Friday Column: From My Darbhanga Diaries

Of Idiosyncrasies and Eccentricities

While still in my high school days I would visit Dr Lakshaman Jha in Katharwadi, Darbhanga. His residence was a meeting point for local scholars. People would hold him in high esteem. I would often hear people say his command of English was awesome and he could give Englishmen a run for their money.

Accompanied by my school friends I once visited him with a piece I had written in English with care and application. I passed it on to him for his opinion. He took the piece and went through it. Looking serious and stern, he said the piece bristled with errors and ”ham ekra laal pen say bhujri-bhujri kay deb lekin nahi karab kaaran ahaank mitrgan aihitham chhaith ”- I could red-pencil the piece to smithereens but I would not do so now as to spare you the embarrassment before friends”.

On top of it he added that I could never write English as well as him. I was a little crestfallen but found his eccentricities fascinating. I was once at his place in the morning when the first thing he asked me was if I could recite the Gayatri Mantra. The moment I said no he called his devoted aide Krishnakant ordering him ” hinka par ekta maachhi nahi baisay diy- Krisnnakant should not allow a single fly to sit on me.

In other words, he should immediately show me the door. When away from Dr Saheb’s residence, I had almost died laughing. Sometimes, I found his behavior adolescent to me. I was once in my village along with a professor of history from Berlin. It just occurred to me that I should bring him to Dr Lakshaman Jha for a conversation.

We reached Dr Saheb’s residence in Darbhanga town around 10-30 am. Seeing me accompanied by a foreigner, Dr. Jha lost his temper and began scolding me for bringing a foreigner without a prior appointment. He kept talking about it in Maithili for nearly 20 minutes. And during the time, not even once did he deem it proper to address the foreign historian nor did he cast a glance at him.

He behaved as if there was no foreigner around. And looking annoyed with me, he said we could meet him only at 3.30 pm. We had to cool our heels for about 4 hours at Raj Compound for the meeting. We were back sharp at 3-30 pm and true to form, Dr Saheb began labouring the point why I did not inform him about our visit in advance.

As expected, he again did all the talking in Maithili and did not exchange a single word with the guest. Fed up with his refusal to talk to the guest I said if he would continue talking in Maithili I would have no choice but to return to my village. Long story short, Dr Saheb and the German historian finally began talking. I felt relieved. And soon I saw the feeling of celebration sweep the place.

Their conversation lasted around three hours covering various historical matters. In between, it also came to light that Dr. Saheb was already familiar with some of the writings of the German historian. Both of them looked giddy with joy delving deeper into history. But all good things must come to an end. We wanted to be back home before the night began

Dr Saheb insisted on us staying overnight but we were short on time. When we were leaving, Dr Saheb had his heart on his sleeve. I could feel, after a long time he had possibly had a matching interlocutor. I had spent almost my whole day away from the village but there was compensation like I could hear Dr Saheb speak in English.

Accompanied by some villagers I once went to meet Dr Lakshman Jha. He was in his element and putting a mass of printed materials in order. He looked glad about our visit. In the course of the conversation, one of my villagers queried him about his days abroad. I remember, he shared with us some insubstantial details
about his student days in England.

…to be continued

–Paras Nath Choudhary/New Delhi

(The author of this weekly Friday Column is from Darbhanga in Bihar and has worked for more than thirty years, for the South Asia Institute, New Delhi, branch of Germany’s Heidelberg University. He is well versed in Hindi, Maithili, Bangla, English and German languages and is an acclaimed commentator.)

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