Stokes with family
Snapshot
  • Samuel Evans Stokes came to India as a missionary. Here, he was progressively attracted to the Indian freedom movement as well as to Hinduism. His conversion to Hinduism and support for India’s independence created a furore within the colonial class in India. This is Aravindan Neelakandan’s fictionalised account of the journey of Stokes in India.

Though it would be hours before the sun would reach the day’s zenith, the wind that howled low in that large ground, had started breathing heat. Samuel Evans was staring intently at that wall in one end of that ground. It was a brick wall that had started losing its blood red color already. Where the bullets had entered blasting the interior, one could see some blasts of the inner red and then the dark hole of the entry. And there were many such bullet entry marks on that red brick wall.

That well-known uneasy sensation, he felt it coming over him. The Good shepherd’s voice… no words, but the call. The notes, haunting notes, calling him, slowly engulfing him in his grief.

No…Not now…Not here.

“Sam…. Samuel….”

Voice of his wife Agnes helped him pull away and he turned. His penetrating eyes, sharp nose, shining blackness of his hair, the well exercised body all made him much less than his actual age of forty plus. Samuel strained his eyes as the ascending sun had started blazing. Along with his wife there was someone else. That guy clearly was struggling to walk under the Indian sun even as his white hat shielded him. Slightly obese man was struggling to keep up with Agnes.

Looking at the wall Looking at the wall

Samuel now recognized him.

“Oh Reverend! When did you come from Madras?” he asked.

“Goodness! You remember Sam!” he paused panting. “Ten years! Even after ten years since we met at London Pan Anglican convention!”

“How can I ever forget you Reverend?” Samuel turned his head for Agnes and introduced, “Agnes, This is Bishop Henri Whitehead, Bishop of Madras and he is the one who made my dream of being a missionary in India possible. When the Quaker and American background of my family made the SPG missionaries hesitate, it was Bishop Henri’s strong recommendation that enabled my selection for the Indian mission of CMS. ”

Then as he turned to Bishop and started introducing his wife, “Reverend this is…” Bishop cut him short and started speaking to Agnes, ‘I know… I know… A saved Rajput soul, Beloved wife of one of my best missionaries Samuel… Tell me child, what was your name before your marriage?”

“Agnes, Reverend” said Agnes, “My father was the one who entered the salvation of our Lord and he did so even when he was a teenager. His name was then Gokul Chand.” Bishop noticed a small agitation in her voice which he had observed in the voice of Indian women whenever they spoke in English or when they spoke to men other than their husband – in this case both. “After baptism his name was Babu Benjamin” Agnes finished.

‘Good! Your marriage is one very good decision you took”, Bishop said to Samuel. Now they all started walking. Henri started again a conversation, “By the way, I am no more Bishop of Madras, I have come here to Punjab.”

“Oh!” answered Samuel cryptically as they walked.

“You know why I have been transferred here?”

“I was sure you would tell me Reverend.”

“Well...there have been reports of escalated attacks on Churches and missionaries here. So CMS decided to transfer me here – particularly to highlight to the world the problems of mob violence here. Meanwhile they also said I could find you here. So I thought I should meet you. “

Henri noticed that Samuel had stopped. There was a well in the ground. Samuel stood there again gazing at it intently. Henri came near Samuel and put his hand on his shoulders, “Surely that was a tragedy Sam… I understand. Mobs with no discipline, leaders who infuriate the mobs …typical recipe for such human disasters. And Sam… that further shows the importance of our mission. We need to save the souls of these people. I read with a heavy heart Hunter Commission Report Sam. Three hundred and seventy lives lost – and lost without the salvation of our Lord, lost for all eternity.”

Henri now fanned his perspiring head with his white hat, “I think this sun itself drives these people half crazy.”

Without removing his eyes from the depths of the well, Sam said, “Indians are saying that the number is thousand five hundred. But our concern is not how many died but that they died without salvation.” Now Samuel raised his head. He needed to talk. More he looked in silence into the darkness of the well more he could hear that haunting voiceless Call… right from inside the well. The talking helped.

