“GURUMURTHYJI, after having lost his job, our Rama Rao is in serious financial difficulties. But he does not utter a word about it to any one. You must volunteer to help him”. This is what one of the Swayamsevaks, who had worked along with Rama Rao and me for over two decades in building shakhas in Mylapore, told me. A week after that, Rama Rao came to meet me. He rarely used to meet me, or any one, alone. An excellent team man, he always used to come with co-workers.
But that day he came alone. We had a long discussion, as we were meeting after a long time. We also recalled how some fifteen of us went on cycle from Chennai to Vellore in 1982 to Jalakanteswarar Temple. We discussed about how the Shakhas were; about the times we had shared; about the workers with whom we had worked; about how they are; and every thing about Shakha, Sangh, Co-workers. I waited and waited for Rama Rao to open the subject of his financial difficulties. He wouldn’t and didn’t. Finally I opened the subject.
I asked him, “Rama Rao, I know the Union Motors has closed down. How are you now? Where are you employed?” He told me, “Gurumurthyji, I am employed in Seshadriji’s small scale unit. He is paying Rs 3000. I am doing well”. His phonetics made Rs 3000 sound like Rs 30,000. I didn’t want to trivialise his salary. I told him, “Rama Rao, I am happy that you are doing well. You must think I am your brother and I want to be of help to you. Please tell me what you need.” He replied, “You have helped me a lot” perhaps meaning that his son was working in my office for a while, and said, “I have no needs”. Then what did he come to me for? He hesitatingly told me finally, “Gurumurthyji, this year’s Sangh Siksha Varga is in Chennai itself, in Tambaram. I want you to attend this camp. This will set an example to others. Busy people like you should attend. That will inspire the youngsters”. My eyes turned wet. How cheap I was? And how tall he stood. He had come to me as a co-worker; not as a person in need to person who could help him. He was in difficulties, yes. But, the only help he asked was my time for the Sangh and the country, for the cause he and me jointly believed in, but in which he totally immersed himself, almost like ghee dissolving in fire in Yagna. What he needed – some financial help – but did not tell me I could have easily given; but what he wanted – my time for the Sangh – I could not. I told him about my commitments, all again not my personal or professional, but only public work and Sangh-related. He said that he appreciated that, but he said that he wanted me to know about the camp and that he only took a chance to invite me.
After an hour’s talk he took leave. I left him at the gate. As he peddled away on his cycle, I felt inside me strongly as if some saint had come my house and was leaving. I was almost in tears. I came back, looked for a while at the where he sat with reverence and went inside without my large family noticing my emotion. A week later, the friend who told me about Rama Rao’s difficulties met me. I told him about what had transpired. He told me that Rama Rao who cycled some 10-12 kilo meters a day to the factory to earn the fat salary of Rs 3000 a month had fallen unconscious while cycling to his office a week before he met me, and asked whether Rama Rao mentioned about it. I said “no”. My inner feeling that Rama Rao was a yogi in normal attire only firmed up. This happened years ago.
Sometime later, in the course of my discussions with Advaniji, when the issue of deterioration in people’s character came up, I told him about Rama Rao, and added that it was being in touch with such ordinary co-workers with great qualities that immunised me from the contaminating influence of the society I move in and with. I have spoken to many persons in and outside the RSS about how Rama Rao was an example to me and how people like him had kept me simple in my life. I have told Pujya Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Rao Bhagwat about how Rama Rao has been a great inspiration and guide to me. This was when Rama Rao was very much alive.
I was in Delhi on January 22, 2011, when I heard about Rama Rao’s sudden end. I couldn’t believe it. How could Rama Rao, who was always youthful, playful, active, dynamic, tireless, and ageless, die? Due to my hectic travel commitments I went to his house a bit late. As I entered his house, a modernised hut along the Bunkingham Canal near the Sai Baba Temple in Mylapore, I recalled how he has been living there since I had known him; how the top leaders of the RSS including the then Sarsanghachalak Shri Sudharshanji had stayed in that hut. The only change was that what was just bamboo had become asbestos. His wife, a highly supportive companion for him, told me that never did he once talk about even headache or cold ever in the decades she had lived with him. Not that he did not suffer but, he had kept his pains to himself. When I asked her whether he had told her about his falling down unconscious while cycling to office, she said, ‘no’. That was Rama Rao. Never did he think of himself ever; so never spoke about himself or his difficulties, or even his health ever. Is that not what we know to be Tapas?
For five decades he ceaselessly carried on his daily Shakha work, whether it rained or shined or whether he had fever or cold. I had never seen him absent in Shakhas. He had never been heard complaining against any co-worker. More importantly, no co-worker has ever complained against him – something most difficult to achieve. Like for many of us, cycle was his inseparable companion in Sangh work. Later, many of us had graduated to motorcycles and even cars. But Rama Rao continued to ride his bicycle only. There was no area of Chennai, which he could not have cycled across for Sangh programmes. Why, he would even cycle to far off places like Salem, Vellore or elsewhere in Tamil Nadu to attend special Sangh meets. And, I had never seen him cycling alone within the city. He always used to carry one swayamsevak on his back of his cycle, may be two at times. He was a man of action. Actually he knew only action. He had special love for bala swayamsevaks. He used to play with them and match their energies at games till the last day of his life. People of his age had become old and tired, but he retained the energy of a youth. He was a human dynamo. I have never seen him without a smiling face. He only shared happiness and joy around. I have never seen him dull. He was always interesting and enthusiastic. I have never heard him making speeches; in fact he never seemed capable of uttering even four sentences to explain Sangh thought. He lived Sangh, never spoke about it. Those who knew him experienced Sangh in him. He was respected, accepted, and held as a model by all who knew him, whether rich or poor, educated or otherwise. Generally people are idolised after their lifetime. But Rama Rao had become an idol even when he was alive.
He was an ordinary man by appearance and by the standards of the society, but with extraordinary qualities. Shri Yadavarao Joshi, one of those who inspired me early in Sangh, said once in a two-sentence lecture, “the world wants to see the ordinary side of extra-ordinary men; but, Sangh wants to see the extraordinary side of ordinary men”. The work of the RSS is to perceive and promote the extraordinary dimensions of ordinary human beings. In times when people are dwarfing in character, the challenge of the RSS – to search, discover and grow tall men in ordinary beings – is becoming intense. Rama Rao and Swayamsevaks like him will always be the standing examples of the success of the RSS in its difficult task of man-making in times when even good men are unmade by the vicious atmosphere that prevails in the national discourse.
A final word: I found out his age, that he was elder to me, only after his death. Not knowing his age, I used to address him like a senior to a junior, and he, like a junior to a senior. Rama Rao, a youth till he died is now no more. But he will continue to inspire many, many youngsters with so many co-workers, who have moved with him, to tell them about him.