In the write-up “My Childhood”, I mentioned that after I had passed Class VIII, Babaji sent me to stay with Jiji-Pitaji. I came to Aligarh. My father was the District Collector of Aligarh. The District Collector is the highest officer of the district, and is held in high esteem by the society. The residence of the District Collector of Aligarh was a prominent place of the city. As far as I can recall, in front of the main gate of the Collector’s house, there was a clock tower. After travelling about 100 meters from there, along a service road, one could see the bungalow of the District Collector. It seemed to me that the State gave status to the District Collector by providing him with a retinue of peons, security guards, jamadaars (sweepers), and numerous gardeners. The Chief Peon attached to my father was Yukub. He wore the bearing of no less than a Mughal General and was always found in a glittering uniform. Whenever my father called “Yakub”, he would respond with “Hazir hua huzoor! At your command, Sir.” I had not seen such glamour in Shikohabad.
I was 12 years old at that time. While growing up in Shikohabad I perhaps had picked rustic mannerism and speech. I used words such as “Chaand” for head and “pinture” for “puncture”. In Shikohabad flaws in my speech were neither noticed nor corrected. I exasperated Pitaji. At times he was visibly disturbed and would even express his anger. But I was helpless.
One day I sat in the jeep parked in the portico and played with its steering wheel. I was making sounds of a moving vehicle and perhaps was wearing only the underwear. My father heard the sounds I was making. He came out of the house, and twisting my ears, pulled me out of the jeep. Even after about 60 years, this event is still imprinted in my memory.
I was admitted to Class-IX in the Government School in Aligarh. Between this school and the main gate of the Collector’s house was the clock tower mentioned earlier. The teachers of the school used to take special care of me, perhaps, because I was the son of the District Collector. This school was similar to the school at Shikohabad and the medium of instruction was also Hindi. Personally, I did nurture a feeling at that time that I was a good student. I was proficient in mathematics and was a keen learner.
Besides studies, I learnt a few more things which, I thought, added to my accomplishments. I had attempted to learn to ride a bicycle when I was in Shikohabad. But there the bicycle was much too big and the streets on which I practised were uneven and hard. As a result, I used to fall down and would get injured. In Aligarh, the son of one of Pitaji’s friend, Shri Baleshwar Nath, had a bicycle of small size. Using it I learnt to ride cycle in five minutes without much difficulty. My joy knew no bounds at this quickly acquired skill. I would ride bicycles belonging to the peons of Pitaji’s office, and indulged in dreaming of going to places on bicycle. All this added to my happiness.
I vividly recall an event from the school days in Aligarh. In Science, we were taught the anatomy of frog. I drew its picture. One of my class-mates mentioned to me that he had a dissection box. I could use it to perform dissection on a frog. We had a tank in our house, in which I, along with my younger brothers, used to take bath. This tank also had many frogs. My friend suggested to me that he would catch one frog from the tank and I could perform dissection on it using his dissection box. I told him that we did not have chloroform essential for making frog unconscious. My friend reacted by saying that instead of chloroform we would make the frog “drink” kerosene oil and makes it unconscious. I could then perform its dissection with ease without causing any suffering to the frog. I could not resist his persuasion and did the experiment but it turned out to be a failure from all angles. I could not stand the sad sounds made by the frog during the process of dissection as kerosene oil did not have the effect of chloroform. So much was the effect of this scene that I developed aversion for the subject of biology and decided not to study it any more. The issue of dissection returned once again to my life in 1994. Maneka Gandhi called on me at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). I was its Joint Director. She wanted dissection of animals particularly that of frog to be removed from the senior secondary biology curriculum. She gave me two days to implement the change in the curriculum failing which she threatened to sit on a dharna (sit-in protest) with 5,000 students in the NCERT. If I extend this write-up to the year 1994 I would then give some details of this event at that point of time.
The sweetest memory of my stay in Aligarh is the good fortune of coming into contact with my Mausaji (mother’s sister’s husband). Mausaji was transferred from Varanasi to Aligarh District in a village by the name Gonda. Mausaji was appointed Medical Officer in the Government Dispensary there. He was a jovial and a simple person and showered on me immense love. As a result, I naturally became close to him. He always encouraged me in my studies and used to tell his friends “Amar Nath is an able boy and will progress far”. He was especially impressed by my ability in mathematics. Mausaji’s son, Dinesh, was little less than two years old when I first saw him. He was the first child I played with. He was like a toy for me. I would seat him in a basket attached to my bicycle and took him out on rides. Mausi’s subject was Hindi. She taught me Hindi by explaining the couplets of saint Kabir (a sufi saint of India). Once with my younger brothers Shachindra, and Narendra, I visited Mausi and Mausaji in Gonda. The headmaster of the school there was a maths teacher. Mausaji, knowing my interest in mathematics, introduced me to him.
I tasted Bengali food for the first time in Aligarh. Swami Shantanandji, a saint, was the Guru of my father. He came to stay with Jiji-Pitaji for a few days. Before he took to sanyas (holy order) Swamiji lived in Calcutta. Swamiji’s wife, prior to his taking sanyas, (whom we addressed as Mataji) also came from Calcutta during Swamiji’s visit. I had met them earlier in Narendra Nagar when my father was the District Collector of Tehri Garhwal. Swamiji and Mataji accompanied Pitaji on his official tour to Pratap Nagar from Tehri. We had all accompanied Pitaji on this trip. We rode on horseback from Tehri to Pratap Nagar. I was eight years old. Narendra was three years old. We stayed in the Palace of Pratap Nagar. The children were taken to Swamiji and Mataji to receive their blessings. Narendra spread out his tiny hands before them. Mataji placed a Taaka (coin) in each of Narendra’s hands. Narendra became Mataji’s Taaka-Taaka. Mataji used to prepare a variety of Bengali food items using mustard oil. Initially I was uncomfortable with Bengali food as its taste was unfamiliar. Gradually I developed taste for it and started liking preparations cooked with mustard oil. One day Mata Ji prepared a sweet dish called Patishobhda. I don’t recall the taste of this sweet but its name has remained with me till now.
An exhibition was held annually in Aligarh. It was called numaish and was a famous event of the State. People from far and wide came to Aligarh to see this event. In this exhibition, there was a special camp for the District Collector. I remember that Babaji, along with his friend, Dina Nath Babaji, who lived in Calcutta, came to see this exhibition. My father was the most respected person in the family. Babaji was proud that his son Bholanath was an important Government Officer. In the exhibition, I had the opportunity of watching Gemini Circus. The revolving blue colour search light of this Circus is still fresh in my mind.
Pitaji went to Delhi on an official work by car. Jiji and the children accompanied him. As a young boy, new to a big city, I was wonder struck by the glitter and glamour of Delhi. I saw roundabouts in place of traffic crossings, and the grand buildings of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Secretariat and the Parliament House on the Raisina Hill. I wondered whether I would ever get an opportunity to stay in this metropolitan city. On reaching Delhi, Pitaji took us to meet his friend, Shri Amba Datt Pande, and his wife, Shrimati Lakshmi Pande, in their flat in Meena Bagh. Shri Amba Datt Pande was the Personal Secretary of Shri Govind Ballabh Pant who was the Home Minister of India. We were introduced to them as our Tauji and Taiji (the way father’s elder brother and his wife are addressed). They gave us the love of Tauji and Taiji throughout their life. I met their son, Amitabha, for the first time.
On our return to Aligarh, Pitaji received the news of his transfer to Delhi. The next write-up will cover the three years of my boyhood in Delhi.