I met Tapan da about 10 years ago, when I was hosting him for couple of days when he visited our city as part of his US tour. He walked out of the plane with a small cabin luggage. After greetings and pranam, we told him we will go to luggage collection area and then head home. He said he did not have any additional luggage other than the cabin bag he was carrying. I was dumbfounded – he was staying in US for more than a month and all he had on him was a small bag that probably fit only few sets of pajama/Kurta! Later I found I was wrong – in that small bag he had books, newspapers to gift to his friends and hosts! So, even less space for his essentials. I was curious, “do you have enough cloths on you?” He nonchalantly replied, “I have 3/4 sets of cloths on me. That’s all I need.” He would hand wash his cloths every day by himself and strongly refused to take any help! The day he had public presentation, he asked me to show him how the electric iron works as he wanted to iron his cloths. I offered to do it for him. His reply was, “No. I will do it. Just show me how to use the iron.” A self-reliant, frugal RSS Karyakarta traits showed.

His life style was very simple. Simple daal, rice, fish curry satisfied him. He drank tea with a lot of sugar. I was concerned – “don’t have so much sugar, Tapan da. You will get diabetes.” In his casual manner he said he got checked for sugar and is not worried about diabetes. He did not worry about little things – said people get sick when they worry to much and asked me not to worry about getting sick. The only food he yearned was Bengali sweets, which unfortunately we did not have at home. So, I took him to nearby Indian sweet shop and bought Bengali sweets he picked. Back at home, Tapan da took a bite from the Sandesh and said that even though it looked like Bengali sweets from Kolkata, in reality the taste was different. He threw away the sweets. That’s when I realized this man with simple needs will not compromise with anything no matter how badly he wanted it.

Since I had taken couple of days off when he was our guest, we had time for long conversation on various topics. I studied in a liberal college, with strong Naxal presence. I never knew about RSS until I met him. My idea of conservative hindu men was painted by left liberal glasses as being patriarchal and rigid. What shocked me was his openness to all ideas (even if he disagreed), unadulterated love for Hindus, specially ones belonging to disadvantaged classes, non compromising, clear and direct (sometimes sounding rude) speech on controversial issues, and unwaveringly truthfulness! I learned a lot from him on history, society and surprisingly about myself! He would challenge my leftist ideas without considering the fact that he was my guest! Truth came ahead of courtesy to him. He was from West Bengal but knew more about East Bengal than me! He talked about how his RSS coworkers were murdered and his daring stints to save Hindus! I could see the pain in his eyes for not being able to save his comrades. He disliked Hindus who compromised to survive, and delay the ultimate fight for survival to the future generations! “Fight today for your land, don’t leave it for your children!”

He asked if I knew about the reason Afghanistan, Pakistan & Bangladesh became Muslim majority but parts of land in between (Punjab, UP, Bihar) stayed Hindu majority. I said that our history books say it is because of caste oppression. He replied that parts of north India and south India had stricter caste system but stayed hindu. In present day Muslim majority areas large number of Hindus converted to Buddhism earlier and when Islam came, it was easier for people who converted outside Hinduism to convert to a new faith again. Once the “umbilical cord” from Hinduism is severed, it’s easier to go to another religion he opined.

He asked me if I knew about historical events and people of Bengal, like Raja Ganesh, pala & Sen dynasty, Bengal sultanate, great Calcutta killing, Noahkhali etc. I had smattering knowledge – he was not happy! He opined that people who forget their history and pride in ancestral culture will not succeed.

Our conversation turned to comparison of bravery of Muslims & Hindus. I said Muslims are undoubtedly more courageous than Hindus. I could see the disgust in his face! “Muslims are not braver than Hindus! Their forefathers succumbed to force! Muslims draw strength from community. If you see individual Hindu and Muslim fight, the Hindu will win! We don’t know that, but they do! So they always attack in a group! Hindus are like lone tigers, Muslims are like wolf packs!”

He gave a list of authors and books to read, encouraged me to know about my family history and take up social activism!

I was so excited about his vision to help poor Hindus that I promised to financially help his work. When he heard about the amount of money I want to give, he calmly suggested I only give one-tenth of what I suggested and bring in nine additional people to commit to the cause with the same amount I would contribute! “Eker bhojha, dossher lathi (burden for one, but easier when others share).

I wanted to donate money to people, he suggested also giving time and not just money. He suggested to donate enough for survival, but not too much that they become rudderless and loose the fighting spirit! He gave the example of wealthy Bengali Hindus fleeing East Pakistan in this context.

What I learned from him was appreciation of my forefathers who stayed with dharma in spite of religious persecution for 1200 years, respect for my grandparents who left her physical belongings willingly to keep her faith. My people are indeed brave!

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