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Hira Lal - A Life of Clarity and Action
by Anilkumar Deshpande
We usually know a person's life from one or two angles only. We understand it according to our prejudices, belief structure or by merely what he did or said and what position he held, by how much it was of use to us etc. We are hardly able to visualize the breadth of vision or feel the depth of passion, understand the deeper motivations behind the outward actions or the depth behind quietness. That is why it seems to be difficult to do full justice while trying to understand and describe the multifarious personality like that of Prof. Dr Hira Lal. After his passing away in December 2005, many like me have missed him greatly. He will be remembered as a man of clarity of perception, action and compassion. Though appearing sometimes strict and disciplined, he was a inwardly loving and helpful person. Very good at the studies, Prof. Hira Lal led a life of a hard work, devotion and developed a taste for a deeper thinking from beginning. He had a spiritual discontent right from his young age itself and had decided to lead his life in an austere way. He got educated in adverse conditions and had to carry out the family responsibilities in the young age. After successfully completing his post graduation in Chemistry, on he went abroad for the research and after coming back to India chose the profession of academic teaching. In search of a deeper way of life he had read various books of religious and philosophical nature and first heard J. Krishnamurti's talks at an early age. As my association with him
began in his later part of his life, the same has been highlighted here.
The First Interaction
As young student I first came to know him when he was the Professor of Chemistry and also the Dean of the Student's affairs at I. I. T, Powai, Mumbai. Once he came to our hostel to attend a mixed musical program by students at an invitation, as many knew his admired Indian classical music. He expressed a great honour and friendliness while dealing with the young. I remember him saying to a student, with a kind smile, with his eyes narrowing with compassion, "Many in life wake up and start late, I hope you are not a late starter..!" He had a noble expression with an attentive, exploratory look and a strong determination in his eyes. We few students from the campus used to attend Shri J. Krishnamurti's talks in the J. J. School of Arts College compound. We used to notice Prof. Hira Lal in the audience there. Not being his direct students, there was no interaction between us then, but there was certainly a curiosity about what he thought about life in general and Krishnamurti's approach in particular. We had heard about his long association with this great thinker.
Formation of the K Study Circle
The day came soon in the later part of 1979, when we found ourselves close to Prof. Hira Lal. He had sent a message around the Campus announcing that he wished to meet all those interested in Krishnamurti's teachings in the campus, at the weekend evening. We were pleased and looked forward to listen what he would be saying. And the evening came. In a somewhat large cabin of his (He was the Head of the Chemistry Department), some 10-12 persons had gathered, mainly some students and a few staff members. After informally welcoming he asked all present to introduce themselves, to express their views and suggestions. He talked about the great importance and uniqueness of J Krishnamurti's teachings which are concerned with a deep psychological change. In view of this, he said, there was a need of coming together and follow up the study of these teachings.
He had a good collection of books and cassettes of Krishnamurti's talks. It was proposed to have some regular interaction, we could listen to the tape-recorded talks and discuss some points together. All of us endorsed his suggestions with a full heart and it was decided that we should meet at the weekends every fortnight. Thus came into existence a Study Group in the Campus which we later called Krishnamurti Study Circle.
A Distant Vision
In the meetings Prof. Hira Lal encouraged the students or staff members to come forward and have discussions in a free atmosphere. Usually a paragraph or two were read out and discussed in a detailed way. Sometimes it was a taped talk followed by critical interaction. The emphasis was on applying the teachings. Every discussion meeting was a lively experience, it opened the new horizons in perceptions and brought us all closer inwardly. He had a unique way of communicating his perceptions in the discussion. He had his own meditative insight, but he remained himself in the background. Many will remember that whenever Prof. Hira Lal spoke. the atmosphere appeared to be charged with an energy. He seemed to be using whole of his mind and speaking from a depth. He could often convey the real feelings and generate in others a great sense of seriousness, urgency, need for an immediate action. He used to listen with care and respect to all including the young students. At personal level I had several occasions to meet and to have frank discussions with him.
