I have been closely associated with Rajkishore ji for the past four years. Although he physically left us a week ago, on 4 June 2018, he left behind many of his thoughts and dreams. I shall always carry these with me. I am struggling to express his memories in words. Perhaps, I should begin at the very end, when his family – his life partner Vimla ji and his daughter Asmita Raj – stood their ground and defended the values he lived by.
Vimla ji called me and said, “Siddharth ji, please tell them that we do not want to immerse his ashes in the Ganga. It will be against everything he believed in and stood for. If someone else wants to take it, they can.” At someone’s suggestion that a Brahmin may be called for that purpose, a wailing Vimla and her daughter Asmita reacted in unison, “No! no! No Brahmin, no purohit will be called.” Vimla believed that calling a purohit would be insulting his memory. Asmita added that the values her father stood for should be upheld and defended even after he is gone.
When we reached their home after the cremation, some family members started stressing the need for organizing a Brahma Bhoj. But Rajkishore ji’s daughter firmly asserted that no such thing would be done. “Neither my father believed in all this nor do we. Even after Vivek died, father did not allow all this to happen.”
The commitment of Vimla ji and Asmita to the values, wishes, ideals and dreams at this moment of grief and distress is truly inspiring. Vimla ji lost her husband on 4 June. On 22 April, she also unexpectedly lost her 40-year-old son, Vivek. I believe the main reason Vimla ji and her daughter zealously guarded Rajkishore ji’s values is that he was that rarest of rare people – one who lived his life according to the values he believed in.
The most poignant and touching moment for me was when Vimla ji requested that all things dear to Rajkishore ji be kept beside his body. She first asked me to keep some of his favourite books. I started looking for the books. I was left speechless, emotional when she said loudly in the presence of everybody there, “Siddharth ji! Don’t forget to keep Ambedkar’s book! Also, please keep the book Jati Ka Zeher [The Poison of Caste] as well.” Along with these books, she asked me to keep his pen, glasses, cigarette box and also his favourite biscuit beside him.
Apart from those books Vimla ji had requested, I had to choose five or six other books myself. Over the past four years, I had become so close to Rajkishore ji that I understood his taste well and knew which of the many books he had edited and written were closest to his heart. Rajkishore ji liked Sunanda Ki Diary very much. He was very proud of his book Ek Ahindu Ka Ghoshnapatra.
Among his edited works, Harijan Se Dalit, Musalman: Mithak aur Yatharth and Stree Prashna are those which he believed were most important. Recently, he edited Dr Ambedkar Vichar Kosh. Showing it to me at this year’s World Book Fair, where it was on sale, he said, “This is a small effort on my part to promote Ambedkar’s thoughts.”
I will always regret that Dr Ambedkar’s book Jati Ka Vinash could not be published while he was alive. Unfortunately, I was unable to give him a copy of this book that he had translated with great attention to detail. He had also included in it Ambedkar’s research paper, “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”. This was his dream project. He used to say that his three idols, Ambedkar, Lohia and Gandhi, envisaged the liberation of Indians through the annihilation of caste.
Rajkishore ji had concluded that India is incapable of progress without the annihilation of caste. Today, as I cherish his memories, I am wondering what was there in his personality that drew me towards him. I guess above all else it was that, day and night, he used to dream of a country in which no one would face any discrimination and humiliation. However, his dreams were not for India alone. He wanted to see people around the world free from penury and humiliation. He used to dream of a peaceful world, free from conflict and war.
Whenever we met or talked over the phone, we rarely discussed our personal lives. He was most often deeply concerned about building a prosperous and democratic India based on equality and brotherhood. We both cherished the same dream, though we had both differences and similarities of opinion on the ways to realize this dream. Debates would last for hours. Sometimes, I would displease him, sometimes he would displease me. Sometimes I would pacify him and sometimes he would pacify me. I disagree with Gandhi to the extent of disliking him, while Gandhi was one of Rajkishore ji’s heroes. Gandhi would also become a subject of bitterness between us. He would urge me to accept Lohia in totality as well, but I couldn’t accept Lohia’s affection for Ram and Krishna at any cost. Towards the end, after many discussions, we found some common ground on Ambedkar.