He looked directly into the eyes the Bishop, “They ran directly into this well. Look here Reverend Bishop, look at the way the bullets are embedded even in the ground level rim of the well. …Later they rescued bodies, Reverend, bodies of women clutching their children as they died, they had suffocated their infants to death even as they thought they were saving their children from the bullets by taking the bullets on their back. And your worry seems to be that this was not their well for baptism.”

Bishop Henri’s eyes hardened, “The well at Kanpur was larger than this well, Sam.”

Agnes noticed uncomfortably a shudder of stiffening run through Sam’s body. She moved close to him and said to them both, “Let us go from here. There is a possibility of more people coming here with time.”

“Let us go back to the Mission Compound” the Bishop offered. Samuel nodded.

“My motor is standing outside. How did you two come?”

“Rented horse carriage…” Agnes answered, “but we have sent him back.”

“Then you two can come with me. “ Henri again offered and they three walked in silence towards the gate.

***

The motor moved fast through the dusty roads. There were uniformed police men with rifles on their shoulders at every junction. Mostly the streets were empty. Occasionally when they saw Indian faces, they could feel a rage emanating from those eyes.

The motor stood before the mission compound and honked. A white dressed Indian came and opened the doors. The mission was housed in a huge bungalow. The front wall was painted white and there was a blood red cross. Bible verses were written in blue paint in Gurumukhi and down in English it announced, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ Below the verse in a symmetrical design were drawn the grapes vines.

The adjoining door opened into a small chapel like prayer house. Near the pulpit was a huge human sized red colored glass cross. The building itself was so cleverly constructed to make the glass cross shine with a glow from the filtered in sunlight. But ….Agnes saw it first and exclaimed, “Oh Reverend!”

‘Oh that!”, Henri said without even looking at the object that caused the excitement and as they all walked across the chapel to the lateral exit door he explained, “Last week there was some protest meet in the streets, and one guy from the mob entered here and threw a stone at the cross. Of course police had got him at once. However we have not repaired it because only today our London Times reporter would arrive here with the photographer. Unless people see with their own eyes, under what dangers our missionaries preach the good news, their hearts will not open.”

They had now come into a central lawn which was surrounded by three other square buildings. They entered a building whose teak door stated, “Diocese Library”. Inside was a well lit room with neat wooden shelves filled with books in English, Punjabi, Urdhu and Hindi. A teenage girl in white salwar-kameez was arranging some books in one of the shelves when they entered the room.

“Praise the Lord” the girl said instinctively as they entered the room. Henri acknowledged that with a smile. Then he told her to go out, “We three have to discuss. You can now work in the garden.” He motioned Sam and Agnes to sit in the wooden chairs and then dragged another chair near those chairs. Sam who was still then silent, suddenly jerked when he heard the sound of Henri pulling the chair. As if he had awakened from a reverie, he turned towards Henri and said, “Reverend, you know very well that Kanpur well was a story we created to justify our mass hanging and other inhuman actions after 1857.”

Henri looked at Sam a bit bewildered, “Do not tell me that all this time, all this silent you were thinking about that remark of mine!”

Then he looked at Sam intently and said with a magnanimous smile, “You are too innocent Sam, ignorantly innocent. This is not a fable from Aesop. This is history. The history of a civilized race bringing education, civilization and above all salvation to the less civilized, less fortunate brothers of our humanity. When history is written, you will understand that the well you saw in that ground would have become a moral lesson for Indians which they will tell their children to discipline them. It will become a chapter in their history of civilizing, which their own professors would teach the next generations. After all history of these people had always been written by their victors and we British have been not just victors but we are also an instrument of our Lord, bringing them civilization and salvation – and that is what justifies the British Empire.”

His voice exuded a confidence, which Samuel found himself fancying, should have been there when Caesar talked in Roman Senate after he conquered the dark continents.

Henri now lowered his voice, “Now let us come from history to present reality.” He moved still closer to Samuel. “Four schools, one hospital and seven missionaries have been attacked after the disturbances. Right from the mutiny, their demand for independence is nothing but their demand to fall into the uncivilized blood bath of idolatrous violence against Christianity and Christians. And that fake fakir who presents himself as the high priest of non-violence is maintaining a tight-lipped affirmative silence to all these attacks.”

