History Lessons in a Bank

I wanted to open a bank account  in a newly opened State Bank of India branch in my locality. I went there. I was early. When I entered the bank, the security guard was the only employee present at the gate with a rifle in his hand, as is common to see at the gates of banks.

I sat inside waiting for other bank officers who subsequently came in a few minutes.

While I was waiting, the security guard started to talk about his hometown Ara. He had left his town in search of employment and was here since many years. Nostalgic and proud, he told me of some tunnels in his town which had recently been in news. The tunnels were used by Veer Kunwar Singh to facilitate his movement from Jagdishpur to Ara while he was giving the British a miss.

Meanwhile, the other employees started coming. The person who would be handling my account opening forms and formalities came. After some time the branch manager came. They settled into their respective positions- the clerk at his counter and the manager in his somewhat open cabin.

The guard wished them good morning and continued with the story of Veer Kunwar Singh and his home town.

“Ho Gaya. Jyada mat boliye; apna kaam kariye“, the Bank manager said to the guard as he came out of his cabin after a few minutes.

Meaning – “Its enough. Stop blabbering and do your work“.

The guard was silent and sat at his post quietly thereafter.

However, his banter had already incited my interest in the city Ara, the tunnel at the Ara house, also called Veer Kunwar Singh Sangrahalaya and the man himself.

“Araah“, also called “Ara” was the same sleepy small town about two hours drive from my home town where a number of my relatives came from. I did not know it had anything of importance, forget about something as exciting as a tunnel which opens out in Jagdishpur 31 kilometers away. This tunnel, now blocked, was used by freedom fighters during the national movement.

What was even more remarkable was that Veer Kunwar Singh was eighty years old when he plunged into the first battle against British in 1857. The tunnel is said to have an opening around the location of the Museum named after him. The tunnel was a mere prop which incited my interest. The man behind it was the main interest.

An expert in guerilla warfare, Veer Kunwar Singh assumed command of a group of soldiers and occupied Arrah. He kept moving and gave the British a tough time. Severely wounded by British whiel crossing the Ganga, he cut his own arms and offered to the river. Next day he fought his last battle near Jagdishpur and completely routed the British forces. Subsequently, he died after the victory.

The university in the town Ara, established in 1992, is named after him. There is a museum in his name in the town. There might be a postage stamp in his honor too. Besides that, there is minimal recognition of him in the freedom struggle of the country. He has still not got his due in the history of Indian freedom struggle and in the hearts of Indians.

When we look around ourselves and see what eighty year old men are engaged in, it would give us a perspective of the valor and might of the octagenarian.

At eighty he goes into active combat battle, chops with his own hands his wounded limbs and offers to Ganga Maa for fear of poisoning his body. The British could never catch him. Whenever one feels helpless or old, this is the man whose spirit has to be invoked.

I was thankful to the the security guard for reminding me of this amazing figure from our shared history. Taking pride in ones roots was a trait I understood well and respected deeply.

During my undergraduate studies, whenever jokes on my home state were made and that was often, I used to take an aggressive stance in defense. I had earned the sobriquet of “Rabri Devi”. As beautiful and elegant as Rabri Devi is, when one is twenty or for that matter of any age, to be called “Rabri Devi” is not a complement; not as a politician, not as a politician’s wife, not as a politician’s mother and not as an inconsequential undergraduate student. I had never cared.

In the bank, I met a brother of my soul, taking pride in his history and heritage in spite of being snubbed by senior, highly educated officers. The legend from my home state reminded me that we both were more than our accents popularised by the supposedly very funny Lalu Prasad Yadav Ji.

It is time to remember, rise and reclaim our rightful place in the country and in the world. The Octagenarian is blessing us – “Jai Bhawani“.

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