saradananda das – the quiet changemaker

From ‘The Hindu – BusinessLine’ archives…

An unsung hero

There is an elderly gentleman around who used to be the assistant headmaster of a school in Balurghat town, the headquarters of South Dinajpur district in West Bengal, who is currently on a pilgrimage to a place the name of which is not known. What can be so special about such a person, in his seventies and a bachelor, who has taken time off after spending a lifetime teaching children at a high school, which he joined way back in 1965 and superannuated from in the mid-nineties?

Nothing much, one would say, and particularly so in the case of Saradananda Das who was such a quiet and unassuming person that the world hardly noticed him. Not only this, he had also come to be seen as some sort of a miser because of the Spartan life he led. He slept on the floor, wore clothes that were just about functional and of course old, and was almost pathologically regular in his food habits which comprised the simplest of fare.

In the ‘business of existence’

If you are a school teacher and you live in this way, it is almost certain that you will become an object of “fun” to a large number of your students although there are bound to be some who would respect you even more for these other-worldly attributes. This was the way in which the bespectacled Das led his life for decades in a small town in the districts, seemingly playing out his role in the “business of existence” which birth had burdened him with more than seven decades ago.

It could be said that his life began mired in poverty and physical upheaval, when his parents crossed over into West Bengal from what was then East Pakistan following Partition. It could perhaps be predicted that it would end in middle-class anonymity, his only claim to immortality being the remembrance of him on the part of the hundreds of school students whom he had taught at the Balurghat Khadimpur High School for three decades. But the memory could not be more than what millions of small-town high school students usually have of their teachers, the pages being turned only when they got together in later life and slipped into a mood of recalling people and events etched into their minds. Even then, it was not sure that Saradananda Sir’s name would crop up — perhaps it would but only as one who was never known to have spent any money, on anyone (including himself) or anything.

Meaningful for promising students

Quite so. Last Sunday, it was officially announced that a Rs 81-lakh trust named Daridra Medhabi Chhatra Sahaya Tahabil (Fund to Assist Needy Good Students) had been set up which would provide a Rs 600 a month scholarship each to ten undergraduate students of Balurghat College and Balurghat Girls’ College, Rs 800 a month each to ten university students, and Rs 1,000 a month each to five poor medical students. The trust had been set up by Saradananda Das.

When a frantic search was made for the “miser teacher” after the announcement, a confidante said he had left on a pilgrimage on May 20, an event which would not be noticed by anyone — something to which Das had become accustomed during his long, quiet campaign to do something meaningful for promising students whose struggle to break out into the world at large was nearly always lost even before it had begun because of a shortage of resources.

It is shameful to have to iterate the point that Saradananda Das is an unsung hero of the Indian Republic. Equally shameful is the fact that he will never be lionised by any political party which, given a choice, would still back a film-star or perhaps someone who has a charge-sheet stuck to his or her name.

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

 © Copyright 2000 – 2009 The Hindu Business Line – Date:03/06/2009 URL: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/06/03/stories/2009060350070900.htm

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Comments

  • Jayashree Janardhan  On July 7, 2009 at 4:36 am

    Very inspiring story. I hope he has a good pilgrimage trip.

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