Kesab Babu

When we are in class nine we discovered a short, stern figure, He was with short dhoti, khadi kurta, head cocked on one side with Shantiniketani bag hanging at one side. The man symbolized defiance; with an eternal frown he looked as if ready to fight at slightest provocation. This was Kesab babu, our new Sanskrit teacher.

We started to learn Sanskrit from class 8. Someone at board had decided that Sanskrit is good for us. Unfortunately, we could not fathom that goodness and accepted it as our fate.  Usual method of teaching Sanskrit was to memorize the cases of diferent nouns and mugup slokas and regargulate them during exam. It was a chore and we accepted it that way. The subject was the most hated thing, History came close. We had learnt to somehow mug things to pass the exam. On seeing Kesab babu, we braced for another year of tolerating a subject with information that did not seem to serve any practical purpose.

Kesab Babu was a shock! On the first day he skipped the initial verses and went at the middle of the book where there was a short verse from Megadutam. He started reciting the poem. We hardly understood it but liked the rythm. Surprisingly, he was quite good in recitation. Like a jackfruit, despite of his stern appearence, Kesabbabu had good appriciation of poetry. He was also very candid in discussing Kalidasa’s description on the beauty of Yakshini. After his recitation, he proceeded to explain the meaning and all the nuances of case and conjunct words. After the recitation, he proceded on telling a story about Kalidasa, innovation of Meghdutam and the leap of imagination Kalidasa could do to image areal view at an age when no one had experienced air travel.. Suddenly, Sanskrit was looking interesting.

Before he finished, he asked us our name and laid a rule – in his class all conversation will be in Sanskrit. If someone do not understand, he will explain them – but in Sanskrit. He never bothered to teach us those Dhaturup (cases), and left that as something we should pickup in order to understand the words.He will recite slokas and poem and tell us historical and philosophical relevence of these. Hearing these, history started to become interesting. All the kings and events started to be meaningful and relevant with the slokas. It looked, Sanskrit can really be as interesting as reading a novel. We actually started to differentiate between Balmiki’s Ramayana and Kalidasa’s Raghubansha.

Kesab Babu was taken as an miser, living a frugal lifestyle, and was a model of rudeness. Even headmaster used to avoid him and we saw he used to be afraid to antagonize him.. I never remember him contributing a single rupee for things like flag day, flood relief, etc. There was a student in our class. His parents were not well to do and the fellow was pretty bad in studies. We found, this fellow used to meet Kesab Babu during our tiffin time secretly. We are pretty sure, this fellow is doing some kind of spying on us. One day we followed him and found he is eating in a corner of teachers room. Kesab Babu was sitting close by. We wondered, what is going on.

Later that year, we attended Kesab Babu in private coaching class. Once we got to know him a little more personally we asked him, what he was doing with that student. He told, this fellow is good at sports but lacked good food. So he used to bring some egg/paneer for him. In person, Kesab Babu was strict vegeterian and used to do his own cooking. That he will bring egg for this student spending his own money secretly made us very much curious about him.

We used to poke him about his life and one day he told us his life story. Oh Boy! what a story it was.

Kesab babu came from Chattogram – a port town in present Bangladesh that is below the Arakan range. During his class eight, he got motivated by freedom fighters and left study to join a Freedom fighter’s group called Anushilan Samity. He was a child worker, and maintained watch posts, passed on information. He was the leader of boys wing at his location. After spending some three four years with Anushian Samity he got a shocker.. Anushilan Samity was banned for aiding anti British work. The leader – Aurobindo Ghosh suddenly got devine insparation and asked the workers to wound up the operations. Aurobindo Ghosh himself became spiritual leader. He did not do much to protect the organization. An class eight dropout, Kesab Babu, was afraid for his life. He also lacked any proper skill to earn an respectable livelyhood. In the Chattogram Area, Naga Sanyasins are much respected and feared. Kesab babu aspired to be a Naga Sanyasin and fled from his house.

