Manoj Das (1934-2021): In Lieu Of An Obituary

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Apr 29, 2021 06:26 PM +05:30 IST
Manoj Das (1934-2021): In Lieu Of An ObituaryManoj Das.
  • Obituary is for people who are dead. Manoj Das lives in his stories. He lives in the lives he has touched and transformed and continues to transform through his words.

There are certain memories that are ever with you. They guide you and move you. They give solace and speak to you. One such memory I have is the book Stories of Light and Delight.

These are simple stories yet profound. These are stories for children and yet, they grow with you.

When I first read the book, I did not notice the name of the author. It was later that I got to know that the author was Manoj Das.

Padma Bhushan Manoj Das (1934-2021).
Padma Bhushan Manoj Das (1934-2021).

The illustrations were beautiful, done by Mario. These stories had, even when I read them for the first time, a timeless quality.

I still remember I had read the book on a beautiful Sunday morning when the garden was in bloom and the noise of the squabbling sparrows filled the air.

Manoj Das (1934-2021): In Lieu Of An Obituary

The first story was about a king, who goes for a walk and a squirrel who bullies the king.

A king during the walk in his garden tells his wise minister that none can boast before him as he is superior to all in all the ways. The minister disagrees, and in a subtle warning to the king says that one who does not know the greatness of the king may still boast.

Then there appears a squirrel holding a small silver coin. The king looks with amusement and the squirrel loudly proclaims the king is jealous of its wealth.

He could have let it go.

Instead, irritated, he threw a pebble and made the squirrel drop the coin and pocketed it in triumph.

Next day, the king was giving some donations and the squirrel appears and sings that the king was doing his charities because of the money he pocketed from the squirrel.

The king sits for his dinner and starts to enjoy the choicest of culinary delights. The squirrel appears again and sings that all this is because of the money the king took by force from the squirrel.

Irritated beyond limits, the king throws back the coin and the squirrel now starts singing that the might of the squirrel actually made the king cower and return back the wealth of the squirrel.

The king is now enraged and wants his army to go and search and capture the squirrel.

The wise minister, calmly seeing all the drama, suggests an alternative.

So, when the next time the squirrel appeared and sang, the king calmly sang back:

Who does not know that the mighty squirrel
In wealth and wisdom can easily excel
A king or a monarch, as the yawn of a hen
Excels in expanse the mighty ocean?

The squirrel looked back at the king with astonishment and ran away. It was never again seen.

It is a children’s story. Manoj Das wrote it in his own style.

It was amidst a social media argument that I remembered this story. I took the book and read it again. It is a timely message and a timeless story.

There is another story — ‘Boon of Boons’.

It is about six young men who rescue a king in disguise. Next day, they are summoned to the royal court and the king is ready to reward them.

One youth asks for a palatial house; another wants to be a noble man; yet another asks for a good road to his village; fourth one asks for a beautiful bride and the fifth one desires some bags of gold.

All are granted their wishes.

The sixth one comes with a strange wish. He wants the king to be a guest in his house for one day and dine with him "once a year until one of us dies”.

A strange request that asks for no material, individual or public benefits — it puzzles all. Everyone thinks the youth is mad.

Then they realise that for a king to go and be a guest, the youth should have a palatial house, which he gets.

He has to be a lord — a position to which he is promoted.

His remote village has to have a good road, which it gets.

He has to maintain the palatial house for which he is given a lot of money and then the host has to know the king's dietary habits and who would be better suited for it than the daughter of king herself? So she is married now to this brave youthful rich lord who lives in a palatial mansion.

Manoj Das ends: "Thus, asking but one boon, the young man got all that his five companions had obtained, and in fact much more”.

Come to think of it, it is a beautiful spiritual tale. When your good karma makes you stand before the divine in her royal court, why ask for small petty boons?

Ask for bhakti and that one can get you all else ‘and in fact much more.’

There are many stories in this collection — each a priceless gem. But the last one is a zenith in itself: ‘Two girls and a lotus’.

In a hill top in a lonely temple, there lived an old man. And inside was a beautiful idol.

