‘not you again, where you are going? Babasaheb has gone to Aurangabad, you should have changed train at Manmad.’ (He knew for sure that I wanted to see Babasaheb). Whenever Baba was in Bombay I used to stand in front of Rajgriha just to have Darshan. I had no courage to talk to him. Anyway he was always surrounded by leaders. When he came to open the new building of our Vidyarthi Ashram at Manmad, I had an opportunity as an SSD volunteer, when Baba exchanged a couple of words with me. I could not open my mouth, just kept looking. His words were about the discipline the SSD volunteers were expected to observe. On that day when Baba came near to our batch, I just broke the chain and fell on his feet. Baba moved a step back and said ‘I am not a God, you should not bow to my feet but keep your discipline of SSD sainik.’ Suddenly as lightning, I stood up and joined the chain of some ten sainiks of which I was in-charge. Baba going yard or two further looked back and saw us at stand-still. He gave a smile, which I can never forget.
That day at Chaitya Bhoomi Baba was not smiling at me. While standing near Baba’s pier and paying last respects, just 3/4 yards away, all these thoughts and memories were coming before my eyes. I knew, I would not get that chance again. I was planning to see Babasaheb next year when I was planning to take Buddhism for my B.A. course. I wanted to tell him that I was at the Dikha Boomi and I made up mind there to study Dhamma. I was going to ask for his blessing. While standing there, I pledged, taking last glance at Baba, that I will keep my pledge to study Buddhism.
As soon as the pier was lit, my thoughts were broken and there were cries everywhere. People were falling on the ground with grief. Some women tried to push through and wanted to burn on the pier. They were crying uncontrollably and saying ‘Baba who is going to look after us, who is going to protect us, what we could do without you.’ There were tears, uncontrollable tears everywhere. Grief had no bound as the Light had Gone and everybody saw darkness around.
It was almost midnight, we friends, we moved towards the sea (Dadar Chaupati) and decided to spend night there slipping on the sand. It was cold but we didn’t care. We had some idea. We were sleeping just 8-10 yards away other side of the wall. We woke up in the morning. There were a few people and guards who were looking after the pier. We came to the pier, it was almost to the grounds. We started collecting some ashes, they were still hot and burning. With our noise the guards got up and were going to give us beating or throw us out. But one was there who saw us standing near the pier from the beginning to end. He realised that we were sleeping there in the cold all night. I told the guard that even if he beats me, I was going to take handful of Baba’s raksha. I told the guard to do a favour and let me have a handful of Ashes. He felt sympathetic to my urge and let me have some. I had nothing to take the Ashes in. He gave me a clean new piece of cloth from the bag. They had already had new cloth and containers there to collect Baba’s ashes.
We left the Chaitanyabhoomi early in the morning and walked back through the same rout of procession. We could see the road was still littered with flowers and petals offered to Baba on the way to Chaitanyabhoomi. I thought there were millions teardrops there too.
Every paper in Bombay was full of Babasaheb, his scarifies, his devotion, his wisdom, his compassion for he spurned all the temptation to serve his poor depressed masses and the nation as a whole.
I don’t know why the scene of that day resurrects before my eyes and mind as it was on that day of 6 December 1956.
In the evening I went back again to Chaitanyabhoomi. There were already many women, men and children there. Most of them were those who could not reach earlier, nonetheless they wanted to visit there and put raksha on their foreheads as Baba’s blessings. I heard some women were singing a grief song. It was by one Waman Kavi (Waman Kardak). They were singing ‘ Bheemai, Bheemai, keeti Humberave, keeti humberave. Bheemai Bheemai Dalitanchi Ai, wasarachi Gai, tujbin nahi koni Data. Amha Garibanche Jag he sune tujbina. Bheemai Bheenai kitee humberave, kitee humbarave ….’
It could, somewhat, be translated as ‘Mother Bheema, mother Bheema, how much we can cry, how long we can cry. Bheema, O’ Bheema the mother of Dalits, you are mother to us like cow to calfs. Without you there is no one our leader, our carer. The world of we poor is now empty without you. Bheemai, Bheemai how long we will cry and suffer.’
That was the day that was when I had last Darshan of my Babasaheb, the Mahakarunee, the compassionate, the Boddhisatva of many koti of Dalits.
Homage to Baba, homage to Boddhisatva, the compassionate one, the Saviour of millions depressed, oppressed and suppressed, homage to him.
Long live his Mission
With Metta, yours in Mission
~ Babasevak Dr. Shekhar Bagul,
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.
(Late Dr. Bagul had attended the funeral of Dr.Ambedkar on 7th Dec 1956.)
[Via Sanjay Samant]