P.K. Siddharth:

A Brief Autobiography

 

 

Ancestry

I was born in a family which had a lineage of erudition as well as socio-political activity. My grandfather B.P. Sinha was an advocate in a small town of Siwan in the state of Bihar in India, where I was born in the year 1956. Though my grandfather originally hailed from the erstwhile Shahabad district of Bihar, where his father Banke Bihari had been a Zamindar (big landlord), he somehow decided to practice law at the Siwan Court, and therefore migrated to Siwan.

B.P. Sinha’s father, that is, my great grandfather, Banke Bihari, in spite of being a big landlord, was a great devotee in the Hindu Vaishnava tradition, which prohibits consumption of eggs and meat, as also garlic and onion. Banke Bihari not only did not eat garlic and onion himself, he had prohibited growing of garlic and onion as far as his Zamindari extended. One of Banke Bihari’s uncles had become a follower of the famous mediaeval saint Kabir, and had turned  sannyasi or monk. The Zamindari around village Kewatia, which now falls under the Krishna Garh Police Station of Arah district in Bihar, was acquired by Banke Bihari’s grandfather Ram Sharan Lal, who initially had a very modest background, and who began as an ordinary employee of an English gentleman at Betiah, who had a Neel-estate there. The English gentleman murdered a labourer, and was reportedly awarded a death sentence by the Sessions Court. He appealed to the Calcutta High Court, where Ram Sharan Lal worked as the liaison man with advocates, who were able to obtain acquittal from the High Court. The English Gentleman promoted Ram Sharan Lal to the post of Diwan, i.e. the Chief Manger of the Neel-Estate. Finally, the owner of the estate, the English gentleman, went back to England never to return, giving all his property to Ram Sharan Lal. This is the way Ram Sharan Lal became rich, and was able to acquire the Zamindari in Shahabad district, where he originally hailed from. But when the Zamindari system was abolished in the life time of Banke Bihari, a new life began for him and his five sons and daughters, one of whom was B.P. Sinha, my grandfather. B.P. Sinha had four sons and four daughters. One of his four sons was N.K. Sinha, my father, upon whom fell the responsibility of supporting the large family, which was not prosperous any more. To support the family, my father joined a government job at a very early age, without even completing his graduation. He joined the Excise Department as a sub-Inspector and finally retired in the same department as a Superintendent. I was born to Sri N.K. Sinha and Smt. Vidyavati Sinha in the year 1956.

My grandfather’s younger brother K.P. Sinha was a renowned educationist and scholar of English. He is remembered till date as one of the most distinguished Principals of Patna College, which has had the reputation of being the best Arts-stream college of Bihar. He later rose to become the Director, Public Instruction, Bihar, and played an important role in designing the famous Netarhat residential school. K.P. Sinha’s son B.K. Sinha later became the Principal of this school, and distinguished himself as one of the finest principals there.

The famous revolutionary of the Indian Independence movement and noted thinker Jaiprakash Narain, popularly known as JP, who also led the students’ movement in the decade of 1970’s that resulted in change of power at the Centre, was a cousin of my grandfather B.P. Sinha, as JP’s father Harshu Dayal’s sister was the mother of my grandfather.  Therefore, I had the privilege of some association with JP at an early age, which was bound to have an impact on the shaping of my mind. In addition, the life history and character of both JP and his wife Prabhawati, who used to be an entity in herself, used to be a matter of  frequent discussion at my home.

 

Early Years

My childhood, to my mind, was not spectacular. I was seldom child-like or extra-playful, or even playful in the proper sense of the word.  However, I clearly recall my being very fond of eating the food of my own choice all four times a day. I was also lucky enough to have got a mother who would leave everything else to oblige me and my palate. I abhorred eating meat or fish, and was lucky to have been born in a Vaishnava family which did not consume either meat or fish. My mother, however, used to eat fish before her marriage, and once in a while would cook fish outside her kitchen, e.g. in the veranda, using separate oven and separate utensils. Once she tried to make me eat her favourite fish – the prawn fish – but I vomited it out immediately. Thereafter she never forced me to eat fish, and did not herself tried to eat meat or fish again.

My father was in a transferable job, which necessitated his frequent transfers. This was bound to affect the academics of his children. So, my father decided to keep my mother, me, my younger brother and the youngest sister at Patna, which was the capital of the state of Bihar, in order to enable us to avail of good schooling. But he did not quite believe in English education. So, most of the time I studied in Hindi-medium schools, barring once or twice at the very initial stages.  Till class VII my education was very disturbed due to frequent transfers of my father, and I did not show any great promise as a student. When I was in class VIII, my father got transferred just three months before annual examination, and it was decided to send me to my grandfather’s place to get me admitted to the DAV School at Siwan, where my father had himself studied, and where the Principal was ready to admit me in spite of the final exams being just three months away. At this school, the curriculum was also a little different, and the Principal cautioned that there was risk of my not passing the exam. My father and grandfather accepted the risk and responsibility, and I was admitted to the DAV School at Siwan in class viii. This was the town, which happened to be my birthplace too, where I could discover that I was academically better than the average. The house where my grandfather and grandmother lived, was a large sprawling house, without a cement-concrete roof, with a large inner courtyard. It had no electricity. My grandfather, I heard from my grandmother, was not in the habit of talking to his children, except once in a year, on the day of publication of their result. On this day, if the results were not good, he would not talk but let his cane do the talking. The story was quite scary, but I perhaps did not have the right genes that would be help me experience the emotion of fear.

I was just about 12-13 years old, and had, as would be expected, a shapeable mind. And this shapeable mind found a great potter-woman in my grandmother. My grandmother had had no formal schooling, but was a fairly well-educated lady in many senses. She had read the history books of her children in her spare time when they were at their school, and had a sharp memory.  She did two remarkable things with me which I distinctly remember: one, she would wake me up at 4 o’clock sharp in the morning and would light a lamp to help me study; and two, every night she would lie by my side in the bed around 9.30 and tell me stories from history books of her children and from the folk-lore. I would fall asleep every night listening to her stories. Her waking me up early in the morning had the impact of making me learn my lessons so well that in just three months’ time that I stood first in my class leaving behind the older and regular students. The evening bed-time story-telling practice had the impact of sowing the seed of the character that I was to acquire much later. I rate the contribution of my ‘uneducated’ grandmother in my making as far greater than that of my mother, father and the grandfather taken together, as also higher than that of my educated school teachers. This experience has taught me two great principles: the human mind is immeasurably more receptive, focussed and powerful in the early hours of the morning, when the distracting sights and sounds are absent; and next, that the stories told just before the mind prepares for sleep at night go deeper into the stratums of the mind than happens at other times. To harness the power of the latter principle all mothers and grandmothers, whether they have had the advantage of formal education or not, ought of know the inspiring stories from all over the world, or, at any rate, from the best folklore handed down by the traditions of their own society. No teacher can be more effective in building the character of the future citizens of the country than the mother or the grandmother, if they spare the time at night to tell at least one inspiring story to their children or grandchildren during their early years at the bed time.  With changes in the gender roles now, the mantle has also fallen upon the fathers and the grandfathers. The only danger, however, is that children would not be content with one story. Therefore one has to have in the stock a good number of stories.

 

(Being written gradually)