Volume - 7 : Issue - 2

Published : April - June 2008

Group : Personalities


Back to the List



By Nari Panjwani (an Ex-Student)

There must be quite a few persons who have known Lal Krishana Advani since the days of undivided India.  I am one of them. Although not exactly a contemporary, I'm just five years younger and was his student in Karachi. The school in which he taught me was known as W.B. High School.  “W. B.” stands for Wadhumal Bulchand and although I don't know who these gentlemen were, I'm nevertheless certain that they were not mercenaries merely wanting enrichment from education but in all probability philanthropic Sindhi gentlemen who were interested in the proliferation of education. This philanthropy of rich Sindhis has been exhibited in India after partition by the many schools, colleges and hospitals established in Bombay, Pune, Bangalore and elsewhere.

We knew him then as Lal Advani. The middle name Krishana was added later on. His father's name was Kishenchand and if he were to follow our custom of putting father's name between first name and surname, he would call himself Lal Kishenchand Advani. But, for reasons best known to him he substituted Krishna for Kishenchand.  He was not only our teacher but a friend as well. The difference in age between him and his students in the pre-matric class in 1946 was only 4 or 5 years. We were all very impressed by his keen intellect, logical mind and his very rational explanation of all the fundamentals of the subjects he taught us. These subjects were - Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and also English - Prose, Poetry and Grammar. In Physics he gave us an insight into the life of a certain Mr. Boyle (Boyles' law); in Chemistry he told us about a certain Mr. Charles (Charles' law on expansion of gasses). In Mathematics he was in his elements explaining the Euclidean principles of Geometry and even though not in our syllabus, he told us about Galileo's discoveries in astronomy. I distinctly remember when he once floored us with a difficult question. He asked why we have to fly some 28 hours from Drigh Road Karachi to Idlewild in New York? Why can't we go up vertically in a plane in Karachi and stay up circling around for 12 hours and descend to some part of the US, same latitude as Karachi? He was obviously talking about geo stationary orbit, though not in those very words.

 My recollection of Lal (let me call him by this short name hereinafter in this article) was that of a tall, lanky slim boy with long hair, reminiscent of current Bollywood star John Abraham (before he cut his hair short) .This slim boy Lal was exceedingly quick in his reflexes. This was evident from the agility with which he would turn around whilst writing on the blackboard and shoot a piece of chalk in his hand towards anyone in the class who was making “phus phus”. His aim was invariably correct and this was not unsimilar to the famous South African cricketer Jaunty Rhodes shying a ball at the stumps.

Talking of cricket, our school was the Champion school in Karachi, having it's captain at one time Gulab Ramchand Sipahimalani who went on to captain India under the shortened name of G. S. Ramchand. If my memory serves me right India beat Australia for the first time under his captaincy. Lal was a great fan of cricket, probably still is, and I remember how he would take me and other students to watch a match between our school and other schools. In the year 1946, in the finals of the Ruby Shield tournament, our school was pitted against St, Patrick's, which was Lal's alma mater. When we asked him whether he would support the school which employed him or his alma mater, he said that his support was for the better side and indeed our school was the better side that won the shield.

At that time I also knew Lal as a very dedicated worker in the RSS and his Shakha on Vallabhai Patel Road ( or was it Vithalbhai Patel Road?) was close to my shakha of the RSD ( Rashtriya Seva Dal) and once or twice we bumped into each other and his modus operandi was to invite me to an Irani restaurant in the “Gol Bazaar”, order a cup of “peshial” chai (one Anna) along with some cup cake (mawa cake?-2 Annas) and try to persuade me to join the RSS and leave the RSD. I was too enamoured of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel and could not think of leaving a youth organization of the Indian National Congress Party.

Let's leave cricket, RSS and RSD aside and arrive at July 1947, when the partition plan for India was announced and all of us Hindus in Sindh were most anxious about our future existence in Pakistan. Our school was shut down.  My class was in matric standard and under the rules of the University of Bombay, it was mandatory that a student appearing for matriculation exam must attend a minimum of 110 days in school. Our Principal Chandiram Advani along with Lal held a few classes in Gur Mandir, close to our school but, soon with dwindling attendance, many families migrating to India and overall uncertainty in the air these classes were abandoned and some time thereafter Lal migrated to India. My father brought us to Bombay by boat on 4 January 1948.

