An enigma, bordering on genius
SANKARI PRASAD BASU
The last journey at Belur Math. Picture by Amit Datta
From my very boyhood, as a junior worker of the Howrah Ramakrishna Vivekananda Ashrama, I knew of Swami Ranganathanandaji. As the years passed, I became more familiar with his ideas and activities.
He seemed to be an enigma, bordering on the genius. How else could one explain that without any formal higher education, he could become an erudite scholar, a pundit in Indian shastras, going through the original Sanskrit works, and at the same time be proficient in western philosophy and social sciences?
My close association with him started in the early sixties when he was the secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Gol Park. I was deeply attracted by his personality, warmth and loving nature. And his captivating voice could keep people spellbound for hours. We would refer to his voice as “meghagambhir”.
During my meetings with him there as well as later in Delhi, I learnt how during his years in Karachi, from where he was compelled to leave in 1948, his speeches on Vedanta attracted and influenced many Muslim officials and they became his admirers.
But this was not to the liking of the fundamentalists. Though initially he was assured protection by the officials, things came to such a pass that eventually they entreated him to leave immediately as the vandals were practically at his doorstep.
Then I met him in his Hyderabad Ashrama where a seminar on Swami Vivekananda was organised. I was fortunate to be allowed to meet him in his room. He went on speaking mostly on my book, Vivekananda Samakalin Bharatbarsha.
He knew enough Bengali to read the first three volumes of my book and had written deeply appreciative letters to me which are valuable possessions of mine.
Ranganathanandaji was then a recognised missionary of Vedanta all over the world. He was termed the greatest orator after Swami Vivekananda, a compliment he stoutly refused to accept.
He addressed people in India and the West with the unchanged message of Vedanta, its eternal values in the changing world and wrote a remarkable book on this subject.
He even penetrated the iron curtain of Russia and delivered a powerful and thought-provoking lecture at Moscow University.
Here’s one more personal experience. One morning, shortly after my book Swadeshi Movement in Bengal and Freedom Struggle of India was published in April 2004, I had gone to Belur Math to offer him a copy knowing full well that he was then hospitalised.
In his absence, a worker accepted the book and I only had a remote hope that he would read it only when he had recovered sufficiently.
However, at 8 pm that very day, I received a phone call from his secretary informing me that the Maharaj had already finished reading my book and wanted to talk to me.
I was amazed, but his secretary told me that he read for seven to eight hours everyday. Swami Ranganathanandaji told me that he had found my book to be “very good” and he was glad that he had read it. That was my last direct contact with him.
Eventually, I think, he fulfilled his mission in this life.
Two of his coveted dreams have materialised.
A Vivekananda University, though a deemed university, has been established at Belur Math. And, at the birthplace of Swamiji, the old dilapidated ancestral house has been renovated by the Ramakrishna Mission, keeping the original shape and form.
SANKARI PRASAD BASU IS A FORMER PROFESSOR OF CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY AND RESEARCHER ON SWAMI VIVEKANANDA AND SISTER NIVEDITA