Interaction with JK
In 1980, due to the efforts of local admirers of JK and Dr. Parchure who a close associate of Krishnaji, few Study Groups were formed in the different parts of Mumbai and got affiliated to Krishnamurti Foundation India. The Study Circle at the I. I. T. was also became part of these. Because of Prof. Hira Lals' efforts Krishnamurti's books were made available for library. More such books were also donated to more than 15 small local libraries belonging to Hostels or Cultural associations within and nearby the huge IIT campus. The Study Circle members
met usually in a classroom. Sometimes meetings took place at the residence of the Prof. Hira Lal. Occasionally some external visitor would be present for the interaction. In 1980 February, during J. Krishnamurti's stay for the talks in Mumbai, the Study Circle members met him personally first time and had two fruitful discussions. Krishnaji made all of us feel at ease and with his simple and kind words removed whatever sense of distance between him and us. He pointed out the limitations of the thought and elaborated on total attention. He seemed to question the roots and purpose of living, hinting at the futility of the mere material existence. Later Rajesh Dalal, an engineer from I. I. T. Kanpur and visited I. I. T. Powai and talked to the students about fear and the problems of living. In the following year, Dr. Parchure addressed to the students and staff about the insecurity and inadequacy of the conditioned brain and the need of a deep psychological change.
Krishnamurti's Visit at IIT
On some occasions a few tape-recorded talks of Krishnamurti were played in a hall for the benefit of all in the campus and the relevant literature was circulated. A number of students seem to have been helped by the taped talks and by reading the literature. Some of these showed a remarkable change in their personalities and also became active participants in the discussions and other voluntary activities. For a long time we were looking forward to invite Krishnaji in the campus and arrange his talk. But it was not until 198384, during the Silver Jubilee year of the I. I. T. Mumbai, Krishnaji kindly accepted the invitation to address the students and other Campus inmates. The talk was given a wide publicity. To prepare for this forthcoming event in 1984 February, some twenty volunteers among the students and the faculty met frequently and taking various responsibilities worked together with a great enthusiasm,. After his arrival in the campus, Prof. Hira Lal and the Director Dr. Dey welcomed Krishnaji and later took him around the campus. For the talk there was a huge response, some
2000 persons - Students, Staff and others - attended the talk, overflowing the capacity of the Convocation Hall. His talk and answers to some Questions dealt with freedom and the dangers of mechanical thought process, and moved the audience deeply to the core.
New Avenues of Life
Now there was a closer interaction in the Study Circle meetings and seeing the importance of the work, some of us, including Professor Hira Lal looked forward to join the Krishnamurti's activity in near or distant future. The opportunity for the same was to come in the near future, as has been described later. We had come to know a few persons who had abandoned a successful worldly career and joined the Krishnamurti's work with a dedication. The work consisted of both learning and teaching to bring about a deeper change, new consciousness within and without. A few of us talked and had an interaction with the children belonging to the local Bal Anand School (Rather, an After-School cultural Centre for children) in South Mumbai. At persistent invitations to visit the foundation schools, few of us visited the Rajghat School at Varanasi, Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh, The Valley School at Bangalore, Indian Headquarters of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Chennai etc. Most of the students were to gradually leave the campus after their study period was over, going in various respective careers. Few students (in all four) belonging to the Study Circle worked and became full time workers in Krishnamurti Foundation, mainly as the teachers in the fully residential Schools at Rajghat and Rishi Valley. Few other the Study Circle participants also helped to spread Krishnamurti's message in their respective environment and are leading a life of humility, sensitivity, helpfulness, and study. The mutual interaction among most of them continues to exist.
At Rajghat, Varanasi
With a greater interaction with Krishnamurti and his close associates, it was natural for Prof. Hira Lal to decide joining
Krishnamurti Foundation India after retiring from I. I. T. in 1984. At the suggested of J. Krishnamurti. he joined the Rajghat Educational Centre, Varanasi as the Honorary Director of Studies. This branch of the Foundation in Varanasi is on the bank of the Ganga river and has a large beautiful campus of 250 acres with educational and rural activities. It had always some administrative problems lately due to some loose ends and rough elements. The place being a stronghold of traditional culture, there was resistance to the new vision of Krishnamurti, which invited a revolution of perception, going beyond selfcentredness and belief structure. I have many memories of Prof. Hira Lal's remarkably lively personality there, as I myself had an opportunity to work at the Rajghat Besant School when he was there. He was person with a very deep concern and had genuine interaction with all people around. I have hardly seen another example like him. Often he used to go out of the way to meet students, junior staff members, or even the workers kitchen and other staff to find out their needs, complaints, views to help out somebody needing help. As he was already receiving a pension from his earlier work as a Professor, He didn't take any salary offered by the Foundation.
