Every day is bursting with opportunities for us to do and to serve, to act and to express, to love and to live. – Chinmaya
Actions of the past decided our present. Actions of the present decide our future.
If this is the law, why not make use of every moment in the present to chisel and shape a noble future?
The wise ones hence convert every situation to give, to love, to serve and to sacrifice.
This was the time when India was already independent. Babu Shreeram Singh, who had worked in the ministry as a stenographer, had great reverence for Gita and Ramayana. To spread the message of Gita, he had established a school in Lucknow.
It was decided to invite Smt. Sarojini Naidu, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, as the Guest of Honour to inaugurate the annual function of the school which she kindly agreed. Singhji also wanted a person on the stage who could speak on Gita with authority. Hence it was decided to invite Shri Hanuman Prasad Poddarji (Trustee of Gita Press Gorakhpur) as the Chief Guest.
Everything went according to plan. On the previous day of the function, a pandal was set up, the stage was decorated, and the chairs and the tables were properly placed. By evening all arrangements were made for receiving the dignitaries in a grand way.
Unfortunately, there was heavy rain in the late night, and it went on for hours. The ground became wet and soggy. Pools of water got collected in various places. In the storm, some of the bamboo poles fell and the pandal collapsed. The chairs became wet, misplaced and soiled. The stage was flooded with water. The rain continued till early morning.
The function was supposed to start at 11 am. The train in which Poddarji was travelling from Gorakhpur, being four hours late, arrived at Lucknow station at 10 am instead of the scheduled 6 am. Poddarji went straight to the venue and reached there at 10.30 am. He saw that the whole venue was in a mess and those gathered were wondering what to do.
Without wasting time, Poddarji quickly sprang up into action. He called all people who were present there – the teachers, the students, the staff, the workers etc. and said, “ This is neither the time to blame anyone nor the to sit and relax. We still have half an hour time. Let us all unite together and do what we can. Together we all can set things right. Now come on…”
People present there were divided into groups and each group was given a task to finish.
Within minutes, chairs and tables were cleaned and properly placed, the poles were fixed, the pandal was set right, the flooded stage was soaked dry, the stage was broomed clean, and everything got over in 20 minutes!
Poddarji’s inspiration and perspiration became contagious, and everyone joined hands wholeheartedly in setting things right. Maybe this was the only function where the Chief Guest was seen wiping the chairs and sweeping the venue!
In the third chapter of the Gita, Karma Yoga, the Lord says: “When people come together in a spirit of sacrifice, pouring out their best for the welfare of all, without ego and egocentric desires, then success is sure and guaranteed.”
This situation became a wonderful opportunity in the hands of Poddarji to give this valuable lesson to the students and the teachers. In the hands of the masters, every calamity is but an opportunity to teach something profound and valuable!
Smt. Naidu arrived at 10.55 am. She could hardly make out that the whole stage was arranged just ten minutes back! She was accompanied to the stage along with other dignitaries. After the formal inaugural ceremonies, Poddarji stood to speak.
He gave a brilliant discourse on Gita. Those who witnessed Poddarji as a Karma Yogi a few minutes back, now saw in him the expression of a Jnani steeped in the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita.
In his short speech of just 15 minutes, Poddarji emphasised that Gita was not a book for the renunciates and the retired, but the manual of right living for everyone who was battling the challenges of day-to-day life. He blessed all the students saying that they were indeed fortunate to get this knowledge at a very young age.
The talk ended with thundering applause from the audience. For many of them, this talk was a life-transforming one.
As soon as Poddarji finished, Smt. Naidu rose to speak. It was not her turn according to the list of events, but she could not contain herself!
She expressed her heartfelt appreciation for Poddarji and exclaimed that the joy she felt while listening to Poddarji was so much that she was reminded of the discourses of Mahatma Gandhiji in Sabarmati Ashram. She said that those who lived the life of selfless service preached by Gita had in their words a special attraction and power to transform the masses.
