The Rationalist7 mins 271 7 mins 271
Chintan Mishra was highly talented and a very sharp young man of twenty-two but he loved to poke fun at the weird old woman who was his sweetheart Abhipsha's grandmother,that is,Mayuri Devi. The old lady was excessively sweet and smooth in her dealings with her neighbours. One thing that made people wonder was her obstinate obsession with learning to do mathematics.She would tell her granddaughter and her friends that she was very very poor in mathematics in her childhood.Abhipsha and Chintan were very good friends at the DAV public school in Bhubaneswar.Chintan was studying law and Abhipsha was a software engineer.
Mayuri Devi was a retired professor of history. Her activities appeared a bit unusual and strange notwithstanding her excellent sense of humour. She was eighty years but she had become competent in maths now.Without wasting any time she would now devote a little of her spare time to learning Spanish and Portuguese. Her son and other family members couldn't make head or tail of why she was resolutely studying like a girl in her teens. Once some journalists had approached her for an interview but she had refused to comply with their request. I was a great favourite with her. She loved to talk about the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Geeta and I was a most willing and interested listener. I loved to remember the stories and anecdotes from the two great epics. Although a Hindu and a Brahmin, I had never felt the need to read them. She knew it ; but never complained of it. Rather she admired my aloofness from matters religious and ritualistic. I had never come across a woman in life who possessed so much knowledge, scholarship and wisdom too.
Mayuri Devi's son Gopinath was an eye surgeon but he lacked the insight to ferret out why his octogenarian mother was bent on doing sums and learning foreign languages. He always advised her to have adequate rest and sleep. The old lady's study was full of books starting from Class 3 elementary maths textbooks to those meant for higher classes.She who was now a maths wizard was studying elementary science texts too. What was worse,if she faced any difficulty, she didn't hesitate to ask even strangers to solve it. It was a matter of embarrassment for her son and daughter-in-law.
When schoolchildren were returning home once, Chintan said to Abhipsha teasingly, "Why don't you send your 'little girl' to school so that she may hone her mathematical skills still further ?"
"Don't joke Chintan... my grandmother is a little goddess...! She is completely aware of what is going on between us. She also tells me about my friends and their families.... ?"
"I didn't ever imagine you would be misled to make such spurious claims..Because of her old age she is losing her wits. I really find it funny that she should be studying school textbooks in maths and science at the age of eighty two..She might peg out any moment. What is the use of working so hard at her advanced age?"
Chintan then referred to another old lady in the colony who would get up in the middle of the night and do her teeth and scream at her daughter-in-law,"Hey....Woman..!Have some sense and fear of God. Give me my tea..!Sleeping till 8 in the morning? "This lady Khiramani would often tell people how her family had kept her hungry for three days.She refused food offered to her fearing that it could be poisoned. Her son had to taste it before she took a morsel of it.
When Mayuri Devi had started her bizarre attempts to learn to do basic maths,everybody had started wondering. Nobody except me had started considering her an object of ridicule and fun.I had been in touch with her all along. When I started to study physics and chemistry prescribed for class 3 children, my family began to regard me suspiciously. My daughter who was in class 4 would laugh at me and say:"Papa,what has gone wrong with you? You are studying my previous year's science books!"
I would say to her, "My treasure, I was very poor in science. Because of this I couldn't land a job after my own heart.So I am trying to make it sure I won't have to struggle in my next birth to deal with and outshine my classmates in science." My wife and daughter too called me wacky. They would talk to my brother and sister about how I was making a fool of myself. I coached Chintan and Abhipsha to improve their English. oftentimes we discussed transmigration of the soul.They didn't call my faith in rebirth stupid. They would however call my belief and faith in being a brilliant student of science in my next birth blind. They argued that the mind enabled the retention in one's memory of what one was doing now. If the mind was destroyed there couldn't be any possibility of any knowledge of one's past birth remaining.
There was eventually a small meeting in Mayuri Devi's study. Some six seven people were present.
She was desperate about my absence and had sent word to visit her that evening. Three of them were doctors being her sons friends. The others were a professor and some from the local media. The media persons had succeeded in having an interview of hers. When I had finished with a commissioned article for an e-magazine,I reached her house. A heated discussion was on its way. One of the journalists, Dr. S Mitra was the president of a rationalist association.
Dr. Mitra was a perfect dunce despite his aggressive airs and arrogance. Eventually,he asked the old lady the same hackneyed worn question: "How can your memory survive when the body is no more?"
"Then you think man is nothing but a body and nothing of it remains after it is no more?" Mayuri Devi asked.
"Obviously...Any proof that anything exists after the body is cremated? Madam, yours is a geriatric problem characteristic of old age." said Mitra.
"The soul remains. It can't be destroyed. You know that very well," she said and chanted a few lines from the Bhagavad Geeta.
Dr.Mitra's answer to the above was a contemptuous snigger. Mayuri Devi's face exuded a pallor indicating her disappointment with the rationalist.
Wanting to cheer her up, an elderly journalist whose name and number I had to take down later said,"Dr.Mitra you know that the human body has energy in it and that energy can't be destroyed. This is the illustrious saint Swami Vivekananda's statement about life after death.."
Dr.Mitra's facial features were cynical and sardonic. The old lady was incandescent with anger.I had never noticed such an expression on her face.
I was also badly hurt. So I said: "What about the reincarnation cases we have heard so far? How come a five year old recalls his previous birth and identifies his family members by their names? If he is able to remember his parents, wife, siblings and neighbours, why can't one remember what one learns in this life? Hers is a special case. I am also following her example.."
Dr.Mitra said, "People always concoct stories. Some of us are very irrational in our outlook on things happening even during this age of science."
The old lady roared at the rationalist, "Is your affair with Naina Chatterjee also concocted or real?"
The other journalists were looking at Mayuri Devi with their jaws dropped. They knew that Dr.Mitra and her an assistant editor of the name she mentioned would spend most of their leisure together. Mitra's wife had sensed it correctly and that led to altercations between them every now and then.
The meeting had an abrupt end there. Both Chintan and Abhipsha had been present outside the study overhearing the debate.
The next day they asked me many questions and wanted to know why Mayuri Devi never disclosed her exceptional faculty to know things just like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and other illustrious sages of India. I told them that those who realise God lose all greed for publicity and fame. I told them how I used to wonder why Swami Vivekananda did not write stories and poems that could immortalise him in the world of literature and how I was ashamed of my foolishness later.
Chintan asked me, "Sir you don't want fame and publicity?"
"Yes I used to yearn for those things desperately. But not now. I have suffered intensely which made me see sense and the futility of running after money and fame."
"Sir you always remain detached from them?" asked Abhipsha smilingly.
I said to her something like this: "It was like I would search for the comb to size up my hair and then I would realise I had had my head shaved off weeks ago. After some months I didn't feel like that."