Samuel said in a still lower voice, “These were reactions Reverend. … The biggest massacre of our recent times was enacted in this land by military officials loyal to our Empire….And they took from that well, bodies of children clutching the dead bodies of their mothers… And you are waiting for the photographer from London to take pictures of that damaged glass cross in your chapel…”

His voice choked.

Henri silently looked at Samuel for some seconds. Samuel was sitting with his head bowed down in an unfathomable silent solitude.

Henri spoke again. His voice was still in low decibels and his voice was well measured, ‘This is not something which you can measure so easily and through plain emotions Sam. What happened with our officials is the administrative problem of the Empire. We have a judiciary system that will take care of dispensing justice to those Indians who died in that well. But what is really dangerous is the mental condition that throws a stone with hatred at the Cross. Remember that this is a society that is getting accustomed to civilization now only. More dangerous to humanity in this part of the world is the mob violence and not the misadventure of some over enthusiastic military official.”

Henri sighed and continued, “Not only that Sam… Remember that this is the reaction of people who swear to the world by peace. Why I know some good hearted Christians, of course in their ignorance, even compare him to our Lord. Our Empire, whatever her shortcomings is still, the instrument of salvation.”

Samuel now got up. “Sorry, dear Reverend, I still cannot see in the statements of Michael O Dyer the pain of conscience I saw in the words of that fake fakir you refer to after the Chauri Chowra incident. But what astonishes me more is the way you speak. Dyer is part of a heartless cold state machinery. But you are the servant of our Loving God.”

Henri’s voice hardened now. “Sam… You think you love these people and we do not. You are wrong. We love these people. For your information, five missionaries, all women, all who have worked in the mission fields far more years than you ever could imagine, who have faced far more harsh realities and persecution, than you could ever dream in your wildest dreams, and who brought more heathens to our Lord than you did all your life, they have sent a signed letter to the House of Commons. They have thanked passionately General Dyer for saving India, her people and the budding plant of civilization that we have planted here from another 1857.”

He paused and then added, “Sam, do not forget. Our Lord is not just the Lord of love. He is also Lord of Justice. He could smite even the children of heathens for the sake of Justice. ”

Agnes was sitting frozen and Samuel saw a frightened shock shine for a wee bit of a second like a lightning and disappear.

Henri now placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders. “Listen”, his voice almost dropped to a whisper, “Do you know why I wanted to see you?”

Samuel looked straight into his eyes with no reaction.

“Sam, You are under CID scrutiny. They are watching your action and have sent some stern worded informal warning to the higher ups in the mission. They speak of some intelligence report on you soon to be prepared and sent to the Governor. Be careful. There are times when even you being an American born Christian missionary, cannot be of much help.”

“Reverend, do you really think I do not know I would not be under police monitoring given the people with whom I am talking to these days?” Samuel asked calmly and then he added with a mischievous tone, “Let me now surprise you with a really new information. I have already renounced my US citizenship and have become an Indian.”

Henri suddenly sat down as if struck by a bolt. “Sam, what have you done? Oh My God! That was your last defense. If worse comes to worse you would at best be deported to US rather than being jailed. And what have you done now?”

Samuel now made a move towards the door. Agnes had already got up.

“I have to leave Reverend. We have a meeting today with someone special this evening.”

“I will not ask who.” Henri said in a weak voice.

‘Still I shall tell you. It is Sharadananda, an Arya Samaj monk.’

II

The streets of Lahore were totally deserted. Not a single soul. All shops were closed. Almost every ten feet there stood two police men with bamboo canes. The municipal park’s clock tower was visible and around it stood five men in white dress, clearly the hand spun cloths Gandhi had advocated for his countrymen. One man looked distinct. He was very slightly fat, though not obese. His white turban and the black umbrella he had made it possible to identify. Samuel Evans recognized him clearly. Lala Lajpat Rai!

Evans always loved his eyes. There was a deep darkness in those eyes. In that distance those eyes could not be seen. Yet unmistakably it was Lajpat Rai who to his followers was Punjab Kesari - the lion of Punjab. The man was brilliant. Evans knew him intimately from those many long hours of conversations he had had with him. The man was profound and at times very humorous – particularly when he narrated his prison days. But even when he laughed with his whole body, his eyes remained sad – disturbingly sad. Near him was another person. Evans remembered him. He was Hansraj. Just yester evening he had met him at Lahore railway station. He was the one sent by Punjab Kesari to invite Evans.

