Getting down from a crowded local train at Dakshin Durgapur railway station (rural West Bengal), I saw dark clouds setting in. I came out of the station and searched for a rickshaw or cycle-van (a popular mode of transport in rural India). Finding none, I began walking through the village roads. I am in a village of South 24 Parganas district, 35 km from Kolkata. This district and the neighbouring Sunderbans are the poorest districts of India. After walking 2km in the mild rain, I reached ‘Sri Ramakrisha Sevashram’ (SRKS) to meet Mr. Sudhanshu Biswas.
Drying myself with a towel, I enquired why there was no transportation from the station. Mr. Biswas replied with a smile “When there is no demand, there is no supply”! His simple reply also answered my unasked question as to why this 95 year old freedom fighter chose to spend his last four decades here. Instead I asked what the main objective of SRKS. His kindly eyes met mine directly and he said “To impart man making education”. The depth of conviction came from his own first-hand experience of being arrested from the examination hall by the British police during his childhood; a memory that has driven him since to help educate the less privileged—backed by his , understanding of the importance and meaning of education very well.
As the conversation went on I learnt that he left home while still in his teens to fight for India’s freedom. He successfully carried “live bombs” to lodge an attack on the British Administration. Mr. Biswas dodged death a number of times in gun battles. He was caught by the British and jailed for several years. The simple man before me has been a part of the famous revolutionary group – Anushilan Samity. After independence, enthused by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda – “Service to man is service to god”, Mr. Biswas founded SRKS. No wonder he has chosen this place where I was surprised to see that neither any temple nor mosque existed in this poverty stricken village (very unusual in India).
In the last four decades, he has set up 18 free schools for the poor children in remote villages in the nearby Sunderban area. The teachers of the schools belong from the same village and hence an ownership is created. Till date thousands of orphans have stayed and studied in SRKS and currently he is bringing up 67 orphan students who study and take care of all the work of SRKS. Owing to urbanization, old people get deserted by their family. The hermitage provides shelter to 29 senior citizens from the nearby villages. A charitable dispensary is also run as a part SRKS. To top it all, well into his seventies he studied general medicine and Homeopathy, observing the irregularities of doctors in villages. He collects the physician medicine samples and distributes them among the sick.
He sits straight, glows bright while talking about past and deep eyes reveals his knowledge about ancient religious scriptures. He talks and hears well, as he showed me the ashram which has a pond, small agricultural tracks and fruit trees. Every day he takes Mathematics classes in the school. Undeterred by the financial burden of increasing orphan kids and destitute old people, Mr. Biswas has started constructing a temple for the villagers. I truly believe now – “This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.”
As I bade good-bye to this great Karma Yogi, he blessed me and said that his age prevented him from going door to door begging for help but believes his countrymen are the same as it was seven-eight decades back. He asked me to contact my trusted friends and relatives for some financial assistance. Majority of Indians are unaware of the sacrifice made by countless revolutionaries like Mr. Biswas, but now you can help materialise his dreams by offering your help.
I met a person who is superior to me in all aspects. Physique: Mind you he does more physical work than me at 95. Work: A visionary and does more significant work than myself. Sacrifice: I sacrifice little money and few hours for the down trodden, his entire life is for & between the poor. Love: I married my school mate after 10 years of courtship; he still carries the bullet marks he received due to his love for his own country and billion countrymen. Academics: Still teaches 10th class mathematics, without the help of calculator. Scripture knowledge: I have the holy thread around me and he has the age-less wisdom around himself.
A standard eighth student came to close the gate. Seeing the never ending rain and after enquiring that I have no umbrella with me, he thought for a while and opened his cap. His cap was an old free cap from a popular health drink provider. It was as prized for him as our premium branded watch or new i-pod is. He offered his cap and insisted that I wore this, to protect my head from the shower. I was indeed touched by his gestures. Mr. Biswas is right; I was taken aback with the man-making value education infested on these kids. Although it was raining, I saw the dark clouds flying by.
I met Sri Biswas for the first time last year. Since then I have started volunteering for this Ashram. The article is a compilation from my first visit to Sri Ramakrishna Sevashram.
About the Author
Saunak resides in Chennai and is a business consultant with an IT company. He has around 10 years experience of volunteering work with rural orphanages, down-syndrome NGO’s and corporate volunteering teams. Saunak is also a happy social investor with various community development funds aimed at poor women entrepreneurs. Lastly, he is a student of development economics who likes to learn the psychology, finance, risks, policies & use of technology associated with the lives of the poor and marginalized of the society. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org