For almost a month now, I have been at an ashram—doing, well, I don’t know exactly what, although I do know that it’s all very good for me. Each day is an opportunity to go through beautiful learning experiences. The situations one is put into, the people one is led to meet, the things to do that come one’s way—all these are an amazing means to learn, and to unlearn as well.
Yesterday, Monu took me for an outing—to a stream not far from the ashram, which we crossed on a slender bamboo bridge. On the way, we stopped at the Shashidhar Public Library, set up by Raju, a school teacher. Named after Raju’s late father, the library is housed in a neat little stone cottage. It has some 300 members and a modest stock of books.
With a life membership fee of 200 rupees, Raju probably makes no money out of the library, possibly not even enough to cover the librarian’ salary.
Monu says that such initiatives by generous individuals for the public benefit are common in this part of India.
As I looked around the library, I spotted a tall steel bookrack laden with magazines. ‘In Memory of Haji Abdur Rehman’, a line painted on the top announced.
I asked Monu if he knew who Haji Abdur Rehman was.
Possibly the father of a member of the library, he replied.
Wasn’t that wonderful, I thought! What a lovely way to remember a departed relative!
But that wasn’t all there was to it. The man who had donated the bookrack may not have intended it as a gesture to celebrate inter-community bonhomie, but that’s how I also saw it as.
A bookrack to commemorate a man with a ‘Muslim’-sounding name in a library that commemorates a man with a ‘Hindu’-sounding name! Really beautiful, isn’t it!
The founder of the library and the donor of the bookrack—the one a ‘Hindu’, the other a ‘Muslim’—honouring their deceased fathers through acts of charity and working together for the benefit of the local community, of which they are both members—a lovely way, I thought, to promote inter-communal harmony and work for the common good!
The Master who established the ashram where I have been staying for the last several weeks may have been born into a Hindu family, but he transcended all barriers of caste and creed, realizing God as inhering in all beings and things. Not identifying himself with any particular caste, religion or nationality, he saw the different prophets or realized beings, whom different communities across the world claim to venerate and follow, as conveying the same Truth and having come from the same Source. He spoke about Krishna and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad as fellow messengers sent by the One. That’s one reason why decades after he dropped the body, the ashram he established continues to attract people from diverse faith backgrounds.
Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Communists or whatever—people of all faiths and none—are warmly welcomed here. No one asks you what faith you claim to follow or what caste you were born into. A board at the entrance to the ashram announces:
Every man, woman or child, to whatever denomination, creed or caste the person may belong, shall have free access [here]
Institutions, organizations, events, situations and individuals that serve to bring together people from diverse religious and other backgrounds—like this ashram and Raju’s library—are precious, God-given opportunities to help us to get to know each other, shed our prejudices and celebrate our fundamental oneness, going beyond name and form, caste and creed. That’s one of the many valuable things that I’ve come to learn from my stay here.
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