Samuel had asked Hansraj about the intimidating presence of police almost everywhere. ‘No worry.’ Hansraj had answered in broken excited English, ‘all the police are from outside. They know no lanes and by lanes of the town. Wait and see what happens tomorrow.’

It was then that the police surrounded them and Evans was taken away.

Now Samuel Evans was seeing the same Lahore from the first floor lodge room where he had been ‘safely put in’ by the police. The five men in white and deserted roads with a lot of police ready with bamboo canes, Evans looked at the scene with anxiety.

The procession would start exactly at one pm, he had been informed by the leaders. But none almost none, except those five leaders and a lot of police. Clearly the local leaders had underestimated the efficiency of the British administration…

‘At the maximum there may come two hundred persons…’ the Superintendent of Police who was talking to Evans that night had told him. His name badge which was shining under different colored honor strips, informed his name as James Scott – a young official completely committed to the Empire. Evans had been informed by some Indian leaders that colonial administration now filled the bureaucracy with youngsters. These career minded youths had none of certain inhibitions which the old ‘India hands’ might have developed in dealing harshly with native agitators. Scott was proving that observation right.

“Government has strictly told us not to waste bullets. Perhaps they may be expecting another war…” he told Evans, “So only canes and I can never dream of surpassing the achievement of Dyer. But there shall be another achievement surely. Is it not Sanders?”

He turned to his assistant and asked with a grin.

The assistant who also looked a bit similar to Scott, made his own grin and said ‘Yes Sir’.

“As we charge, in the very first five minutes the crowd will be dispersed. But I am determined to present the Empire peace in this province for decades to come. Tomorrow will end with less mischief against the British.” Scott now looked at Evans with naked hatred, “And I do not want an American intervention, as a blot in my achievement. You can be very inconvenient to the scheme of things, even when you are no more an American citizen technically.”

“I heard you came here as a missionary. Then how you are getting increasingly involved with the native trouble makers?” Scott asked as he was arranging some papers.

Samuel who was sitting in the chair before Scott looked provoked, “Our Lord chastised the Pharisees – the seats of corrupt power not unlike your own Empire”. Scott was delicately arranging the papers and without even looking at Evans he answered, “You fake Quakers will give baptism to John the Baptist himself. I too know Bible my dear Sir. Our Lord teaches obedience to authority and Pharisees of his day were rebelling against the Rome.”

He then looked at Sanders. “Make sure our guest is safely secured. I do not want questions about an American being there when we charge at the natives.”

It looked as if Scott was right after all and Hansraj was wrong.

Then suddenly, a shrill voice of a teenager ripped across the eerie silence.

“Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”

Evans saw all police men in and around the epicenter of that voice ran towards the direction from which it came. In a lane that looked like a black thread Evans saw police charging like brown colored insects. The Municipal clock now struck one. As the sound reverberated, suddenly all the lanes and small branching by lanes seemed to come alive. White dressed humanity seemed to surge in torrents towards the Municipal junction.

The choice words of abuse in Hindi the police were using as they ran here and there beating people, was getting trounced in the Vande Matrams and Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai.

Now the whole road was an ocean of white dressed humanity with islands of brown uniformed police men.

Evans remembered again what Hansraj said about the procession plans in the meagre time they conversed in the railway station. From Moolchand temple a procession team would start. Another team headed by Maulana Saffar Ali would start simultaneously. From the western side Sardar Mangal Singh would lead a procession team and in half an hour the whole region would be filled to the brim.

They were walking in an orderly manner. But Evans could see quarrels near the brown islands. He saw police men shouting at the processionists. Suddenly he remembered Chauri Chaura.

What if this big crowd became violent? That would be the opportunity Scott would be eagerly waiting for. War or no war, if such a big crowd became violent, then the police would have no other option but to fire. Evans could feel a ball of fear arise from the bottom pit of his stomach.

Now the slogans were changing.

Almost rhythmically the crowd chanted “Simon Go back!”

Lala Lajpat Rai was leading from the front. As his hand raised “Simon” chanted the crowd, and as he lowered the hand “Go back!”

