The Cool Debater

Just in case you have not heard of Totaram Sanadhya, let me introduce him to you. Totaram Sanadhya was born in 1876 in Firozabad. He was a Brahmin by caste. He was tricked by a recruiter and sent to Fiji as an indentured labourer. He spent 21 years there and returned. Totaram’s departure from Fiji in 1914 was quite an event as he was the leader of the Indian indentured labour. He wrote a book ‘My 21 years in Fiji islands’ which created a stir and he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi. He died in Sabarmati Ashram. Mahatma Gandhi himself wrote a eulogy for him on his death.

Why am I telling you the story of Totaram? Read it in the light of the events in Orissa.

I am quoting here verbatim from the book ‘My Twenty-One years in Fiji Islands & The Story of the Haunted Line’ [by Totaram Sanadhya, Translated and edited by John Dunham Kelly and Uttra Kumari Singh, First published by Fiji Museum in 1991, I am QUOTING from the Introduction by John Dunham Kelly]:

A glimpse of Totaram Sanadhya while in Fiji is to be found in the writings of the missionary J.W. Burton……When Burton wrote the following passage, he most certainly had his experiences with this ‘cool debater’ [Totaram] in mind. He is known to have conversed often with Sanadhya……

‘Padri sahib, why do you come here so often?’ The speaker was a clever and well educated Brahman with finely chiseled features and lofty brow so typical of his kind. ‘Do you think you will ever convert me?’ He laughed with mingled pride and courtesy upon his face; but the pride leapt forward and spoke. ‘I am of the sacred thread; my ancestors, long generations before you were born, worshipped after this way. They discovered the only way for my caste, and our feet love the path. They spent their whole lives not in winning bread, not in accumulating wealth – but in thinking about religion. For five thousand years they have been thinking, and here are their thoughts.’ He tapped his Vedas gently with his finger. ‘There are thoughts here that you English, clever as you are in science and machines, can never understand. All the good and true things in your Bible – love thy neighbour, forgiveness of injuries, purity of life and motive – and many more beside. Don’t think that I dislike your coming. I am glad to talk about religion with any fair-minded man; but do not deceive yourself that you will ever influence me. The chances of your becoming a Hindu are much greater than those of my becoming a Christian. You may convert a few pariahs and ignorant men for Christianity is probably the best thing they can embrace. Your big missions in India are doing that – but I am not of that class. I am one who knows. Why do you come here so often, padri sahib?’

All admiration for a young boy of 15 who landed in a foreign country and answered the missionaries!

No violence, it was a ‘Cool Debater’ [Burton’s label for Totaram] at work. Do you get me?

Vivek