My father, Pitaji, has been an ardent student of Acharya Vinoba Bhave over the last 50-60 years. He has read perhaps all that has been written by Vinoba Bhave, and he still regularly reads and re-reads Vinoba literature.
An introduction to Vinoba Bhave if you have not heard about him. Acharya Vinoba has been considered by many as the spiritual successor to Mahatma Gandhi. He was born in 1895. He was actively associated with the Indian freedom movement. However he is better known for some significant post independence movements; Sarvodaya and Bhoodan movements. He will also forever be remembered for his talks on the Gita which were published under the name “Geeta Pravachan”. This has been translated into many languages and is still popular even some 70 years or so after it was first published.
Pitaji, an ardent “Geeta Pravachan” fan, is known to gift copies of this book for many years now. He carries a few copies with him even on travel!
It occurred to me a few months ago that I am not conversant with the works and teachings of Vinoba. Who, I thought, was better to guide me in this than Pitaji. Since we stay in different cities, he in Jamshedpur and I at Bangalore, I requested him to write to me a letter on his understanding of Vinoba’s works. This was sometime towards the end of 2007. One letter of course was not enough and I asked him to continue writing to me. Eventually this progressed into a series of sixteen letters, each discussing in detail different aspects of Vinoba’s works. Vinoba’s thoughts on the Geeta, Sanskrit language, Maharashtrian saints (e.g. Gyaneshwar, Tukaram, Naamdev), life and death, Hindi language etc.
Letters in Pitaji’s finely crafted handwriting, steady and even. I would get home in the evenings from office and my kids would inform, “Baba’s letter today!” Baba meaning grandfather. I would open the envelope and see photocopied sheets of Pitaji’s writing stationery. I had asked Pitaji to send me only copies of his letters lest the original was lost due to the vagaries of the Indian Postal System.
I would call him up after reading the letter, and he would respond enthusiastically with his queries.
“Did you like it?” (yes, always!)
“Did you figure out what I wrote about?” (not all the time, sometimes I had to ask clarifactory questions)
“Was the handwriting clear?” (almost always!)
Sometimes I felt guilty subjecting this old man to some rigorous writing exercise. An 83 year man, otherwise healthy, but suffering from significantly severe eye damage. His writing and reading is limited to daylight hours and his detailed letters meant that he had to forgo reading which is his passion.
Pitaji would pull out Vinoba’s books from his collection to quote relevant portions. He also delved into notes he kept from his meeting with Vinoba in Jamshedpur four decades or so ago. I never knew that these notes existed.
Sometime in the middle of it all Pitaji had a writer’s block! “There is nothing else I can think of writing”, he said. It took some counseling from me- and suggestions of fresh topics- and the letters resumed.
I realized over time that this series of letters was something which would benefit others who may want to know something about Acharya Vinoba. I decided to get the letters published as a book.
“But you never told me that these letters would come out as a book”. That was Pitaji’s reaction when I informed him about my plan.
“Don’t worry. I have enjoyed your letters and I am sure some others will too.”
“But these were meant as letters to you!” he was more alarmed.
“Pitaji! I have found your letters useful and I am sure that some others would like to read these too.”
Reluctantly, he agreed. But he said he would write one final letter in the series giving his version on the letters getting published as a book and a suitable preface as well.
“Of course, you must!” was my reaction.
Then followed a hunt for a printer. We found one in Jamshedpur. I was certain that no publisher would touch a book written about Vinoba, and that too written by an unknown 84 year old author!
The search for a name for the book proved to be a taxing exercise. Pitaji shorlisted a bunch of Sanskritized names which for some reason I was not comfortable with. (“Mahapurush Sanshrayah”- was his pick). I posed this issue to my friend Anshu, in Lucknow, and he promptly came up with the name “Vinoba, Mein aur Tum” (Vinoba, I and you). I thought this was the perfect descriptor for a book of this nature. A father telling his son about Vinoba.
Lots of encouragement came from Narendra Kohli ji, a student of my father. Kohli ji is an eminent Hindi writer famous his novels on the Story of Rama, Mahabharata and Swami Vivekanand. He is based in Delhi. When I hesitatingly called him up, he not only encouraged me but also agreed to write an introduction to this book. What a delightful read his piece is!
A couple of gentlemen known to Pitaji in Jamshedpur offered to do the editing, proof reading and other logistics work.
So now the book of my imagination was indeed getting into a book shape!
The book is being released next on 4th February in Jamshedpur. All six of us brothers and sisters and other relatives from all parts of India are turning up on the 4th February to attend a public meeting for the book release. I reach there a day before along with my wife.
We all will also wish him a very happy birthday; Pitaji embarks on his 85th year on 4th February.
PS: The picture you see above is the cover of the book. I do not feel guilty about sharing the cover picture before the book release as I know that those who read my posts may not attend the function and those who attend it may not read my blog.
And, dear reader, if you want a copy of the book, do let me know.