In 1948 I appeared for my matriculation exam in Bombay, after the minimum requirement of 110 days was withdrawn perhaps due to the efforts of Professors T.M. Advani and Ram Panjwani. Having completed my Intermediate in Science in Udaipur in the year 1950 I got admitted to the Birla institute in Pilani and I don't remember how I got to know Lal's whereabouts in Bharatpur. I wrote him a long letter discussing politics, RSS, two nation theory etc. and he promptly replied in his immaculate handwriting.  I wonder whether he has retained his calligraphy. I think there were one or two more exchanges of letters and then, when I was in Udaipur during vacation, he informed me that he was coming  there for a stay of a couple of days. I asked my dad, if Lal could stay with us and my dad immediately got a room ready for his brief sojourn. However, when I received him at the Railway station and told him that we have a room ready for him in our house he very politely declined my offer and asked me to take him to the Dharamshala in town where he was attending some seminar with colleagues of the RSS. When we entered the room allotted to him in the Dharamshala, I found a bare cement floor and the room devoid of any furniture, not even a charpoy. I asked him how and where was he going to sleep in the night? He opened a roll under his left arm and out came a bamboo chatai, a bedsheet, a blanket and a pillow. That was his Spartan bed and in his right hand, he was carrying a burlap bag and when I asked him what was inside, he said that there was a copy of the Bhagwat Gita, a flute, a kurta, a dhoti and perhaps a comb and some sort of towel. I was greatly touched and overwhelmed by the simplicity of this man and felt great respect and deep admiration for him; specially so when he told me that he washes his kurta and dhoti with his own hands. It was bitterly cold then and we both climbed up on the open terrace of the building and while basking in the sun, he took out his flute and played some tune.

This incident took place in 1952 or thereabouts and thereafter I never met this ex teacher of mine until 1987 when, after working abroad as an engineer for over thirty years I returned to India with a wife and a daughter born in Colombo. I happened to be in Delhi and just on a whim, and for a lark, I phoned Lal, getting his telephone number from the directory. Having identified myself I asked him if he remembered me. Not only did he remember me very well but also knew that I had worked in the UK, Ceylon, Singapore, Brunei and Nigeria. How did he know all this? He said that he always kept tabs on his old favourite students and my collar went up upon knowing that he considered me one of his favourites. He graciously invited the three of us to his house at Pandara Road for breakfast the following morning and when we reached  his bungalow, he was waiting outside his gate to receive us (how polite and considerate!) and inside his parlour, he introduced us to his wife Kamla, his daughter and son. Then he told his secretary that he was not to be disturbed by any phone calls or visitors for atleast two hours. We had a nice Sindhi breakfast followed by cold coffee and had quite a nice long chit chat. He asked my daughter what would she like to see and visit in Delhi and as desired by her and me, he arranged for passes to visit the Lok Sabha, Rashtrapati Bhavan.  Because my daughter wanted to see Rajiv Gandhi, her favourite and since Rajiv was scheduled to appear in the upper house on the following Wednesday, he arranged for a pass for the Rajya Sabha as well. A couple of days later he phoned  to find out if everything had gone smoothly and if there was anything else he could do for us. A considerate and polite human being specially so because after breakfast at his house, he escorted us out on the Pandara Road and hailed a taxi.

A few months later I got an early morning call from him in Bangalore and he asked if we could meet at Cauveri International Hotel for breakfast. Half sleepy, I told him sorry I had arranged to play golf. My wife came out of the bedroom and asked me who called.  When I told her that I had told Lal that I could not meet him for breakfast because I was playing golf, she jumped up on me “ you idiot, here is the future prime minister asking you to have breakfast with him and you want to play your silly golf” I realized that, as always, she was right. I phoned Cauvery International and they confirmed that Shri L. K. Advani was hosting a breakfast press meeting; so I cancelled my four ball golf and rushed to the breakfast press meet. When Lal saw me he asked why was I not at the golf course? I explained that my wife wished that I rather have breakfast with the future Prime Minister than play golf with three other morons like me. He laughed and asked someone to give me a press badge and told me to just listen, keep my mouth shut and not ask any questions. After the press meeting he was informed that his flight to Delhi was delayed by a few hours and I was very happy that he wanted to come to my apartment and meet my wife but, someone else was successful in hijacking him away from me. A few days later I received a hand written note from a certain gentleman well settled in Bangalore asking me, as desired by his mentor and friend Lal, if he could be of any help to me in making my stay better in Bangalore because  I had recently relocated in India and may need help in settling down. I was touched. Someone who was my teacher for a period of mere two years some two score years ago was concerned about my welfare. There was no further contact with Lal until last year in Singapore in 2007, where I went to attend the Sindhi Sammelan and he came as the chief guest. Once again our meeting was at breakfast at the hotel where the Sammelan was organized.