Work and challenges at Rajghat
Prof. Hira Lal brought many positive changes in Rajghat, like introducing the Cultural Periods of deeper interaction in the school, where a great flexibility was given to the concerned teachers to choose the topics. In the meetings with the teachers he encouraged freedom and showed great care. Although greatly tolerant of divergent views and forgiving, he never hesitated to point out the true facts even if unpleasant, even to dignitaries. He was more a man of right action, decision and justice. Unlike many who isolate themselves in theories and analysis, he was more concerned with understanding actualities and ground realities. He had a certain sense of objective detachment but he was never indifferent.
During the stay there, Prof. Hira Lal was planning to bring some gradual reforms with a great distant vision. He worked hard and had to face many a difficult situation at Rajghat. It happened that in spite of the spiritual nature of the organization, many elements of self satisfaction and politics for personal pursuit of power were there. In contrast, he had a very broad approach and his policy was rather to unite warring elements and work together, as also was the vision of Krishnamurti's. Respecting all he listened everybody and allowed free expression, hoping to change the hearts and attitudes among all. He was without any air of superiority or power and was always approachable. The campus had already got divided in lobbies and factions, thanks to the role of negative and non-serious persons number of whom never are never found lacking in such organizations. Few had any interest in the real purpose of the Foundation, which was to bring about a new perception and a world free of inward conflict. Several resisted change, with attitudes of material gain, self importance, narrow prejudices and the outward show. Given to an objective and impartial approach, Prof Hira Lal was pained to notice how some have meanness, divisive ways, have double talk and spread a callous feelings around. He could have had no personal enmity with anybody, yet he was disturbed and disillusioned with power seeking tendencies, political and loose behaviour of some of the responsible persons. He could not remain indifferent and faced various situations bravely and squarely. He openly talked about these things to Krishnamurti. Later, because of health reasons it
became difficult for him to continue to work there and he left Rajghat. Krishnamurti passed away in February 1986. He continued to be a Foundation Trusty for several years to come and did participate in the Krishnamurti Foundation activities, visited various branches. The developments at the Rajghat Campus were always his heart's concern.
Prof. Hira Lal stayed in Delhi and preferred to stay at Mumbai for several months every year. He also stayed in Nasik for some period. In Mumbai he occasionally met few friends among the I. I. T. Faculty members and the students. Whether at Delhi, Mumbai or Nasik he did participate in the local Krishnamurti Groups, making new friends. He was occasionally invited to talk at the Gatherings or symposiums organized by serious seekers of truth. He also travelled to other places and met thinkers like Smt Vimalaji Thakar of Mount Abu, another living example of a life of meditation and an honest quest of reality. He wrote a few articles in Vimalaji's journal. A different phase of life - relatively an isolating period - was to begin soon for Prof. Hira Lal. The destiny now seem to be giving him now more opportunity to study and reflecting more deeply upon himself. He experimented more in the consciousness and made a few discoveries of own, occasionally writing these down. In discussions Professor Hira Lal used pointed out the need to listen nonverbally and to have a diligent and patient approach in understanding ourselves. He felt that the real freedom consisted of a state of being beyond becoming, yet perceiving the ways of the mind in limitation. He kept touch with and occasionally even visited some of the past students or co-workers. With me personally, he had a special sense of kinship and trust developed through a long period and often enquired about several of our friends. He frankly discussed and shared his personal views and vision with some of us. One most important person from whom he had the wholehearted support, encouragement to his vision and
activities throughout, was of course, his most kind and humble wife Mrs. Pushpaji. Being herself an admirer of Krishnaji's, she has been helpful to many around whether in the campus life or life in a town, and has often participated in the discussions. She has written a few Hindi books - some of these being award winning. In her stories she has often portrayed common persons in minute details, with a remarkable ability of observation and compassion. The only concern he had till the end was the inward quest and to be of use to others. He liked to meet likeminded persons, although few have time or inclination to listen and enquire into the things concerning reality or deeper discoveries. In the later days He often wondered why can't some of us arrange regular discussion meetings at his place. His fearlessness, sincerity and integrity was beyond doubt. Many of us will be always grateful to Prof. Hira Lal for his ability to inspire good will, a vision for a distant future and a sense of working together.
Anilkumar Deshpande email@example.com
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