13. THE GENTLE BIHARI
I knew Maulana Mazharul Haq
in London when he was studying for the bar, and when I met him at the Bombay
Congress in 1915--the year in which he was President of the Muslim League--he
had renewed the acquaintance, and extended me an invitation to stay with
him whenever I happened to go to Patna. I bethought myself of this invitation,
and sent him a note indicating the purpose of my visit. He immediately
came in his car, and pressed me to accept his hospitality. I thanked him,
and requested him to guide me to my destination by the first available
train, the railway guide being useless to an utter stranger like me. He
had a talk with Rajkumar Shukla, and suggested that I should first go to
Muzaffarpur. There was a train for that place the same evening, and he
sent me off by it.
Principal Kripalani was then
in Muzaffarpur. I had known of him ever since my visit to Hyderabad. Dr.
Choithram had told me of his great sacrifice, of his simple life, and of
the Ashram that Dr. Choithram was running out of funds provided by Professor
Kripalani. He used to be a professor in the Government College, Muzaffarpur,
and had just resigned the post when I went there. I had sent a telegram
informing him of my arrival, and he met me at the station with a crowd
of students, though the train reached there at midnight. He had no rooms
of his own, and was staying with Professor Malkani, who therefore virtually
became my host. It was an extraordinary thing in those days for a Government
professor to harbour a man like me.
Professor Kripalani spoke to
me about the desperate condition of Bihar, particularly of the Tirhut division,
and gave me an idea of the difficulty of my task. He had established very
close contact with the Biharis, and had already spoken to them about the
mission that took me to Bihar.
In the morning a small group
of vakils called on me. I still remember Ramnavmi Prasad among them, as
his earnestness specially appealed to me.
'It is not possible,' he said,
'for you to do the kind of work you have come for, if you stay here (meaning
Professor Malkani's quarters). You must come and stay with one of us. Gaya
Babu is a well-known vakil here. I have come on his behalf to invite you
to stay with him. I confess we are all afraid of Government, but we shall
render what help we can. Most of the things Rajkumar Shukla has told you
are true. It is a pity our leaders are not here today. I have, however,
wired to them both, Babu Brajkishore Prasad and Babu Rajendra Prasad. I
expect them to arrive shortly, and they are sure to be able to give you
all the information you want and to help you considerably. Pray come over
to Gaya Babu's place.'
This was a request that I could
not resist, though I hesitated for fear of embarrassing Gaya Babu. But
he put me at ease, and so I went over to stay with him. He and his people
showered all their affection on me.
Brajkishore Babu now arrived
from Darbhanga, and Rajendra Babu from Puri. Brajkishore Babu was not the
Babu Brajkishore Prasad I had met in Lucknow. He impressed me this time
with his humility, simplicity, goodness, and extraordinary faith, so characteristic
of the Biharis, and my heart was joyous over it. The Bihar vakils' regard
for him was an agreeable surprise to me.
Soon I felt myself becoming
bound to this circle of friends in life-long friendship. Brajkishore Babu
acquainted me with the facts of the case. He used to be in the habit of
taking up the cases of the poor tenants. There were two such cases pending
when I went there. When he won any such case, he consoled himself that
he was doing something for these poor people. Not that he did not charge
fees for these simple peasants. Lawyers labour under the belief that if
they do not charge fees, they will have no wherewithal to run their households,
and will not be able to render effective help to the poor people. The figures
of the fees they charged, and the standard of a barrister's fees in Bengal
and Bihar, staggered me.
'We gave Rs. 10,000 to so-and-so
for his opinion,' I was told. Nothing less than four figures in any case.
The friends listened to
my kindly reproach, and did not misunderstand me.
'Having studied these cases,'
said I, 'I have come to the conclusion that we should stop going to law
courts. Taking such cases to the courts does little good. Where the ryots
are so crushed and fear-stricken, law courts are useless. The real relief
for them is to be free from fear. We cannot sit still until we have driven
out of Bihar. I had thought that I should be able to leave here in two
days, but I now realize that the work might take even two years. I am prepared
to give that time, if necessary. I am now feeling my ground, but I want
I found Brajkishore Babu exceptionally
cool-headed. 'We shall render all the help we can,' he said quietly, 'but
pray tell us what kind of help you will need.'
And thus we sat talking until
'I shall have little use for
your legal knowledge,' I said to them. 'I want clerical assitance and help
in interpretation. It may be necessary to face imprisonment, but much as
I would love you to run that risk, you would go only so far as you feel
yourselves capable of going. Even turning yourselves into clerks and giving
up your profession for an indefinite period is no small thing. I find it
difficult to understand the local dialect of Hindi, and I shall not be
able to read papers written in Kaithi or Urdu. I shall want you to translate
them for me. We cannot afford to pay for this work. It should all be done
for love and out of a spirit of service.'
Brajkishore Babu understood
this immediately, and he now cross-examined me and his companions by turns.
He tried to ascertain the implications of all that I had said--how long
their service would be required, how many of them would be needed, whether
they might serve by turns, and so on. Then he asked the vakils the capacity
of their sacrifice.
Ultimately they gave me this
assurance. 'Such and such a number of us will do whatever you may ask.
Some of us will be with you for so much time as you may require. The idea
of accommodating oneself to imprisonment is a novel thing for us. We will
try to assimilate it.'