In most part of his life, Varaaha went on discouraging the treatment meted out to people of the lower caste. Here is how he explains an instance on the topic, to which he himself was a witness. Straight forward narration, without addition of any flowery word here or there, was his speciality. Hope we will have a positive imagination in us, by looking at the down to earth graphic he scribbled to support the script:
One day a lively old gentleman with his bright old wife came to our street. He was searching for a person who lived in a house just in front of ours. The old man appeared to be disappointed to find that his friend had vacated the house and moved to his own new flat. I was impressed by the old man’s manner and language.
I requested him to come in and take rest for a while in my house. I was shocked when he politely refused to enter my house because he was born as an untouchable. I reminded him of the struggle of young people of his cult for attaining social equality and told him that he was not contributing to their noble cause.
The old man laughed loudly and said, ‘Where is the need for such demonstrations? The world has become smaller for human beings. Humans from various parts of the world interact with one another without caring for the race, faith and caste. Untouchability in India is a fast dying curse. It is dying a natural death. The shouts and demonstrations of the people who say that they are struggling for equality are just reminding us of the social discrimination. There are some people in families who believe that to allow a person of a low birth to enter their house is against their old custom. I do not want to hurt the feeling of such people, who cling to such old belief. That is why I hesitate to enter your house’.
Now I felt it easy to make this man and his wife step into my house. I told him that Gandhiji’s teachings and guidance made the Indian masses work together, to attain independence and live together, forgetting their state of birth. On hearing the name of Gandhiji they entered my house with a broad smile on their faces.
After coffee the old man explained the cordial way in which the young and educated people of the upper caste often befriended with youths of his caste. He told how they played, worked together and so on. There was a great deal of talk on Art and its influence on the society. After the old couple left, my thoughts ran back to the village where I lived eighty years ago.
I was just seven years old. My father was a Shanubhog of five villages (Shanubhog was an official who maintained all the records of lands around few villages, collected land taxes, to be paid to the Tahsildar during ‘Jamabandi’, i.e. Tahsildar’s meeting with all the Shanubhogs and land owners). One day I was walking barefoot by the side of my father across a ploughed field. It was a hot day. An untouchable who was coming towards us stopped at a distance and with folded hands and told my father, ‘Sir, I shall manufacture a pair of Girki Chadaav (special footwear used by such people) for our young master’.
We had almost forgotten his offer. On a fine day he came with the Girki Chadaav, that when I wore, perfectly fitted my feet. My father could not hide his jubilation. He queried with exclamation, ‘How could you make this fit my boy’s feet without taking the measurement?’
The humble artisan could only smile. He told me in a hushed voice that he took measurement of my footprint on the field! My father asked him to climb the elevated veranda and sit in front of him. My mother gave him something to eat.
The priest of the local temple happened to pass through that street. He saw the untouchable sitting in front of my father on the elevated veranda. Within few seconds all the Brahmin leaders of the village assembled in front of our house. The priest shouted at my father and asked him to move into the house.
Everybody entered the house and my father followed them. One of the Brahmins asked my father, ‘How could you allow an untouchable to sit on the elevated veranda in front of you? You are a Sanskrit scholar. We are horrified at your act of shattering the dignity of the Brahmin community’.
My father had a broad smile on his face when he began to say ‘I stepped short of what our Acharya (spiritual guide) did’.
The priest was very angry. He cried, ‘How dare you throw the sin of your action at our noble Acharya?’
My father maintained his cool and said, ‘Ramanujacharya was pleased with the services of untouchables when he was proceeding from Melukote towards Delhi to get back the idol of Sri Thirunarayana Swamy. He threw his arm around shoulders of the leader of the untouchables and said in Tamil – Neengal periya kulatthar (that means all of you belong to a noble family)’.
The temple priest quietly left the place. Other Brahmins expressed their regret and followed him.
Romania, Add to dictionary and many spiritual leaders have guided people to live in harmony. But somehow the feeling of untouchability haunted our society for a long time.
Our village was an exception to the bitter divide of caste system. Though people of various castes had their own way of life, mutual economic dependence and love of art made the whole village work together. The festival of ‘Honneru’ (golden plough), the festival of crackers and few other gatherings have left their magnificent impression on my memory.