A beautiful quote from Rabindranath Tagore says: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
A letter from a village in the state of Himachal Pradesh came to the Ministry of Defence.
The writer introduced himself as a school teacher and put forward a request:
“Sir, my only son has died a heroic death in the Kargil war on 7th July 1999. The first death anniversary will come in a few days. As that day is very special for me and my wife, we would like to visit the place, the spot where he breathed his last.
If you think that this wish can’t be fulfilled due to security reasons, I am alright with it and I withdraw this request.”
The Department Officer who read this letter called his subordinate and said, “We must see that the desire of this father is fulfilled, to bring the teacher and his wife to the place where their boy had died. I am ready to bear the expense if the Department refuses to pay it. Do the needful immediately.”
The order was acted upon accordingly.
On the day of remembrance of the deceased hero, the elderly couple was brought to the narrow mountain range in Kargil with due respect. When they were taken near the place where their son died, the soldiers who were on duty there stood erect and saluted.
One soldier did something which no one expected.
He came forward with a handful of flowers and offered it at the feet of the teacher and prostrated unto him. Controlling his tears, he stepped back, stood straight and offered his military salute.
The teacher was stunned. He said: “Sir, you are a military officer. Please don’t touch my feet. I don’t deserve this.”
The officer said politely: “Sir, there is a reason for this. I was with your son. We were in the same regiment and we fought the Pakistanis together on this mountain ridge. I am the one who had seen the heroism of your son live on the field…”
His voice got choked with emotion. He paused.
The teacher went near him, held his hand and humbly requested, “Please, sir, please tell me the whole story. I promise you, I will not cry. I will not break down.”
The officer said: “Sir, you may not cry, but I may find it difficult.”
Controlling himself, the soldier pointed to a mountain range and continued: “That’s where the Pakistanis were shooting from their bunker hundreds of bullets from their HMG (Heavy Machine gun). Five of us advanced. We were hiding behind a rock, just 30 feet away from the Pakistani bunker.”
With a sigh, the officer continued: “I told the group, ‘They will keep shooting. No point in wasting time waiting here. I am going to do the death-charge. I am going to take the bullets on me. I will run to their bunker and throw the grenade. Once they are killed, you all can come to the bunker and capture it.’ And I was getting ready for it.”
“That is when your son looked at me and said: ‘Are you crazy? You have your wife and children to look after. I am still unmarried. I will do the death-charge and you capture the bunker.’ So saying, even without waiting for my reply, taking the grenade forcibly from my hand he charged towards the enemies.”
“Bullets showered on him from the Pakistanis and your son dogged over and reached the bunker. He took the pin out of the grenade and threw it right into the bunker. Thirteen Pakistanis died on the spot. HMGs were paralysed and there was total silence from the bunker. The area came under our control.”
“I was the first to lift and evacuate your son’s body. There were 42 bullets all over his body. Sir, I placed his head in my hand. Only then did he breathe his last. I asked my superior to give me the responsibility of bringing the coffin to your village. But I was refused permission because of some other responsibility.”
“Had I had the privilege of lifting the coffin, I would have put these flowers at his feet. I couldn’t. But now I have the privilege of putting at your feet sir.”
The teacher’s wife broke down, but with great dignity controlled herself, covering her face with her saree.
The teacher controlled his tears. From his shoulder bag, he took a package and handed it over to the officer and said: “I had brought a shirt for my son expecting him to come for vacation. But he did not come. Then came the news of his heroic death….
I had brought it to keep it where he died, but now I know who is to wear this shirt. Please don’t refuse. Please take this…”
Tears rolled down his cheeks as the officer received the package.
The Kargil war hero was none other than Captain Vikram Batra who was posthumously awarded the Param Veer Chakra, India’s highest and the most prestigious award for valour.
The world is bursting with opportunities.
The majority misuse them to complain and to quarrel.
A very few employ them to love, to serve and to sacrifice.