Kesabbabu served Naga Sanyasins for almost five years. Naga Sanyasin remain naked and said to be in full control of their body. Even in coldest of winter, Naga Sanyasin will not cover their body. To his surprise, Kesab babu found these people to be a bunch of farse. They were camoflaged looters who raid house of well to do person with their elephants. They will plunder, take away all they and their chelas liked. The unfortunate person, who’s house were raided wre even not able to protest, for the fear of social ostrasization. Such is the social makeup, people around will think he has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the great Sadhus. The ones who knew, preferred to keep silent. He found there is nothing spiritual in the whole thing. Even, their self control is nothing extraordinary. They use heavy doses of drugs and some surgical procedure. After spending few years with them Kesab babu decided to flee the Sanyasins,

Fleeing the Sanyasins was not an easy task. Sanyasins did not hesitate to kill escapers to keep their secret. In addition there was arraest warrant on him as key member of He was also aware of banning of Anushilan Samity. That meant certain death in the hands of British Police if he was caught.  So he crossed over to Tibet, which is beyond the reaches of both Nagas and British. He heard of a person alled Rahul Sanskritayanan. Rahul was famous as indologist and was sympathatic to freedom movement. On his way to Lasha, he learnt Rajhul is no more in Lasha, and instead gone to Kashmir. So Kesab babu travelled through the silk route towadrs Srinagar. He had no money with him. So he had to work some time in hotel, sometime as waiter, sometime doing menial job in garden. It took him over twoyears to travel the distance. He met Rahul, convinced him about his seinceriety and become his disciple. He studied Indian scripts with Rahul Sanskrityanan for about 14 yrs. He was able to recite all the works of Vedas and Kalidasa from memory. After Rahul Sanskrityan passed away, he needed some job.

Rahul Sanskritayan was a giant. Although he was never given much recognition in free India, he was the architect of what India we see today. During the final days of freedom struggle, Britishers never accepted India as one nation. The India they got was bunch of princely states and Mughal empire; Muslims wanted restoration of Mugal rule, Fact is Mughals during pre-British got only limited to UP and part of MP, rest of India was divided with Peshwas and multiple princely states in between.. It was certain, restoring the status to what India was before Britishers came would have led India to be fragmented into huge number of pricely states, each warring for its suprimacy. The situation would have been very chaotic. It was Rahul Sanskrityan’s interpretation and proof that Chanakya’s laws being the central to ruling of all princely states established India to be one nation composed of several states and become the basis of what we see India as today. Rahul was also seen as great educator in Tibet. He was conferred the title – Mahamohopadhayay – meaning the greatest teacher by Dalai Lama. Kesab Babu had no formal  education, but just the mention of Rahul Sanskrityan’s name got him a job as curator in National Library. After few years however, he got bored with the job in Library and wanted a teaching job. That’s how, he got to be a school teacher.without actually passing any examination.

Althogh Kesab Babu left Naga Sanyasins, he followed their lifestyle to an extent. He would cook his own food and only eat once in a day. He will leave a frugal lifestyle with just few trademark dhoti and kurta. His principle was if you are in control of your needs no one can influence you. That was the basic principle of Naga Sanyasins and he followed it to core. He cared no one and always ready to stand for his principle. He did not even care for the post of headmaster. A very strict discplinarian,t he was kind of gurdain for his students. The fellow I mentioned needed high protine diet for this play, which his parents could not afford. That was Kesab babu’s secret for carrying egg for this guy. I never recall him using more than a frown and a very soft scold when someone did not come up to his expectation. But then, the word will be in such pointed manner and so reasonable the reciepient will be more hurt than severest of punishment other teachers in their arsenal.

We used to ask pretty personal questions about his values and he would answer them cheerfully. Once we asked him, why do you take private tution. He was prompt. He explained, in private tution he can talk on Indian culture, philosophy that is not possible in the short Sanskrit class. In addition his dream was to build a flower garden and a coaching class after his retirement. But someone out there had other design. He died in cerebral attack much before his retirement. That was a big loss for the society. He was one of last relics who believed in building values and character in the students rather than just helping students to cram some information and get good marks in examination. Many things what Kesab Babu said did not make sense at that young age, but it does now. That was greatness of a good teacher, who continue to influence years after one has left his contact.


“Apne safed hati dekh liye” — “Have you seen the white elephant” A short dark man in shorts suddenly darted in front of JRD Tata as he was making his round in the shop floor of Jamshedpur Plant. Most thought this is a mad man, those who knew him thought this time pranks of this man has got beyond tolerance.