“Simon” “Go back”

“Vande Mataram”

“Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”

Suddenly he saw a company of police men on horses charging into the crowd. The crowd dispersed. The canes fell on them with no hesitation and with high frequency. The crowd dispersed in ripples and then assembled again. They got beaten and they did not retaliate.

At the head of the charge was Scott. He was going straight for the leaders. Then he shouted at the top of the voice.

“Five minutes for you to disperse. This is an illegal assembly. If you have not dispersed in five minutes then we will use force”

There was a silence. Then Evans saw Lala Lajpat Rai raise his hand. The whole crowd answered back in unison – a thunderous “Vande Mataram”

The very next second the lathi charge started. Scott now had come with a select team of five police men and they had surrounded Lajpat Rai.

Evans saw the oiled bamboo cane descend straight on the chest of Lajpat Rai. Evans felt a sharp tingle in his spine. Lajpat Rai was still standing, demanding something from the man who was attacking him. His questions seemed to infuriate the beast in the officer who was beating the old man. The second blow was even more vicious. As the cane rose again, Evans saw Lala Hansraj moving his hand in between to protect Lajpat Rai. The cane descended on his hand and Hansraj collapsed shrieking.

The police descends  The police descends 

He saw another police officer kick in the stomach of Hansraj. Meanwhile some more people came to save Lajpat Rai by taking the blows on themselves. Evans saw Lajpat Rai pushing them away and stepping before the police man to get the beatings.

Evans felt the usual feeling come over him… the darkness and pain became exploding bubbles inside. The call of the wordless Call… His Good Shepherd calling him for his mission. Then even as darkness enveloped him, Evans saw Lala Lajpat Rai collapse before he himself lost his conscience.

III

The chillness of winter was severe. The apple trees with shed leaves stood by the side of some horticultural instruments and a lean man. The man was pruning the branches of the tree nearby.

“Sam tea is ready…” the voice called from inside.

‘Coming…” Samuel slowly walked into the house. The apple planters’ society had called him for their meeting tomorrow. This time the yields have been indeed good. He entered the house and looked at the valley through the window.

“Age has changed me…” he said, “I can feel the change in my body and it is the descent.”

“Events have changed you more than what age has done to you, Sam.” Agnes came with tea. Placed the tea pot on the bamboo table and placed her hands on his shoulders. Samuel turned around and slowly settled himself in the rocking chair there.

Agnes pouring the tea into the china cup said to him, “Yesterday there was a letter from your friend Andrews.”

“Ah! That!” Samuel answered with his eyes half closed, “I wrote to him of our decision. And he had answered back.”

Agnes gave him his tea and waited.

“Andrews too had contemplated the same decision once. But then has backed off. He does not like mine either. Why should a Vedantist have identities, he has asked. But I have always wanted to ask you this question. What is your decision? I have boldly said it as our decision because you agreed. But why did you agree?”

Agnes looked at Samuel straight, “Sam, be assured it is our decision. I am from Rajastan the land of Meera. I have heard her songs and loved them. But my religious education taught me that she was a devil worshipper. Whenever I heard Meera Bhajan I almost would get moved but then I would say this is what I should sacrifice for our Lord who died for our sins. Then when I married you I was happy that the Lord has gifted you for my steadfastness in our faith.”

Samuel smiled.

Agnes’s face now looked strained. She continued, “When you were in jail I used to go to St. Andrews Church. There I saw Indian Christians made to support Rowlatt Act. I know Hindus who supported that act. But Christians were made to support as a diocese decision. Are my people carrying the colonial cross for Christ? I asked for the first time. Then you started taking interest in Hindu scriptures, and started sharing the Upanishads with me, my faith started to shake. It was then our son died.”

She stopped. It was as if she was gathering her inner strength to go on. Samuel remained silent. Just a sigh!

“I thought it was the punishment the Lord gave us for my infidelity towards Him. I cried my heart out to our Lord. Then when that Bishop talked about God being the Lord of Justice when we saw the well in which children had died, I realized again the burden of the cross I was made to carry for the sake of their Lord. On that day it snapped out Sam. I can never pray again to Him. Never fully. But Sam tell me what made you take the decision? Your friend Lalaji’s death?”

Samuel sighed deeply. He buried his head in his hands. Agnes saw his body shake. When he raised his head from the hands his eyes looked teary.

