Baba, my mother’s father, was a frail, short person.He resided in his village most of his life, scarcely moving out to visit his offsprings spread across Bihar. He was a Sanskrit teacher in a school near his village . He was also an officiating priest (purohit) for marriages and upanayan-sanskar ceremonies of his yajmaans. He lived most of his later years as a widower, nani, his wife having expired many years earlier. Baba died of old age some 25 years ago.
What I have heard:
Baba was born at the turn of the twentieth century. His father was a pandit of modest means who earned his livelihood by conducting pujas and ceremonies for his yajmaans in the nearby areas. The bubonic plague which swept parts of UP and Bihar in the early 1900’s left Baba orphan. He was just 10 or 12 years old. Tales are told in the family about how Baba’s elder sister, who was probably widowed herself in the plague, took him around the villages introducing him to the yajmaans of their father and requesting for the pandit-yajmaan relationship to be continued now with Baba “succeeding” his deceased father. This enabled the remainder of the family to be supported in those difficult years.
However, Baba’s love for study took him to Kolkata to study Sanskrit. Apparently, those days, there were no Hindi texts for Sanskrit works. Bengali translations were available and Baba taught himself Bengali. He completed successive degrees, Prathama, Madhyama, Shastri, leading on to the final one, Sahityacharya. An acharya in Sahitya, Baba studied Sanskrit Literature. This degree is an equivalent of M.A. I am told.
Overtime Baba married, had five children, 3 sons (all went on to graduate in Sanskrit) and two daughters. The eldest of all his offsprings is mai, my mother. He went on to get some more yajmaans in addition to what he “inherited” from his father. One of his yajamaans who was some kind of a landlord in Bettiah, a few hundred kilometers away from Baba’s village, wanted Baba to join him there, but he would not leave his village. He took up a Sanskrit teacher’s job in a school nearby and continued to teach, do pujas and of course, read. There is an interesting story told about this same yajmaan who was a extremely distraught once as someone worker in his estate had died due to an accident. When Baba heard of this, he went to meet the yajmaan who told him how guilty he felt about this death. At this point, the story goes, Baba impulsively took the landlord’s hands in his and gripped it firmly. Baba said, “Do not worry anymore, I hereby take all your guilt.” And that immediately eased the tension the yajmaan was having.