My schooling in Karachi was at St. Patrick’s High School for Boys, which was the biggest, and also the most highly rated school in the city. I studied there for six years from 1936-42. It was founded in 1845 by Catholic missionaries from Ireland, initially to cater to the Goan Christian community in the city. To the right of our school was the magnificent St. Patrick’s Church (now Cathedral), which had a commanding view from across the length and breadth of Clarke Street. To its left was St. Joseph’s Convent School for Girls. My school’s reputation, the loving and nurturing by its teachers, its architectural beauty and its quiet environs—all these made me feel proud to belong to St. Patrick’s.
As far as I can remember, I stood first in every class till my matriculation. Thus, all the teachers knew me. I also happened to be the youngest in my class.
In school, we had an option to learn a second language. Many students opted for French, some took Persian, but I chose Latin. I remember scoring very high marks in the board exam in Latin. My one big regret in life, however, has been that I did not learn Sanskrit in school. It was not commonly taught in schools and, being a Catholic institution, St. Patrick’s did not offer Sanskrit at all.
It may surprise many readers to know that I was not very eloquent in Hindi while I was in Karachi. I used to understand it somewhat because of the Hindi movies I watched and could even manage some broken conversation. I started reading, writing and conversing in Hindi only after migrating to India in 1947, when I was already twenty years old.
MY LOVE FOR CINEMA, CRICKET AND BOOKS
Of my four maternal uncles, Sundar Mama, the youngest, became a good companion even though he was much older to me. We used to frequently watch films together and he was one of the main reasons for my early interest in them, both Hindi and English.
The school cricket team. Lal is sitting front row, extreme left.
I discovered during my college years that I was more inclined towards English literature. By the time I joined Dayaram Gidumal National College in Hyderabad in 1942, the Quit India Movement had begun in right earnest. Due to the disturbed conditions in the city, the college rarely functioned smoothly and most students would just wander around. I spent most of my time in the college library, voraciously reading every book that caught my fancy. It is here that my lifelong love for books began.
AT FOURTEEN, A SWAYAMSEVAK OF THE RSS
There is always one moment in childhood, it is said, ‘when the door opens and lets the future in’. In my case, that moment of stepping into the future came, unexpectedly at a playful moment, when I joined the RSS.
I was only fourteen years and a few months old then. After I completed my matriculation, my father shifted base from Karachi to Hyderabad in Sindh. During my vacation and before joining college, I started playing tennis. One of my regular partners on the tennis court was a friend, Murli Mukhi. One day, right in the middle of the game, he said, ‘I am going.’ Utterly surprised, I asked him, ‘How can you go like this, without even completing the set?’ He replied, ‘I have joined the RSS a few days ago. I cannot be late for the shakha because punctuality is very important in that organisation.’
This was my introduction to the term ‘RSS’. I probed him a bit further and he said I could go along with him. I declined, saying that I wanted to continue with the game and would go some other day. That moment came soon enough. After a couple of days, I accompanied him to a shakha. In those days, as martial law had been imposed in Sindh, public drills were banned. So my first visit to a shakha was conducted on the terrace of a large bungalow belonging to Ram Kripalani, a prominent member of the shakha ended with swayamsevaks standing at attention to sing the Sangh prayer for our Motherland—‘Namaste Sada Vatsale Matrubhoome…’ From that day till now, for sixty-fi ve long years, I have remained a devoted, committed and proud swayamsevak of the Sangh.
I should explain here what motivated me to join the RSS. As long as I was in school, my universe was limited to my home and studies. In school, I absorbed all the knowledge that I received from my teachers and books, while at home the love, affection and samskaras that I received from my family also shaped my personality. This was the capital I accumulated in my childhood. However, I knew little about the goings-on in the world, beyond the walls of my home and school. My introduction to the momentous political developments taking place in India and the world, at that time, was only after I started attending the RSS shakha. One day, as I, along with the other volunteers, sat listening to the bauddhik (intellectual talk) by one Shyam Das, he posed us a question: ‘You receive so much from society, but what are you giving back? Isn’t it your duty to do so? India is now under foreign rule. Isn’t it our responsibility to liberate our Motherland?’ His words gently opened a new door within my inner self and set me on a path of self-enquiry.
MY EARLY PATRIOTIC INFLUENCES
Attending the shakha and discussing national and international issues with my seniors had another immediate effect on me: it imparted a new edge, urgency and purpose to my love of books. I started reading all the available literature on Indian history, especially the history of great patriotic warriors like Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Gobind Singh. Once I read five books, at a stretch, on Shivaji, including The Grand Rebel by Dennis Kincaid, a renowned British historian.
I also read Aurangzeb and Shivaji by Jadunath Sarkar, a great historian from Bengal, whose books traced the fall of the Mughal Empire and the resurgence of national consciousness under the Maratha ruler.
In 1943, a year after I joined the RSS, I came to Indore to do my first year Officers’ Training Camp (OTC). On my way back, I took a detour to spend a few days travelling in Rajasthan. Ever since I had read Colonel James Tod’s two-volume classic Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, written in the early nineteenth century, I had developed a fascination for this land of heroes and martyrs.
For a RSS swayamsevak to be given any responsible position in the organisation, he has to undergo training for the OTC. The training is complete when the swayamsevak undergoes the third year OTC in Nagpur, the RSS headquarters, which I underwent in 1946. In between I had done my second year OTC in Ahmedabad. Thus began my association with Gujarat, which continues even today.
When I was seventeen, I took up the first professional ‘job’ of my life—as a teacher at the Model High School in Karachi. I taught English, history, maths and science to class five and six students. In those days, it was not necessary to have a diploma or bachelor’s degree in education to become a teacher. Since I was quite young, many of my students were nearly my age. My association with the RSS motivated me to become a teacher. The Sangh had taught me that students should internalise the ideals of patriotism, develop good character, enrich their knowledge base and acquire a natural readiness to serve society. As a swayamsevak, I desired that more and more youngsters should join the shakha and receive the samskaras of the Sangh. I thought that a teacher’s profession was best suited to achieve both ends.