When Homi J Bhabha’s Grandfather Saved an Endangered Sanskrit Pathashala in Kolar

In the late 19th century, a traditional Sanskrit Pathashala in a village near Kolar had come under the British axe. Hormusji J Bhabha, grandfather of the famous Homi J. Bhabha, saved it from total destruction.
When Homi J Bhabha’s Grandfather Saved an Endangered Sanskrit Pathashala in Kolar

A SINGULAR ACT OF EGREGIOUSNESS that evoked widespread public disgust in recent memory attired itself as words flowing from the injudicious mouth of none less than a former Supreme Court judge. His (erstwhile) Honour Rohinton Nariman. In April 2021. While he still a sitting judge. 

Sri Rohinton Nariman dropped the following pearls of evocative disgust during the course of a random lecture in which it appeared as though His Honour was possessed by some dangerously mutant strain of the Feminazi virus. We blame the virus, which made him hurl this unwarranted slur against the Rig Veda: 

THIS IS NOT THE PLACE to dissect His Honour’s misplaced and ill-informed equivalence between the Bible and the Rig Veda. Nor do we mean to single out Sri Rohinton Nariman but to cite his toxic statement as illustrative of a larger phenomenon, which is long past its expiry date. This is the casual nonchalance with which the foundational ethos of this civilisational nation have been denigrated and abused by such eminences in high offices. In recent years, it appears that the full-time job of the robed distinctions in the highest court of the land is serving a particular ideology, not delivering justice.

This specific case also illustrates a multi-centurial journey. When the Parasikas — Parsis — fled from Persia to escape Islamic persecution and landed on the shores of Gujarat, they were given shelter by a Hindu king who believed their solemn promise: of integrating with this society and culture like “sugar in milk.” Ever since, the Parsis honoured their word for several centuries by contributing in positive, enriching and meaningful ways to our economy, business, public life, arts, etc. As a micro-minority, the Parsi community has produced extraordinary stalwarts in almost every field. 

Until recently, luminaries from this community had genuine regard for the Sanatana spiritual traditions and its cultural heritage. They respected and looked up to Hindu heroes and savants. 

Jamsetji N. Tata took his inspiration from a monk and Sadhu like Swami Vivekananda when he formulated his vision for the Tata Institute in Bangalore: “I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels… It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency, and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences – natural and humanistic.” Today, another Tata-funded institution, the TISS has become a fertile breeding ground and a factory producing breaking India forces.

Nani Palkhivala revered Adi Sankara and Ramana Maharshi and he could deliver beautifully-worded, impromptu expositions on Vedanta and Dharma. He was a non-Hindu who had not only embraced the Sanatana spirit in the way it should be embraced but was also one of its most vocal ambassadors. Today, we have a Rohinton Nariman who denigrates the Rig Veda, a prime fount of the very Sanatana spirit that was so dear to Nani. 

Hormusji J Bhabha with Family
Hormusji J Bhabha with FamilyImage Courtesy: TIFR Archives

TO THE EXALTED CLASS OF PARSIS like J.N. Tata and Nani Palkhivala belongs Hormusji J. Bhabha, grandfather of the more renowned Homi Jahangir Bhabha. Born in mid-19th century, Hormusji Bhabha (henceforth called H.J. Bhabha) hailed from an aristocratic lineage. Although the full details about his life and career are not easily available, we get a few glimpses of his eminence from the unforgetful pen of the iconic D.V. Gundappa. The picture that emerges shows H.J. Bhabha as a man of extensive reading and high professional accomplishments. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of C.V. Raman and Mokshagundam Visvesvarayya. And he combined all these with his deep attachment to the cultural impulses of the sacred land that had offered refuge to his ancestors. 

Life conspired to transport Bhabha all the way to the Mysore Princely State towards the latter part of the 19th century. He had risen to become the Inspector General of the Department of Education—i.e., its supreme head. 

In that era, the culture-destroying Macaulayite educational system had not yet taken deep and wide roots in Mysore, but it was slowly getting there. However, it was people like Bhabha who in a way, slowed down the progress of this lethal poison to the extent that it was in their power to do so. 

It is now common knowledge that bulldozing Sanskrit Pathashalas was one of the prime agendas of the colonial British Government. As part of this vile scheme, some excuse, any excuse was considered valid to shut down these Pathashalas —even those that were running smoothly for several centuries. 

