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Wednesday, 28 December 2016
Dharampal and the pilgrims
Dharampal as quoted by Claude,
" Around 1960, I was travelling from Gwalior to Delhi by a day train, a 6 or 7 hour journey in a 3rd class compartment when I met a group of people and I think in a way that meeting gave me a view of India, the larger India. The train was crowded. Some people however made a place for me. And there was this group of people, about twelve of them, some three or four women and seven or eight men. I asked them where they were coming from. They said that they had been on a pilgrimage, three months long, up to Rameshwaram, among other places. They came from two different villages north of Lucknow. They had various bundles of things and some earthen pots with them. I asked, what did they have in those pots. They said that they had taken their own food from home. They had taken all the necessities for their food— atta, ghee, sugar— with them, and some amounts of these were still left over. The women didn’t seem to mind much people trampling over them in the crowded compartment, but they did feel unhappy if someone touched their bundles and pots of food with their feet. And then I said they must all be from one jati, from a single caste group. They said, ‘No, no! We are not from one jati— we are from several jatis.’ I said, how could that be? They said that there was no jati on a yatra— not on a pilgrimage. I didn’t know that. I was around 38 years old, and like many others in this country who know little about the ways of the ordinary Indian— the peasants, artisans and other village folks.
And then I said, ‘Did you go to Madras? Did you go to Bombay?’ ‘Yes! We passed through those places.’ ‘Did you see anything there?’‘No, we did not have any time!’ It went on like that. I mentioned various important places of modern India. They had passed through most, but had not cared to visit any. Then I said, ‘You are going to Delhi now?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘You will stop in Delhi?’ ‘No, we only have to change trains there. We’re going to Haridwar!’ I said, ‘This is the capital of free India. Won’t you see it?’ I meant it. I was not joking. They said, ‘No! We don’t have time. May be some other day. Not now. We have to go to Haridwar. And then we have to get back home.’
We talked for perhaps 5 or 6 hours. At the end of it I began to wonder, who is going to look after this India? What India are we talking about? This India, the glorious India of the modern age, built by Jawaharlal Nehru and other people, these modern temples, universities, places of scholarship! For whom are we building them? Those people on their pilgrimage were not interested in any of this. And they were representative of India. More representative of India than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ever was. Or I and most of us could ever be."
The encounter shook Dharampal then, as much as the memory of it bothers him even today. This particular experience, more than any other, drove him to look for the causes of the profound alienation of India’s new leaders from the preoccupations of the common people and to investigate whether this had always been so.