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I Receive My University Degree
your textbook assignments in philosophy. No doubt you are depending
on an unlaborious 'intuition' to get you through the examinations.
But unless you apply yourself in a more scholarly manner, I shall
see to it that you don't pass this course."
D. C. Ghoshal of Serampore College was addressing me sternly. If
I failed to pass his final written classroom test, I would be ineligible
to take the conclusive examinations. These are formulated by the
faculty of Calcutta University, which numbers Serampore College
among its affiliated branches. A student in Indian universities
who is unsuccessful in one subject in the A.B. finals must be examined
anew in all his subjects the following year.
at Serampore College usually treated me with kindness, not untinged
by an amused tolerance. "Mukunda is a bit over-drunk with religion."
Thus summing me up, they tactfully spared me the embarrassment of
answering classroom questions; they trusted the final written tests
to eliminate me from the list of A.B. candidates. The judgment passed
by my fellow students was expressed in their nickname for me --- "Mad
I took an ingenious
step to nullify Professor Ghoshal's threat to me of failure in philosophy.
When the results of the final tests were about to be publicly announced,
I asked a classmate to accompany me to the professor's study.
I want a witness," I told my companion. "I shall be very
much disappointed if I have not succeeded in outwitting the instructor."
shook his head after I had inquired what rating he had given my
not among those who have passed," he said in triumph. He hunted
through a large pile on his desk. "Your paper isn't here at
all; you have failed, in any case, through non-appearance at the
"Sir, I was there. May I look through the stack myself?"
professor, nonplused, gave his permission; I quickly found my paper,
where I had carefully omitted any identification mark except my
roll call number. Unwarned by the "red flag" of my name,
the instructor had given a high rating to my answers even though
they were unembellished by textbook quotations.1
through my trick, he now thundered, "Sheer brazen luck!"
He added hopefully, "You are sure to fail in the A.B. finals."
the tests in my other subjects, I received some coaching, particularly
from my dear friend and cousin, Prabhas Chandra Ghose,2 son of my Uncle
Sarada. I staggered painfully but successfully --- with the lowest possible
passing marks --- through all my final tests.
Now, after four
years of college, I was eligible to sit for the A.B. examinations.
Nevertheless, I hardly expected to avail myself of the privilege.
The Serampore College finals were child's play compared to the stiff
ones which would be set by Calcutta University for the A.B. degree.
My almost daily visits to Sri Yukteswar had left me little time
to enter the college halls. There it was my presence rather than
my absence that brought forth ejaculations of amazement from my
customary routine was to set out on my bicycle about nine-thirty
in the morning. In one hand I would carry an offering for my guru --- a
few flowers from the garden of my Panthi boardinghouse. Greeting
me affably, Master would invite me to lunch. I invariably accepted
with alacrity, glad to banish the thought of college
for the day. After hours with Sri Yukteswar, listening to his incomparable
flow of wisdom, or helping with ashram duties, I would reluctantly
depart around midnight for the Panthi. Occasionally I stayed
all night with my guru, so happily engrossed in his conversation
that I scarcely noticed when darkness changed into dawn.
night about eleven o'clock, as I was putting on my shoes 3 in preparation
for the ride to the boardinghouse, Master questioned me gravely.
your A.B. examinations start?"
you are in readiness for them."
alarm, I held one shoe in the air. "Sir," I protested,
"you know how my days have been passed with you rather than
with the professors. How can I enact a farce by appearing for those
eyes were turned piercingly on mine. "You must appear."
His tone was coldly peremptory. "We should not give cause for
your father and other relatives to criticize your preference for
ashram life. Just promise me that you will be present for the examinations;
answer them the best way you can."
tears were coursing down my face. I felt that Master's command was
unreasonable, and that his interest was, to say the least, belated.
appear if you wish it," I said amidst sobs. "But no time
remains for proper preparation." Under my breath I muttered,
"I will fill up the sheets with your teachings in answer to
When I entered
the hermitage the following day at my usual hour, I presented my
bouquet with a certain mournful solemnity. Sri Yukteswar laughed
at my woebegone air.
has the Lord ever failed you, at an examination or elsewhere?"
I responded warmly. Grateful memories came in a revivifying flood.
laziness but burning zeal for God has prevented you from seeking
college honors," my guru said kindly. After a silence, he quoted,
"'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.'"4
the thousandth time, I felt my burdens lifted in Master's presence.
When we had finished our early lunch, he suggested that I return
to the Panthi.
your friend, Romesh Chandra Dutt, still live in your boardinghouse?"
touch with him; the Lord will inspire him to help you with the examinations."
sir; but Romesh is unusually busy. He is the honor man in our class,
and carries a heavier course than the others."
aside my objections. "Romesh will find time for you. Now go."
bicycled back to the Panthi. The first person I met in the
boardinghouse compound was the scholarly Romesh. As though his days
were quite free, he obligingly agreed to my diffident request.
I am at your service." He spent several hours of that afternoon
and of succeeding days in coaching me in my various subjects.
many questions in English literature will be centered in the route
of Childe Harold," he told me. "We must get an atlas at
I hastened to
the home of my Uncle Sarada and borrowed an atlas. Romesh marked
the European map at the places visited by Byron's romantic traveler.
A few classmates
had gathered around to listen to the tutoring. "Romesh is advising
you wrongly," one of them commented to me at the end of a session.
"Usually only fifty per cent of the questions are about the
books; the other half will involve the authors' lives."