But in the intervening period I kept alive my interest in Lal and keenly followed his speeches and movements. In the year 1990 he announced his decision to go on a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. This news shattered me. I was critical of his decision. In a way I felt betrayed by my idol going across the country in a theatrical chariot with Lord Ram with a bow and arrow, in the background as a large painting. Here was a man of great intellect, very rational and yet he was undertaking a journey through India, not to talk about the grinding poverty, the illiteracy, the lack of drinking water, the lack of electricity, the lack of discipline but about building a temple! Was building a temple an answer to all that was ailing our matrabhoomi? Was building a temple going to usher our nation into some kind of great glory? As it turned out this yatra created even more religious intolerance than ever before. This man with blinkered vision was doing the Yatra and talking everywhere about the temple with a single objective of increasing the strength of his party in the Parliament. To the best of my knowledge, no politician anywhere in this world has gone around asking for votes in return for building a temple or a mosque or a church! His party strength in the Parliament went up from two to eighty six, partly or mainly due to pre-poll alliance with V. P. Singh in 1989. The Government was shaky at the centre and he wanted to better prospects for his party if elections were suddenly imposed. This was ofcourse a very natural desire on his part as President of his Party. But suppose, he had gone on a Rath Yatra telling people that if his party was voted into power, he would do his utmost to tackle what was ailing the country, namely illiteracy, poverty, lack of drinking water, lack of roads and electricity. I don't know for sure, but feel positive that he would have probably done even better in the ensuing elections.

This man Lal was my idol and I was disappointed with him when he undertook the Rath Yatra. He fell from grace in my eyes. He created division in the country between religions. He created communal polarization, contrary to the secular credentials of India. Whenever he talks of secular India, he calls it pseudo secularism! He was responsible for all the madness that happened afterwards. The demolition of Babri Masjid; he says that he was saddened when it happened but would it have happened if he  had not talked ad-nauseam about building a temple on the site of the derelict mosque? How can you build a temple on the site of an old mosque without first dismantling it? As a civil engineer with vast experience, I can say with certainty that you cannot shift an ancient crumbling structure elsewhere and if you want to build any new structure on the same site you must, definitely must, demolish the old structure. After the demolition of the crumbling mosque riots occurred in Bombay and elsewhere and then there were the very nasty Bombay blasts. All that for an inconsequential temple; a temple that was not in any way essential for the country. 

In the India Today Conclave Lal said that crores of Hindus in India believed that Ram Janmabhoomi was on the site of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, or words to that effect. This is, to use a Churchillian expression a terminological inexactitude. Not crores, not even one tenth of a crore, (a million) Hindus believed this. The only people who propagated this unproven belief were members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and this Parishad had a numerical strength of much much less than even a million. The Hindus in rural and urban India, all believed in Ram as an avatar but not any of them thought that he was born under the site of a derelict and dilapidated mosque in Ayodhya. It was certainly our friend Lal who brainwashed a large portion of Hindus in India between Somnath and Bihar. He brainwashed them that the mythical Lord Ram was born under a disused mosque in Ayodhya. After the demolition of the ill fated mosque Advani said he was sad about the event but conveniently forgot to mention that the mosque was demolished because he had defined the site of the wretched mosque as the birth place of Rama.

Lal says that his Rath Yatra was the defining moment in his career. It certainly was a defining moment in the History of India. It was a moment which created religious intolerance and a great divide in the country.

Shri Lal Krishan Advani may yet become the prime minister of India and I'm certain that he would be scrupulously honest, just like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Madhu Dandvate or our present P. M. Dr. Manmohan Singh. He would also be an efficient administrator and very good at the management of his team of ministers and his staff. He is a caring person and genuinely loves people of India. I only wish that he had not been so obsessed with building a temple at Ayodhya or any other place in India whilst he called himself a politician or a political activist. Politicians elsewhere in the world do not go around propagating building of religious places. If , in his Rath yatra Lal had spoken in each and every village and hamlet about the genuine problems of the people and promised some effort in solving the problem and promised “roti kapda makan, also sarak and bijli”, he would have risen, not only in my inconsequent esteem, but also in the eyes of the whole nation. He would perhaps have come out as a Mahatma, and not a very misunderstood politician as the media now calls him.

All said and done, I still wish him well, good health, happiness and success if and when he becomes our Prime Minister. I know for certain that he will make a better prime minister than many of his predecessors and he will do good for India in all spheres. I only hope that he will not waste his enormous talent in building a temple and leave this task to religious organizations. He is now eighty years old and says that he suffers from good health. I sincerely wish him to go on suffering form his ailment of good health for a very long time.

About The Author

Nari Panjwani, aged 75 is a Civil Engineer, with  a vast experience having worked for 3 years (1954–1957) in the Rajasthan Irrigation Department, thereafter he worked for a long spill overseas – 5 years in London (1957–1962), 5 years in Ceylon (1962–1967), 10 years in Singapore (1967-1977) followed by 10 year in Nigeria (1977–1987).

In 1987 he retired from active work and relocated to Bangalore where he has been living ever since with his wife Molly, not far from his happily married daughter Shiela, his only child.

Mr. Punjwani keeps himself active and occupied playing golf, reading and listening to music.