‘With the four Vedas to guide and bow & arrow to back them’
I have never been able to fathom what propelled my father, a man of modest means, to purloin my mother’s jewellery and admit me to Bhonsala Military School in Nasik.
It was renowned as one of the better-known public schools in the country — one of the seven original signatories to the Association of Indian Public Schools in 1939. True, its more famous cousins — Doon, Scindia, Rajkumar — were in the top league but BMS, as we used to call it, was also quite expansive.
My father, a lecturer at Trimbak Vidya Mandir, a Gandhian institution, was perhaps trying to compensate for his own lack of formal education. Caught in the whirl of the freedom movement, he had become a khadi worker. And the early death of his father and family poverty in rural Bihar robbed him of the benefits of a formal education.
Nasik in the early 60s was quite different. And BMS’s campus reminded one of Wordsworth’s poems about the bounty of nature.
The huge campus of the school, with its English-style brickwork buildings, was set in green meadows outside the city. (With Nasik growing, now the BMS campus has become a part of the town.) It was surrounded by vineyards and jungles that were yet to be cleared to make way for farmland. The nature offered a salubrious climate; we did not have electric fans. The campus was sleepy, like so many other military schools across the country.
Even for day-scholars it was not an easy life once you entered the exalted campus of the great institution. (There was another boarding school nearby; but we were encouraged to look down upon it as an establishment for the neo-rich.) Apart from lessons in the classrooms and sports grounds, we were trained as shooters, horse riders, swimmers and practitioners of martial arts. Most of these activities involved rigorous physical training, including the inevitable military drill in the mornings and evenings, which all of us — without exception — used to hate and kept inventing excuses to escape it.
It was, in short, like any other military school. But for one thing — the faculty.
I do not know what other former students feel about it — I would like to know about the experiences of Vasant Sathe who, I learn, is an alumnus of the school — but my impression is that many of the staff members were rabid communalists.
Not surprising, considering that the school was founded by Dr B.S. Munje, an early proponent of Hindutva in this country,
“to inculcate military virtues in the Bhartiya youth”. The school motto was to arm pupils with “the four Vedas to guide them, and a bow and arrow to back them and make them capable of defeating their enemies.”
Long before L.K. Advani rode his DCM Toyota chariot, the school campus, a few kilometres from Panchavati, where Ram spent his exile, was called Rambhoomi and we were called Ramdandees.
Often, in classes dealing with humanities, we were subjected to our teachers’ own interpretation of history and
personalities. I still vividly remember one incident, one of those that a child never forgets.
One of our teachers in particular seemed to be a Gandhi-hater. He would use every available opportunity to educate us — students of class seven — on how Gandhi (he would never call him “Mahatma” Gandhi) was responsible for all the ills of the country and on how he had subjugated the country’s interest to Pakistan.
I disagreed with him.
Probably it was a result of the environment back at home.
My father was a staunch Gandhian. The atmosphere in Trimbak Vidya Mandir was similar to Gandhiji’s other ashrams like Sabarmati or Wardha.
It was not just about wearing homespun and home-woven clothes or grinding your own flour or singing ‘Iswar Allah tere naam.’ I still remember my father waking up at 4 am, tying a piece of cloth to cover his nose to clean the public latrines and remove night soil from pit latrines. It was a public service done in true Gandhian spirit to take away the stigma of menial jobs meant for ‘lower’ castes. I could immediately empathise when I saw Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and the row involving Kasturba and Bapu over cleaning chamber pots in their South Africa home.
Back from school, I would dress in khadi, often use handmade soaps and wash my own utensils after the community dinners.
Bapu for me was next only to God, or to my teachers. One can only imagine a child’s predicament. Here was my venerated teacher criticising the man whom no one dared pass judgement on.
So, finally, after listening several times to my teacher berating Gandhi, I mustered all the courage that a boy of that age can summon, and got up in the classroom, with all the 30 pairs of eyes on me. I told my teacher that I would complain to my
father about his anti-Gandhi utterances.
The teacher never touched on his favourite obsession again, at least not as long as I was a student of his section.
I was not surprised when my old school recently got embroiled in the controversy over training of right wing terrorists.