“Agnes I came to India with Dr. Carleton as an assistant medical missionary. I came to serve the lepers in India but soon I would go back because my body could not stand the weather condition here.

But I was compelled to come again. Do you know why?”

Agnes just stared at him.

“It was a moonless night. I was laying down in my bed and was looking at the stars through the window. Then all of a sudden a vision came to me. It was a dusty sand path. There were hoof marks of cows. I knew it was an Indian village. And I saw Him. My Good Shepherd walking before me. I could not see His face. He was bare footed. I felt His call. The call was a Wordless melody. There were no words and yet I heard in my heart His invitation. Will you come my son? He asked. Then I knew. I have to go back to India. Then one day He would turn and show His face to me. Just to have a glimpse I should serve India. So I again joined the Mission.

Well… To me then serving India was bringing her to Jesus who I considered as my good shepherd then. So I earnestly worked. Do you know how we worked as missionaries? There was this famine in north western India, mostly Punjab. Collecting dying children from the parents, we baptized them before we buried them. And missionaries had to send reports as to how many we had baptized thus before burying…”

Tears were flowing uninhibited now.

“We created the famine and then we served them so that we can convert them to become more loyal citizens of the Empire. … But Agnus do you remember how the village Hindus helped us when our own son died? They shared our tragedy as their own and helped us dig the grave. They did not impose their religion. They sought no conquest of the soul but they simply shared our grief. When our son’s body entered the grave I cried not just for our son but for all those children whom we buried after baptizing them.

Then, yes the death of my friend Lalaji. When I met him in the hospital shortly before his death, he knew he was physically destroyed though his spirit remained indomitable. He had not a bit of anger or hate. “I love the British for the honor they have done Sam.” He told me. He spoke about the wave of nationalist feeling spreading across India because of the blows he received. These people do not know how to hate. Then I saw Hansraj. His hand would never again recover its functions. But he was so proud he lost his hand in trying to protect Lalaji. He would have even hugged the police men who did that to him because he felt that he had served his life’s purpose by losing his hand.

That night, I saw again my Good Shepherd. He turned around and showed His face to me. And Agnus, believe me… He was wearing a peacock feather and that invitation of melody came from His flute. It was then I decided. “

Agnes got up from her chair and held the shoulders of visibly moved Samuel. Just to divert him and make him composed, she asked, ‘’Are you going to write any reply to Andrews….” Samuel had already steadied himself. “If a Vedantist has a family then to be in Sanskar he needs Nama and Rupa forms, does not he? That is what I am planning to write to him. And talking of responses, your Ada’s husband has written something. You want to read? The letter was sent to the society.”

He searched his jacket pockets and produced a neatly folded paper. Agnus started reading the letter, “Oh my God!” She exclaimed. She suddenly looked tired. She sat down and again exclaimed “Oh God… Sam… he is threatening to kill you for your decision. Should you not go to the police?”

“Come on Agnus. You know our Nasib… his Ladakhi outspoken nature. It is just an emotional outburst. So let us not make an issue out of it. But read the letter. It almost gets poetic when he says the apples I have planted are the fruits of sin and I am no different from the serpent itself. Who knew our Nasib had a poet in him…” Samuel smiled weakly.

***

That small metallic pit which looked like an inverted pyramid contained in it small dried cakes of cow dung. A white dressed boy with a tuft of hair was pouring very little ghee from a very small spoon and thus kept the flames alive. The dance of the flames were creating dances of patterns which changed frequently on his face. Students from Himalayan tribes who were studying in the Arya Samaj Anglo-Sanskrit school were sitting around chanting hymns. Entire village population seemed to have assembled before that small wooden Arya Samaj temple. Samuel Evans Stokes, his wife and his two teenage daughters were nearing the temple. He was in his characteristic white Kathar dress. In his head was the colorful cap unique to Himachal Pradesh. All three women were wearing salwar kameez. The cool breeze and soft sun reinforced for their part the celebration mood there in the air.

