‘He transformed a society which had lost self-confidence’

It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed while sitting in the courtyard of the ancestral house of Swami Vivekananda here.

Atop this two-storey building in north city, a century and half ago was born a man whose contributions to humanity are yet to be clearly understood. It is in a room in this house that the ‘reformer’ defied the social dogmas of those times, trying out at his attorney-father’s chamber the ‘smoking pipes’ (hookah) that lay segregated by class and faith, for use by clients.

Naughty and difficult to manage, the lad, when scolded by the elders, replied that he wanted to see how one ‘loses’ one’s caste or faith by using the smoking pipe of a Mohammedan or of a person from a different caste.

It is from this house that the child Naren (Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name) one day gifted away to the poor (who gathered under his window sill) all objects of daily use kept in a room. It is in this very courtyard that he played a game of ‘kings’ with his friends. Born to lead, he was always placed on the throne by his peers, who were his ready subjects.

Says the epilogue of a book Vivekananda as the Turning Point (in modern history): “Vivekananda’s model of development is one with the broadest basis — it is a spiritually based, socio-economic, political model of growth.”

The book was released on Friday by West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan, who presented the first copy to President Pranab Mukherjee at a function held at Vivekananda’s ancestral house in celebration of his 150th birth anniversary.

The President, the Governor, the Prasar Bharati CEO and senior monks of the Ramakrishna Order had gathered there to pay homage to him. Mr. Mukherjee said Vivekananda would continue to be relevant as long as civilisation continued. “He was relevant then, now and will continue to be relevant.”

Momentous decade

Pointing out that one of his greatest contributions was to transform a society which had lost self-confidence totally, the President said 1860-70 was a momentous decade for India, with the births of Rabindranath Tagore (1861), Vivekananda (1863) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869). “I had a desire to be on this sacred soil. I feel blessed to be able to pay my homage to a great visionary and great humanist,” the President said.

Swami Smarananandaji, vice-president, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, said the sesquicentennial celebrations should be an occasion for spreading Vivekananda’s ideals. “We have to see how his ideals on education and the uplift of women can be fulfilled.”

Swami Prabhanandaji, another vice-president, said while India had made progress, Vivekananda’s ideals had to be followed for tackling the several negative aspects of growth.