Both of us fully agreed with Lohia’s view that that the mind of an Indian is enslaved by caste and gender. Rajkishore ji supported equality of men and women in all spheres of life. Alongside Jati ka Vinash, he wanted to publish another book titled Stree kya Chahti Hai. The manuscript of the book is ready. He wanted this book to be released soon.
Rajkishore ji had a democratic consciousness that is not so common in Hindi-speaking society. It may be because of his upbringing in Kolkata (then Calcutta, West Bengal). He spent his adolescence and youth there. He used to give space to disagreement and would call disagreement a weapon of resistance. So many people disagree just for the sake of disagreeing. But the unique thing about him was that he would listen to and ponder over even harsh disagreements and if he liked some idea, he would call the person who disagreed with him and tell them, “Yes, you were right.” While talking to someone, he would not form an opinion based on the age, formal education, position, fame or prestige of the person in front of him. To a large extent, his personality was free from the ego of knowledge and prestige.
The best aspect of Raj Kishore ji’s personality was that he tried hard to live up to the values and ideals he cherished. He belonged to the post-Independence generation that was ready to forego much for the values they stood for. The disease of considering opportunism as the highest virtue never managed to infect him.
Till the very end, his chief concern was for the country and the world at large. On the morning of 15 May, he was admitted to Kailash Hospital in critical condition. The day before, on 14 May evening, he argued with me for about two hours. He called me up and asked to meet him to discuss something important. And, what was it that he wanted to discuss? He said that nothing would happen by merely writing and speaking. “We have to do something concrete, actually put ourselves out there among the people, on the field. There is a need to reach out to the people but before that we will have to plot a course of action and prepare an agenda. I am fully prepared to take on this work and asked me whether I was prepared to join him in this endeavour.” When there was no response from me, he implored me, saying that the country was going through the most critical time since Independence. “Whatever we have accomplished in the last 70 years is at stake. In such a situation, we need to reach out to the people with a positive agenda because the political parties that are opposed to the RSS, the BJP and Modi do not have any positive agenda for the public. Their agenda is negative – anti-Modi.”
I went to meet him in AIIMS. That would be the last time I would find him in his senses. I was able to speak to him properly. While I was feeding him khichdi and juice, he started saying that the first thing he would do after his recovery was to write the autobiography of Shambhuk. A few days earlier he had written “Eklavya ki Atmkatha” for Forward Press. He used to repeatedly ask me about the readers’ response to ‘Eklavya ki Atmkatha’ (Eklavya’s autobiography).
His last question was: “What is the progress on the book ‘Jati Ka Vinash’? How long before it is published? Show it to me once before finalizing.” Even on that day, he said, “Siddharth ji, this book should reach each and every educated person. I assured him that this book would sell 5 lakh copies and have a deep impact on the Hindi-speaking public.”
I have made two promises to my friend and teacher Rajkishore ji. First, to take the book Jati Ka Vinash to each and every household of Hindi society and to publish “Stree kya Chahti Hai”, a collection of essays that he edited. The first book concerns his dream of “jati ka vinash” (annihilation of caste) and social equality and the second one deals with the need to dismantle patriarchy and bring about equality between man and woman. These were the dreams of a true follower of Ambedkar and Lohia. He had imbibed the message of Ambedkar and his book “Annihilation of Caste” so much so that his family too became well acquainted with it. It is not surprising then that even during a time of grief and mourning, his wife said, “Siddharth ji! Please keep Ambedkar’s book beside his body.”
Rajkishore ji, you have given me a lot. I will preserve all of that and fulfil both the promises I made to you.
Goodbye! My friend and teacher, goodbye!!
Translated by Devina Auchoybur and copy-edited by Harshvardhan Siddharthan
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