But there was one man who was part of this happy atmosphere. His face looked worried. Over his saffron colored kurta was hanging a shoulder bag. The central motif in the bag said Aum in Devnagri. “Namaste Pandit Rishi Ramji” said Samuel Evans with folded hands, “Hope we have come at the correct auspicious time. My daughters came only yesterday as their vacation has started. You do not have to change their names, as their names are already Savitri and Satyavathi. ”

Agnes too folded her hands. When the girls said in unison “Namaste Panditji” there was no effort at all to hide the mischievous element in that. Panditji automatically folded back. But his gaze was all on Samuel. “Sri Evans, I have to talk to you.” He said and moved away to a secluded part.

Samuel frowned. “Any new problem?”

They walked together and were at the back of the temple. Now from his shoulder back he took a magazine. “Harijan”. Panditji thrust it into Samuel’s hands, “ Gandhiji himself had raised some doubts about your Shuddhi. He had written about rumors that your becoming Hindu itself may be a trick to convert Hindus.”

Samuel Stokes smiled sadly. “I have already read it. But let me ask you one thing. The person who introduced me to you was Mahatma Shradanand himself. We both have felt that Swami should have a premonition of this day when he introduced us mutually. You now think Swamiji would have introduced a wrong person to you?”

Panditji lowered his head uncomfortably.

Stokes continued, “I can very well understand those who had sent this to you. I know very well the tactics of my old masters. But the magazine that was sent to you by my old missionary comrades, is the old issue. In the very next magazine my response and Gandhiji’s acceptance of my explanation had come Panditji. Of course those who saw it fit to send this magazine to you, found it unnecessary to inform you of the subsequent issue. And Panditji here is the reply I wrote to Gandhiji. You read it yourself. I brought it because I know someone would be instigated to raise this issue. But I never thought that someone would turn out to be you.“

Stokes gave the draft of his letter to Gandhiji. Pandit started reading it: “… It was because I found my spiritual aspirations and needs find their truest satisfaction, in the spirituality of Upanisahds and the Gita more completely than anywhere else that I wished to be...” He could read no more as tears blurred his vision, nor did he need to read any more.

He embraced Stokes and his voice trembled as he said, “Please forgive me Samuel Stokes”

***

The girls were sitting on the two sides of the parents. Before them the Vedic fire was burning in the metallic pit. The girls too were wearing the sacred thread as per the Arya Samaj convention. The Vedic chants of the students slowly drifted into the Deodar tree forests around to the very same abode from which they came.

Then everyone became silent. Now the Pandit started chanting the Gayatri Mantra and with him , Satyananda Stokes, his wife Priya Devi Stokes and their daughters Satyavati and Savitri started reciting the Mantra that the friend of all existence, Viswamitra has perceived more than five thousand years ago.

om

om

bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ

tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ

bhárgo devásya dhīmahi

bhárgo devásya dhīmahi

dhíyo yó naḥ prachodayāt

dhíyo yó naḥ prachodayāt

Notes:

This is a fictionalized account of the life of Samuel Evans Stokes. He came to India as a Christian missionary. But he was progressively attracted to Indian freedom movement as well as to Hindu religion. He was close to Arya Samaj. He was the one who introduced apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh. A very close friend of Lala Lajpat Rai, Samuel Stokes was briefly incarcerated for ‘spreading hatred of British among the Indians’ and when British came forward to make some special concessions for him in the jail he refused them. His decision to convert to Hinduism created a storm. His sister in law’s husband threatened him with murder. Missionaries spread rumors that he was a Trojan so that Hindus would suspect him and that would frustrate Stokes to return to Christianity. Most of the information for this story has been taken from Asha Sharma’s “An American in Gandhi’s India,’ Indiana University Press, 2008.

Missionary and Christian support for General Dyer and Rowlatt Act: Ms. Marcella Sherwood of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society and the Rev. Canon Guildford of the CMS, also in Punjab , openly declared that Gen. Dyer’s action at Jallianwala Bagh was justified “by its results” . Elizabeth Susan Alexander, The attitudes of British Protestant missionaries towards nationalism in India: with special reference to Madras Presidency, 1919-1927, Konark Publishers, 1994, p.29, //I have letters from five other English missionary ladies who were in Amritsar at the time, and who went through this terrible time. All asked me to implore the House of Commons not to do this great wrong to General Dyer. // Parliamentary debates: Official report, Volume 131, Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons, H.M. Stationery Off., 1920, p. xcviii

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