It was a blood-freezing night in the winter of the 1970s. A thatched house in the village caught fire disastrously. What remained was a heap of smouldering embers and ashes. Wafts of smoke from the remains began to engulf the area. The flames left the destitute of the house in sobs and unceasing tears. Burning woodpiles caused the blaze. However, at the outbreak of this fire, the villagers hurriedly came out out of their homes to douse the fire, carrying water in whatever containers they could lay their hands on.
Each of the cottagers acted as an expert fire brigade executive, putting out fires and saving lives. They did not have any option but to rescue themselves and their livestock. It was good that they succeeded in controlling the fire, in such a way, that the adjoining houses remained untouched by the devastating blaze. There was no casualty.
Unlike towns, clusters of rural communities do not have a fire safety system. Neither was there any telecommunication at that time except, the postal services nor any electronic communication, that we see today. The wisdom, bonding and co-ordination the co-dwellers had, were their proven firefighting technology and spirit, and that is worth appreciating.
The very next morning, the male villagers, with their self-consciousness, went to fell bamboos and brought stalks from their farmlands. The female members of the village gathered and began to console and sympathise with the victims, wiping the tears rolling down their cheeks. They stood in unison for the rehabilitation work. Some of them also brought other construction materials needed for a thatched house – things like hay, reeds, ropes etc. Some began to bore a hole for a wooden pillar to be fixed. Some chose to work on thatching the roof. The effort was afoot to ensure that there was at least a roof over the victims’ heads. By evening, what was in public view, was a new thatched house, in place of the burnt one. It was all an expeditious collective effort and free of cost.
The victims didn’t have to ask anybody for anything. It was the generosity and magnanimity of the community the led them to stand by the sufferers. The role of late Madhe Babu, Sri Taleshwar Babu, and the team headed by Sri Sitanand Jha was brilliant and memorable forever. Each of the rescuers, humanitarians and others, deserve high appreciation for their contributions. That was a commendable spirit at that time.
Sijoul is a riverine village, falling in the Madhubani district of Bihar, where I was brought into the world on January 2, 1972. I lived there for 16 years of my formative life. The village under the Andhra Tharhi block is around 20 km away from the district town. The tributary is now dried up and no longer exists. However, some remains and impressions do exist. To my knowledge, the word ‘Sijoul’ was earlier called Sujaul, and is derived from Hindi prefix- Su+Jal, meaning good water in English. The name ‘Sujaul’ is still used in the land records of the Government of Bihar.
As a behaviourist, I closely observe the lives of people and village culture. I have an unfettered attachment to my village. However, now, I live in the national capital region of Delhi as a migrant. In the village, I saw everyone their leaving beds before sunrise, at Parati, a song that was sung early in the morning as a wake-up call. It was a taboo to get up late unless one was bedridden because of ill-health.
The village is a wonderful example of community life, strong bonding, collectivism and pluralistic approach. More or less, the picture has been similar in almost all other villages, in the belt of Mithila, where Goddess Sita was born in treta epoch.
Even today, for any ritual, people from all castes and creeds gather around to attend the functions. When there is a celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth anniversary, called Krishnashtami or Janmashtami, everybody participates in the celebration with great enthusiasm. Traditionally, there happens to be a sacred thread ceremony in which people from all sections of society are invited. Their representation is ensured. Their cooperation is sought. Their artistic objects and materials needed in worshipping God are solicited. Once everybody and everything is placed, only then the ritual is considered as complete.
Such is a sense of togetherness and the ‘wow-feeling’ is palpable here. People share their sorrows as well as happiness. They live for each other. They stand together. They celebrate together. There is a Maithili proverb encouraging all of us to have a sharing nature- बैंट कुइट खाय, राजा घर जाय’(a joy shared is a joy doubled, a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved). This is the spirit, here in Sijoul.
Behind such social engineering, exemplary village life and family togetherness, I found Sri Sitanand Jha, and Sri Nityanand Jha, who are blood brothers, with Sri Sitanand being the older brother. They worked hard industriously, and unstintingly, to change the landscape of the village. Both of them have been visionaries and social thinkers — keen on social change and uplifting. I hold both of them in the highest esteem for many reasons, some of which I can share with you later.
Sri Sitanand could not continue his schooling after the third standard because of the poverty he faced. But he ensured that his younger brother received a university education, and thus the seed of education was sown in the village. Today, the seed is blooming and fructifying to the extent that Sijoul has got the first-ever private university of Bihar to its credit, Sandip University. The university was enacted by the law of the state, and it conforms to the norms of University Grants Commission. This University is in addition to one earlier, established with the same name, at Nasik in Maharashtra. The founder of both universities is Dr Sandip Jha, the eldest son of Sri Nityanand Jha.
It is worth mentioning here that my aunt Laldai Devi, a home-maker was widowed in 1982. My uncle Basant Jha who was the only bread-earner of the family, and breathed his last at Burdwan, and left behind my three cousins and my aunt, aggrieved. What was special, was that after the death of my uncle, it was Sri Nityanand Jha who held an extraordinary meeting, and passed a resolution, with consent from my uncle’s family, to support his widow with economic aid.
Backing began to chip in, but after a few months, others stopped. But, Sri Nityanand Jha, a school teacher in Kolkata National High School at that time, continued to send her thirty rupees every month by way of money order. His financial support continued for a pretty long time until I was able to manage the state of affairs. Later on, my cousin Rajiv Kumar Jha, also known as Raju, grew up and stood on his own feet. He began to earn his victuals for the family. Today, Acharya Rajiv is an MA Sanskrit. He is a scholar with commanding knowledge of all four Vedas and enchants his audience with gestures. It is a coincidence that he is posted as a teacher at Burnpur Riverside School at West Burdwan, in West Bengal, where his father left for his heavenly abode when he was hardly eight-months-old.
Such is the greatness and sacrifice of Sri Jha, who always furthered the cause of education. He has a great bearing and influence on people, including me. I still treasure a few of his letters penned to me in the late ’80s. He has been a guiding force, not only to me but the society at large. He’s always held that education is the deciding factor in the making of our life.
Sijoul is a village in Mithila where people can enjoy and live a life of educational prosperity even in the hours of economic scarcity. The 8th-century scholar Mandan Mishra, who in a way defeated Adi Shankaracharya from the south, in Shastrartha in a scholarly debate, is a great example of prosperity in scarcity. Mandan is often quoted as an example of how to lead a happy life, even in poverty. Education is the yardstick of happiness. It is, of course, a stepping stone, so to say, a ladder to success.
It won’t be out of place to mention here Sri Sitanand Jha, who sacrificed a lot for Sijoul and educational development in the village. Nobody would take it otherwise when he scolded anyone. He has always remained an ideal and revered personality of the village and around. He is the man behind Sri N.N. Jha and others, in the village, including me.
In the village, nobody was allowed to do anything wrong or digress from the righteous path of life. Drinking alcohol was forbidden, out of respect for him. Everyone in the village enjoyed his guardianship, and he has always chosen to tread a righteous path. What the village has seen as growth, development, and prosperity, today could be rightly credited to him. The village sends across a beautiful message to the world about how virtuous work gets translated into something bigger in the society. I remain obliged to both of my uncles, whom I call Kariya Kaka and Padhua Kaka, respectively, for their selfless guidance and support. A respectful Kariya Kaka is the name for his Krishna complexion, and Padhua Kaka for being a highly educated, well-read, and scholarly person.
However, at present, the fallout of the village development is a gradual decline in bonding, cooperation and respect for each other. With education progressing, human values must be strengthened, protected and appreciated.