i am writing after a long time and more so because of an urge to share a beautiful story of someone whom i consider to be one of the biggest success stories in life. This is the story of a person called Shreesh Jadhav, a monk and teacher who resides in Belur as a member of the Ramakrishna Mission where he is also known as Swami Sarvottamananda but more often as Shreesh Maharaj. There is pretty much written about him on the internet as i found out so instead of replicating his story , i'll simply provide some links to give a background. Here's how it all began for me:
Sometime around in 2008, on a Sunday morning, i happened to chance upon an article in the Sunday supplement (the four odd pages on glazed paper called 'Times Life') of The Times of India. The article was written by an ex IITian, Mr Rahul Awasthi who got to meet Shreesh after a long time and was very impressed with what he had achieved. Click here for the article. In addition to read all the comments on the above article click here. The comments by Mr Amitabh Thakur who i later learnt was the ex SP of Bhubaneswar, my hometown, and Mr Sandeep Kumar are particularly informative.
There is another interesting article by Sandeep Pandey who later went on to win the Magsasay award and was also one of the instrumental forces behind the Right to Information (RTI) act. This article mentions that Shreesh had sat on a strike with him at IIT for the cause of the mess workers (also mentioned by Mr Awasthi in his article). To read the article click here. He was also recognized as a distinguished alumni by IIT - click here.
Ever since i read that article by Mr Awasthi in The Times of India, i had an intense desire to meet him. But never having lived in Kolkata for more than a few days each time i went there for holidays, this possibility always seemed to elude me. However this time as i happened to be there throughout the Christmas and New year period, i decided to fulfill this wish. Around new year i called the guys at Belur who connected me to him. He jokingly told me that no formal procedure or appointment was needed to meet a 'sadhu' and hence i could just drop in. So on the 2nd of Jan 2011, a Sunday, I hopped on to a bus at around 4.30 in the afternoon from the Esplanade bus stand in Chowringee in central Kolkata to meet Shreesh Maharaj. By around 6 pm i was at Belur Math. He invited me to his office and asked for tea.
The first thing that struck me about Shreesh Maharaj was his warmth and his cheerfulness. In the course of our discussion he told me that Rahul Awasthi was his hostel mate at IIT Kanpur. They lived in adjacent rooms. Rahul had challenged him that he will eventually succumb to materialism and that is why he was shocked and impressed when he had come to meet Shreesh. Shreesh also told me that Rahul published the article without asking him. On asking him what prompted him to become a sadhu, he said it wasn't any particular incident but rather a chain of events. In fact in his college days, he said he used to go to temples with friends and blasted the priests whom he thought wanted to monopolize religion to themselves.
Regarding the mess workers strike (refer to the links above), he had an interesting story to tell. Apparently, the entire IIT establishment was against him for challenging their might. But the professors of the Computer Science department were all in his support. As per him there was a reason for this. Computer Science being a relatively new subject had all young professors who were as hot blooded as him and very much willing to go against the neo-classicism of the professors of the other established departments like electrical, mechanical, civil etc whose professors were all old and thus wanted their stranglehold to remain across the system. To the younger lot , Shreesh was a means of challenging the establishment. But there is something even more interesting as i was told. When Shreesh was on strike, the old professors tried to expel him but they could not because Shreesh had very very smartly applied for leave and had been granted the same b y his CS department for the duration of the strike. Thus the CS professors argued on behalf of Shreesh saying that how can someone be booked for indiscipline for actions while not in session. The support for him was just too much for the big shots and they had to relent although that cost him the president's gold medal at IIT as pointed out by Mr Sandeep Kumar as a professor gave him a 'B' in sociology to take his revenge. However, as pointed out by Mr Awasthi, the strike was a success.
I also asked him how he felt when his Phd research had been plagiarized He paused for some time (i presumed he felt hurt) but was gracious enough to tell that he had moved on and it didn't matter any more. As an afterthought, he said he is sometimes amused that why did he do a Phd in Computer Science when he was perhaps destined to be a Sadhu. I added perhaps so that he could teach the subject to others at Ramakrishna Mission's engineering college. He broke out into laughter. I learnt that he was to go to Coimbatore for some teaching assignment. He attributed all this to what he termed 'Karma Yoga'. As per him all should be engaged in some socially productive work, a monk included. He also tole me that he still is in touch with all his mates who pay him a visit when in Kolkata. As a matter of fact Sandeep Pandey had come to meet him recently. All in all i could sense that he was a very content man who had eventually found the formula for happiness. I took his leave and wished him well in his noble endeavor.
On my return journey, looking outside the bus window i could not help but reflect on the fact that Shreeshs' example is testimony to the inescapable fact that while there might not be anything wrong inherently, in pursuing our goals, whether materialistic or not, at least some of our life needs to be spent for the upliftment of others who might not be that well endowed or fortunate. Perhaps it need not always be with money but maybe some of our time, or maybe partially if not in full measure, no matter how small or insignificant the effort might be. And perhaps the effort need not be anything more than the minimum that one can offer within ones ability. Somewhere during my way back, i am reminded of Rabindranath Tagore's quote - Life is given to us, we earn it by giving a part of it to others. It leads me to conclude that the opposite of love isn't hate. It's apathy.
As i wonder whether Shreesh Maharaj be called a success story, given that he has not made much money in his lifetime, i figure that how rich we are is not defined by how much we have but rather by how less we need. Henry David Thoreau had once said - That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.
I reckon by that measure, Shreesh Maharaj is the biggest success story of the IITs, even more than IITians who went on to make millions.
The life of Shreesh Maharaj is a wonderful example of an indomitable spirit, undaunted courage of conviction and above all, loftiness of character. In a world where much of our activity these days is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life, Shreesh Maharaj stands tall with his head held high.
"Tom never gets Jerry - not in his lifetime".
Shreesh Maharaj, makes one realize how true it is...
NB* i recommend every one to meet this good soul at least once in your lifetime. If anyone wants to know how to get in touch with him, let me know. i'll be glad to help.