When I sat for
the examination in English literature the following day, my first
glance at the questions caused tears of gratitude to pour forth,
wetting my paper. The classroom monitor came to my desk and made
a sympathetic inquiry.
foretold that Romesh would help me," I explained. "Look;
the very questions dictated to me by Romesh are here on the examination
sheet! Fortunately for me, there are very few questions this year
on English authors, whose lives are wrapped in deep mystery so far
as I am concerned!"
was in an uproar when I returned. The boys who had been ridiculing
Romesh's method of coaching looked at me in awe, almost deafening
me with congratulations. During the week of the examinations, I
spent many hours with Romesh, who formulated questions that he thought
were likely to be set by the professors. Day by day, Romesh's questions
appeared in almost the same form on the examination sheets.
The news was
widely circulated in the college that something resembling a miracle
was occurring, and that success seemed probable for the absent-minded
"Mad Monk." I made no attempt to hide the facts of the
case. The local professors were powerless to alter the questions,
which had been arranged by Calcutta University.
the examination in English literature, I realized one morning that
I had made a serious error. One section of the questions had been
divided into two parts of A or B, and C or D. Instead of answering
one question from each part, I had carelessly answered both questions
in Group I, and had failed to consider anything in Group II. The
best mark I could score in that paper would be 33, three less than
the passing mark of 36. I rushed to Master and poured out my troubles.
have made an unpardonable blunder. I don't deserve the divine blessings
through Romesh; I am quite unworthy."
up, Mukunda." Sri Yukteswar's tones were light and unconcerned.
He pointed to the blue vault of the heavens. "It is more possible
for the sun and moon to interchange their positions in space than
it is for you to fail in getting your degree!"
I left the hermitage
in a more tranquil mood, though it seemed mathematically inconceivable
that I could pass. I looked once or twice apprehensively into the
sky; the Lord of Day appeared to be securely anchored in his customary
I reached the Panthi, I overheard a classmate's remark: "I
have just learned that this year, for the first time, the required
passing mark in English literature has been lowered."
I entered the
boy's room with such speed that he looked up in alarm. I questioned
monk," he said laughingly, "why this sudden interest in
scholastic matters? Why cry in the eleventh hour? But it is true
that the passing mark has just been lowered to 33 points."
A few joyous
leaps took me into my own room, where I sank to my knees and praised
the mathematical perfections of my Divine Father.
Every day I
thrilled with the consciousness of a spiritual presence that I clearly
felt to be guiding me through Romesh. A significant incident occurred
in connection with the examination in Bengali. Romesh, who had touched
little on that subject, called me back one morning as I was leaving
the boardinghouse on my way to the examination hall.
is Romesh shouting for you," a classmate said to me impatiently.
"Don't return; we shall be late at the hall."
advice, I ran back to the house.
examination is usually easily passed by our Bengali boys,"
Romesh told me. "But I have just had a hunch that this year
the professors have planned to massacre the students by asking questions
from our ancient literature." My friend then briefly outlined
two stories from the life of Vidyasagar, a renowned philanthropist.
I thanked Romesh
and quickly bicycled to the college hall. The examination sheet
in Bengali proved to contain two parts. The first instruction was:
"Write two instances of the charities of Vidyasagar."
As I transferred to the paper the lore that I had so recently acquired,
I whispered a few words of thanksgiving that I had heeded Romesh's
last-minute summons. Had I been ignorant of Vidyasagar's benefactions
to mankind (including ultimately myself), I could not have passed
the Bengali examination. Failing in one subject, I would have been
forced to stand examination anew in all subjects the following year.
Such a prospect was understandably abhorrent.
The second instruction
on the sheet read: "Write an essay in Bengali on the life of
the man who has most inspired you." Gentle reader, I need not
inform you what man I chose for my theme. As I covered page after
page with praise of my guru, I smiled to realize that my muttered
prediction was coming true: "I will fill up the sheets with
I had not felt
inclined to question Romesh about my course in philosophy. Trusting
my long training under Sri Yukteswar, I safely disregarded the textbook
explanations. The highest mark given to any of my papers was the
one in philosophy. My score in all other subjects was just barely
within the passing mark.
is a pleasure to record that my unselfish friend Romesh received
his own degree cum laude.
was wreathed in smiles at my graduation. "I hardly thought
you would pass, Mukunda," he confessed. "You spend so
much time with your guru." Master had indeed correctly detected
the unspoken criticism of my father.
For years I
had been uncertain that I would ever see the day when an A.B. would
follow my name. I seldom use the title without reflecting that it
was a divine gift, conferred on me for reasons somewhat obscure.
Occasionally I hear college men remark that very little of their
crammed knowledge remained with them after graduation. That admission
consoles me a bit for my undoubted academic deficiencies.
On the day I
received my degree from Calcutta University, I knelt at my guru's
feet and thanked him for all the blessings flowing from his life
Mukunda," he said indulgently. "The Lord simply found
it more convenient to make you a graduate than to rearrange the
sun and moon!"
I must do Professor Ghoshal the justice of admitting that the strained
relationship between us was not due to any fault of his, but solely
to my absences from classes and inattention in them. Professor Ghoshal
was, and is, a remarkable orator with vast philosophical knowledge.
In later years we came to a cordial understanding.
Back to text
Although my cousin and I have the same family name of Ghosh, Prabhas
has accustomed himself to transliterating his name in English as
Ghose; therefore I follow his own spelling here.
Back to text
A disciple always removes his shoes in an Indian hermitage.
Back to text
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