Glimpses : Meetings of east and west

The following is taken from Pages in the Life of a Sufi, the memoir of the younger brother of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Musharaff Moulamia Khan. The family lived in Baroda, where their distinguished grandfather Moula Bux had the post of the Chief Musician of the Maharaja. The Maharaja was eager to reform certain aspects of his society, and this passage gives some insight into the contrast between ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ views of life. Some other excerpts from this memoir may be found here, here, and here.

The pariahs or untouchables may perhaps be compared to the class which provides the poorest labourers in the great European cities, that poorest class whose lives are almost submerged and unknown and remain untouched by the majority of their well-to-do countrymen.

In Baroda many efforts were made to change their condition, and the Maharaja Gaikwar, who at his ascension to the throne established compulsory education, included the pariahs in the same scheme. Because of this, some prominent Brahmins resigned their posts, thinking it useless and a waste to give this kind of education to this type of worker. But the Maharaja remained firm, and special buildings were sanctioned for the pariahs under the care of the Minister of Education, Jamshedji Dalal.

It is said that this minister, who was a very distinguished man, delegated the charge of these particular schools to an assistant, and one day the Maharaja sent word to him that he wished to speak to him about them. When Jamshedji Dalal arrived at the palace, he found the king ready to go out with him.

“”Let us go to see these new school buildings,” he said. The minister had never imagined for a moment that he was expected to know about these buildings himself.

“Pardon, Your Highness, I must find out first where these schools are.”

“And if you do not even know where these buildings are, I wonder where the children’s education can be?” the Maharaja is reported to have said. Then they went together and inspected all the arrangements.

The Maharaja took a great interest in his educational scheme. He would often go unofficially and unannounced to visit a class, and he would ask the teacher to go on with the lesson, while he would sit down and listen to it. There was a friend of ours, a Brahmin schoolmaster, whom the Maharaja met in this way, and he was so pleased with this young man that he sent for him to come and see him in the palace. T. R. Panday was a poor man, an industrious teacher, and had never dreamed of any such honour, and he went to the interview at the palace feeling shy and embarrassed. Like the majority of Indians in his class, he was content to receive his wages and remain faithful to his work and his post.

“Would you like to go abroad, to be educated in the Western manner?” was the Maharaja’s question to him. Panday was overjoyed at this opportunity. “But think well before you decide. Would you be willing to give up many of your Brahmin customs and sacrifice many of your ways and adopt a different way of living?” Panday told us that he replied that he knew what true Brahminism required of him, meaning that he would give up the letter of the Brahmin law, but keep to the true spirit of Brahminism. So the Maharaja sent him to Columbia University in New York. And it was Panday who was the friend who later arranged for Inayat Khan to lecture on Sufism in Columbia University, when my brothers and cousin were in New York.

In New York my brother used to sing to Panday, and he loved the music of home so much that he could not keep back the tears of longing to be at home again with his wife and children. As I have said, we are an emotional race. And although he was a Brahmin, he would join us for dinner when Ali Khan prepared our Indian dishes.

Through the kindness of the Maharaja, Panday had some good friends in New York, Mr. and Mrs. Guest, who treated him almost as if he were a member of their family. One day out swimming with them, he was taken ill in the water, and Mrs. Guest called out to her husband, “Look – what is happening to him?” And Mr. Guest, seeing the danger he was in, rescued him and brought him safely to shore.

Panday said scarcely a word of thanks.

Some days later, when he was with these friends again, Mrs. Guest said, smiling, “We Americans have a custom that we say thank you if someone has helped is.” And Panday told us he replied, “Madam, I know. And I have been wondering with what words I could thank you and your husband for saving my life. For we Indians have a custom too, and it is of not attempting to say thanks in words for an action which is beyond words to express. On the contrary, we express the thanks with a silence and keep the memory of it in silence as a treasure, thinking perhaps a time may come when we may have an opportunity to prove and show our gratitude. How can I ever thank you for having saved my life?” And these kind friends were touched by these words and said they could understand this Indian custom.

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