For me, it is an occasion for recollecting this grand personality standing in his immaculate long coat and dhoti worn in typical South Indian panchakatcham with medal and turban, without which he does not meet people.
I was admitted to B.Sc in Benares Hindu University in 1945. I had got admissions in all the three colleges in Madras — Loyola, Presidency and Tambaram Christian. But due to father's ‘ziddi' (it appeared to me as a stupid idea at that time), I landed at the university main gate three days ahead of reopening. At 16 and with no knowledge of a single word of Hindi, it was all a world lost for me. I was dispatched by train to Benares via Howrah. I had a first class railway pass as my father was a medical officer in the then M&S M Railway. I was timid by nature. My father had got my admission card from Principal Godbole from Shimla and I was told that I would be allotted a hostel room on arrival. When I landed at the imposing (to me) university gate, the security people had a hearty laugh and, in their broken English, told me that I would not find a crow on the campus and the offices would open only after three days. It looked as if I should go back home and face my father's ire.
Then I remembered that I had a letter from a friend of my father introducing me to his father at 80, who was living in the Hanuman Ghat area, where elders like him stay till the end of their life. He dips in the Ganga three times a day and, after Sandhyavandanam, goes to the Viswanath Temple in wet clothes. I had and still have a lot of reverence for such people when I see them. With this letter as my only hope, I asked a cyclerickshaw driver to help me find this old man at the Hanuman Ghat. The rickshawwallah was a Muslim, very courteous to me. He offered to wait until I spotted the old man. He is still a model of human behaviour. On enquiry, the local people told me that I should wait at the ghats and the old man would definitely come at 12 noon sharp for his rituals.
At the stroke of 12, an old man came running down the steps and, after a dip in the river, ran up the ghats in wet clothes. I ran after him calling “Mama, mama, I have a letter for you.” He quickly read the letter and asked me to hurry up and follow him after taking a dip in the river. By the time, I paid off the rickshaw driver, who was happy to have put me in safe hands. After my first visit to the temple, we went to the old man's small accommodation. He had a very hospitable group and neighbours, unlike the present day neighbours in flats, who just do not know who is living the next door.
The next morning, he went with me to the university gate and said he wanted to meet the Vice-Chancellor. The people at the gate did not probe why he was meeting the Vice-Chancellor, unlike as employees would do nowadays. On getting OK from the Vice-Chancellor's residence, we were ushered into the drawing room and offered coffee and asked to wait. Sir. S. always meets people only after 10 a.m. unless he is dressed up. He was in the room upstairs.
When he came down, the Vice-Chancellor met my local guardian, the old man. Coming to know of my problem from this guardian that the boy did not even know Hindi and had to stay with him without any facility for three days, he called up the hostel warden Pande on the phone and asked him to accommodate me in a room close to his residence. He advised the warden to take care of my food requirements, treating me as his guest until the hostels opened after the vacation and I was allotted a room.
Can you imagine a Vice-Chancellor going out of the way to help a newcomer student! How can I forget this rare specimen of human understanding? Today at 83, it is my privilege to recall him. To Sir, with love.
(The writer's email id is: firstname.lastname@example.org)