The senior officers quickly wisked away this man. There were talks of taking disciplenary action against him. But the personal managers advised against it. To the adivasis around Jamshedpur, this man was a uncrowned king. Any undue punishment will have huge adivashi backlash, so they chose to ignore it as a prank from a half mad character. That was Debilal – a sweeper in Plant-III of Tata Motors.

Debilal was in his mid-thirties, he was very sincere in his job and will always be humming some song. Although he was a janitor, he will occasionally pull some pranks on officers. There used to a bully officer who loved to shout at the people on smallest slip. One day Devilal got a dog with a shirt and specs . On back of the shirt written “Mukho” with big letters and let loose the dog in shopfloor.

In the nearby villages Debilal was counted as a man with great wisdom. People will come to him for all kind of advice. No one took any penal action against him and learnt to live with these  pranks as sign of madness.

Next day, as Debilal came to clean the room I asked him why did you tell such thing to Tata. Here is the dialog:

Me:     Why did you jumped in front of  Big Boss

Debilal: I was refering to the new Forge Plant you people have put up. I thought he is wise man and would listen to me.

Me: What is wrong with the Plant

Debilal: It is a White Elephant. Just a costly show piece that does no good

(I thought, this has gone too much – this illeterate sweeper is questioning wisdom of Engineers.  The plant he was referring was fully automated forge plant that produces Front Axle Beam and Crank Shaft. In early 80s, that was the best technology one could get.

Moreover, fresh from PG in Industrial Engg, I thought, let me teach this fellow not to mess with professionals. To teach him a lesson, I started to question in the ragging style.)

Me: Really! How do you say this plant is costly. It has all robots – latest technology in the world

Debilal: Maybe it has lot of new technology, I am a stupid fellow, I can only count on what it produces at what cost

Me: (Oh my God! What does this fellow know about cost)  What is to cost

Debilal : OK! let us start from the begining – there is the old plant that produces Crank Shaft. How many burners are there in the old plant and in the new plant to heat the material

Me: (I was taken aback – not sure) You tell me

Debilal: In the old plant there are 8 burner, in the new furnace there are 12 of them. That’s because new furnace a wide opening for the robotic arm, in old furnace operators could manipulate material with a much smaller opening. In addition old furnace was round like a “Handi” New one is a straight one that only heats the shop, not the iron.

Me: (Now cautious) OK, Fuel cost is not all you know

Debilal: Well, old plant just needed half a bay, new plant requires two full bay

Me: New Plant do not require any man.

Debilal: Who says – It still require two operators to take care of occational miss, then it requires one person to continiously do maintenance and has a maintenance staff of five to do maintenance on regular basis. In the contrary, old plant was much simpler, just required five operator and only a weekly maintenance. The only thing the new plant has over the old one that it do not require the skilled forge smiths, you can run the plant with engineers and operators without any experience. But it takes more people.

Debilal: Not only the plant is costlier to operate, it produces less job per hour. Robots produce only 30 odd piece  per hour against 45 piece in the manual operation. Moreover it requires special billets without any bend in the new line. Old line could manage with some small bend in billets.

(Now my ego totally shattered – I realize this non-matric sweeper, has just taken a class on benchmarking. Still I had not learnt the lession. As last resort I try –)

Me: OK, I take the new plant may be more costly. Actually there are more thing to cost than the comparison you did. But tell me, what is your stake in blocking Tata’s way. What you have to get out of it.

Debilal: This land belongs to me, we people have created this land from forest. You people from outside have come with your money and knowledge and converted the paddy field to a truck factory. We are thankful to you. But at the same time, if people are not working to best of the intension then it is my duty to raise voice and object.

Debilal: As I see it, this new plant is only good in replacing skilled adivasis with urban, unskilled, college educated folks. Had it been more productive, I would have still accepted it, but as it stands, this new plant is not even as productive as the old plant. This I can not tolerate. If Mr. Tata did not listen me on one to one basis, he will have to face mass movement in future.

Saying this, Debilal left the room, humming – “Bombay se aya mera dost, dost ko salam karo…”

Now, I felt what Adi Shankara must have felt in the bylanes of Varanasi. I saluted Debilal in my mind and hold him as one the great teacher I have come across.