One effective tactic to do this was to unleash school inspectors who visited these Pathashalas with an — often — explicit intent to “detect” some flaw. The inspectors would then prepare an inspection report recommending the closure of the Pathashala based on some alleged flaw. Other tactics too, were employed. For example, the school inspector would recommend stopping Government grants or aids to these Pathashalas. As a consequence, such Pathashalas, barely eking out an existence, had to inevitably close down.  

A Sanskrit Pathashala located in some village near Kolar once became the chosen target of this wretched grant-deprivation. D.V. Gundappa narrates how a school inspector visited it, and based on some random observations, wrote a report recommending the cancellation of the grant it was receiving from the Government. The report eventually landed on H.J. Bhabha’s desk. 

DVG writes what happened next in his inimitable style in the Jnapakachitrashale volumes. The following is its paraphrased version. 

Before Bhabha sent the inspector’s report to the Government, he added his own notes to it. The notes also expose, point-by-point, the kind of brutal recommendations that the school inspector had made. Judging purely by the standards of bureaucratese, his notes are quite extraordinary…even profound.   

1. The inspector has alleged that the Pathashala has no set timetable. However, the Government has not issued a clock to the school. But the villagers have kept time according to their unbroken practices in this regard. 

2. The inspector has also complained that random persons are present in the Pathashala (i.e., classes). We see nothing amiss in that. If a few words of the beautiful Sanskrit language fall on their ears, it is only beneficial and not detrimental to them. In a way, this is also a good method of spreading education, which is the intent of the Government. 

3. The inspector’s report further alleges that the Sanskrit Sastris (i.e., Pandits) continue to teach lessons beyond two in the afternoon. If that is true, isn’t it actually good! These Sastris are Vaidika Brahmanas who lead a specific lifestyle. They rigorously adhere to their daily Karmas, which take up a good portion of their time. On some occasions, they also perform Yajnas and Havanas, which makes them cut short their teaching time. But they make up for it by extending the teaching time on other days as mentioned above. The balance is thus maintained. 

4. If the Government is really desirous of spreading education on a mass scale in this country, it must not be unduly harsh on Vaidika Brahmanas. Only these two points should be kept in mind: are they grooming enough number of children? Do the people of their villages have respect and reverence for them? The answer to both these questions in the case of the present Pathashala is more than satisfactory. Therefore, the Government should not cancel the grant to this Pathashala. 

Clearly, H.J. Bhabha’s notes give us valuable insights into a deeply fundamental facet of administration: an ideal administrator is one who is by temperament, attuned to the spirit of the law and not merely its letter. This inner tuning into the spirit is what makes him or her fearless. In this specific case, we need to remember that Bhabha was working under the mercy of an exploitative and alien colonial Government.

To those who are culturally rooted, this episode also shows that H.J. Bhabha had internalised the nuances of Dharma and had demonstrated this understanding in a practical, knotty situation. And had safeguarded a Sanskrit Pathashala. Secularism  eventually extinguished them on an epic scale in “independent” India.

Epilogue

TO RETURN TO OUR opening remark, a full century later, Rohinton Nariman added further insult to injury when he let loose another pearl of wisdom:

THERE IS NO CASTE IN THE MOTHER COUNTRY OF MY RELIGION. But here, we have it. It doesn't matter there, where you are born, but here you have to take birth in a priestly family to become a priest. I couldn't have become a priest, if I was not born in a priestly family…TO THAT EXTENT, EVEN MY RELIGION HAS BEEN HINDUISED.

Capitalisation Added

But just to remind His (erstwhile) Honour, his ”mother country” Iran, publicly flogs and canes and jails and kills ladies who are not properly… oppressed … err… attired in the Burqa. And to set the record straight, if his religion has been “Hinduised,” he should only be grateful to Hindu Dharma for it. Illustrious people from his own community like Hormus J. Bhabha and Nani Palkhivala showed that gratitude.

However, the equally blunt truth should also be spoken. Worthies like Rohinton Nariman are as much to blame for this pathetic situation as Hindus who seem unable to project the sturdy cultural self-confidence required to present their Dharma with the kind of force, grace, elegance and sublimity that it demands. 

|| Om Tat Sat ||       

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