"Swades" happens to be one of the few ShahRukh Khan movies that I liked. I was always sceptical about the character of the protagonist "Mohan Bhargava". This man leaves his entire life and career in US to come back to his native village. Do people like "Mohan Bhargava" really exist in real life?
Then I met few of them.
I was in Chennai for fieldwork. I was supposed to take an interview of a professor in IIT Chennai. By the time I could reach the entrance of the IIT campus, I was feeling dead tired (thanks to the heat and traffic of Chennai). After the cursory enquiry at the entrance, I was allowed in. The moment my auto entered the campus, I felt that was in a different world. So pristine, so green. Such tranquility but yet not very far from the "madding crowd". It took me some time to locate the quarter of the person I was supposed to meet. I pressed the calling bell.
A young man opened the gate : "Yes"
"Mr. ........?"(I dont remember his name)
"I was supposed to come for an interview if you remember..." I tried introducing myself once he confirmd that he was Mr...........
"Yes, yes, please come in"...the warmth in his welcome almost touched me.
We sat on a bamboo mattress. We started talking.
He told me that he is himself an IITian. And that he started teaching very recently. After completion of his studies like many of his other friends he joined a big corporate. He moved to one of the posh areas in one of the biggest metros. He made frequent foreign trips both for work and leisure. Life then gave (and promised much more!) all sorts of luxuries. He was buying real estates all over the country in order to get some redemption from tax. Life was really "cool" and he was enjoying it. But this "merry"-go-round did not last for long. After about 3 yrs he came back to IIT as a professor.Now he does not even belong to the bracket of tax payers. Then why did he do that? What made him leave all such comforts that he was enjoying to a 200 square feet IIT quarter? Inspite of his young age, why could money and luxuries not keep him bound for long?
He tried to explain, "I can't tell you the feeling. I was increasingly feeling the need to reconnect to myself. I know it sounds cliche but that is exactly how you feel. You dont feel an ounce of passion about anything around you. As if there is lack of harmony in the things which you are doing? As if something is terribly wrong somewhere and you do not know what it is? Then I knew its about the place where I was spending 9-10 hours every day. There was absolutely no sense of belonging. Each and everyday started with a feeling of fatigue. It was mechanical. "Proving" and "acheiving" was only about outsmarting others. I knew I had to come out of that whirlpool."
I could see the disgust in his face.
And the I could also see the relief. "During that phase the only place that kept coming back to me was my IIT campus. I just wanted to be here to breathe properly once again. I wanted to see those faces of eager learners. I wanted to share my thoughts without the sense of outsmarting anybody. And then I quit my job." He smiled like a child. And I saw a "happy monk".
On my way back to hotel, I remembered meeting another IITian. He is an uncle of a friend of mine. My friend always used to speak about her uncle. I often felt that this uncle is a perfect maverick. He was a professor in IIT Kharagpur ( now retired). Some years back he had "adopted" a village. This village "Balrampur" which was located "near" to the IIT campus (not really near urban standards though...it takes 40 mins from the IIT campus on a two-wheeler) was really not able to gain much attention from any Government body. Hence, residents of the village had been surviving without electricity, water from tube-well, primary schools, government hospitals, etcera, etcetera. This man after spending some years in one of those "developed dream" countries came back to teach in IIT Kharagpur. Very soon he bought a piece of land in this village and started building a "home" there. And then he got electricity to this village after lot of fewd with the Government bodies. He started a school in the house which he had built. All this happened much before "Swades" was even conjured. This world which he had created, to which he belonged is able to give him much more than anything that any first world country could offer.
What did these men have or do in order to make such massive change in perspective possible? Is this about the closed, discipline, peaceful life of IIT campus that makes a "monk" possible out of a common man (co-incidentally both mentioned here are fro IIT)? Or their early experience of "too much" comfort that makes a philanthroper out of them? Or is it that these people are born with a kind self realisation, a clarity of vision? There might be a truth in each of these possibilities and probably each of these things are true to some extent.
These people are also probably born with a strong conscience that does not make them forget their roots. Most of us keep losing parts of us as we move on with life. But for them its different. They remain in control, they integrate parts of their life once they see them going apart. They are the ones who can hear the sounds of harmony in the nature around, they see this world with a special sense of empathy. They see the magic in the colours of nature and they hear the rhythm of the harmony in the world around just like the monks do sitting in the silence of the monastries.