Two good friends, Usha and Lalita, always came there chattering happily and with beautiful flowers. They give the flowers to the old man who adorned the deity with them. This is how Manoj Das writes the scene:

Often in the morning, Usha and Lalita climbed the hill, dancing between the rhododendron bushes, jumping, singing and playing hide-and-seek. Woken from its slumber, a dovelet would coo sleepily, “Coo! How noisy these Brobdingnagian doves are!” A squirrel would skip past, flicking its bushy tail and chattering, “Audacity! They dare show me how to play hide-and-seek!” A bright, yellow warbler, flying overhead, would trill, “Silly modern girls Their frocks are the colour of my undercoat. Are they just trying to tease me?”

It is a description in a children’s story; nevertheless it reads like poetry.

Each time they offer a flower, the old man who was half blind, would feel the flowers and guess the names of flowers accurately. Then he would give them a positive effect for each flower:

“Have you brought jasmines? Fine. God will grant you purity.” Or “So today they are roses, aren’t they? God will give you love and peace.”

Mother Mira surely was smiling as Manoj Das wrote those lines. And then one day Usha asks what if she offers a lotus.

Lotus is the queen of flowers, answers the old man. She is the consciousness of the Lord. It will make the one who offers it a better person with devotion.

Now Lalita asks Usha where she could get a lotus. After assuming an air of mysteriousness and reluctance and after some persuasion by her friend, Usha answers that she has spotted a lotus bud in the old pond “on the other side of the mountain". Now Lalita says that it belongs to her family.

But I saw it first, says Usha.

But it belongs to our family, counters again Lalita.

So, as they return, the two ever-talkative friends go back in silence — their friendship strained.

Next morning, as Usha goes in the early morning and in the hazy first lights of the dawn, she sees that Lalita has already got the flower. Holding back her tears, Usha stealthily follows Lalita as she climbs the mountains and reaches the temple.

As Lalita stands before the old priest, he asks "who is it?" and Lalita answers simply that “she has brought the lotus”. The priest then says: "Lotus? Wonderful! I will put the flower on the idol in your name. It is Usha isn't it? It's a pity. I cannot see clearly and always confuse Usha and Lalita." Lalita is silent.

Now this is where the young readers’ eyes go misty.

As the priest asks again if it is Usha. Lalita suddenly says, "Yes, yes. Offer the flower in Usha's name to deity." And Usha emerges from behind the temple pillar to say "no, no, it is Lalita”.

Now they two argue in front of the priest. Lalita says that she has stolen the flower which Usha has first seen and Usha says that no the flower rightfully belongs only to Lalita. Now in the words of Manoj Das as he ends this story:

Then very gently the priest intervened. “Never mind. I will utter both your names when I offer the lotus to the Lord. He will not object to bestowing His grace on both of you. You shall both be dear to Him. Both of you shall grow to be much better human beings.” On their way back, Usha and Lalita looked and smiled at each other. They felt that they had already become better human beings. They jumped, danced and sang as usual. Once again roused from its sleep, the dovelet cooed drowsily in protest at the disturbance.

What a deep insight into human psyche that is and how wonderfully the story conveys a value system that is truly eternal through such sweet moving stories.

Manoj Das — A Maharishi Storyteller For Our Generations.

Whenever people praise Paulo Coelho and the like, I always think of Manoj Das. What a great prolific writer we have. He could have easily reached the heights and beyond of the one Coelho reached. But he preferred the silence, simplicity and serenity to fame and glory. In this, he has lived the very values he gave us through his stories.

So dear reader, who reads the book if you have not already, buy a copy of this book. Gift it to your children. Read it yourself and read it to your children. If you do not have children, read it and gift a copy to your friend and the nearest library.

As Manoj Das passes into eternity, I had to turn green with envy at people who have been students of this unassuming great soul. Then I thanked the existence for the Internet that has brought such people to proximity. Through them we can always know more about him. And it was then I realised that it is impossible to write an obituary for Manoj Das.

Obituary is for people who are dead. Manoj Das lives in his stories. He lives in the lives he has touched and transformed and continues to transform through his words.

And this is a life far more real and concrete than the physical form. So how does one write an obituary for such a person who can never die? Hence, I read again the stories of light and delight and wrote this. Thank you Manoj Das! Pranams across generations. Always.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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