Birth, Childhood and Youth
"God created man in His Own image"
I was born at Dacca in a Bengali Brahmin family. My father was a great scholar of the Vedas and he worked as a priest among Brahmins and other Hindu families. My mother was also from a Brahmin family, which was very strict in the discharge of all religious ceremonies. Both of my grandfathers were Sanskrit linguists, good priests and scholars.
When I was born at midnight, silvery moon beams came through a chink in the roof into the room and fell on my tiny body. So I was named 'Atulchandra' (Moon unparalled).
At the age of ten, I underwent "Upanayan sans~ara" (ceremony of putting on the sacred cord). Now I was 'Dwija' meaning twice-born. I had now become a real Brahmin. A boy who is born in a Brahmin family is supposed to be 'Shudra' (the fourth and lowest caste of the Hindus). Until this ceremony the boy has no right to perform any family or religious rites.
In school, I had two close friends. One of them was from a Bengali Christian family. He was very good and loving. The other was a 'Shudra' and the son of a Police Inspector. During lunch hour, we three used to sit and eat together. We would share our food. After my 'Upanayan sankara,' I was not allowed to eat their food, because a Brahmin is strictly forbidden to do such a thing. I was very sad about this because these restrictions came into the way of our joyous and fnendly relationship. At this stage I was troubled with the question; which is more valuable-these loving friendly relationships or religious restrictions?
My Hinduism at this time was simply to worship and please the Hindu deities, (Durga, Luxmi, Saraswati, Kali, Ganesh, Sun, Rain, Air, Fire, etc.). After my "Upanayan sanskara" I used to go to the other families with my father to learn priestly duties and perform worship-ceremonies. Once after celebrating Saraswati-worship, I was thinking about my close friends, James and Nagen. My own religious regulations and the artificiality it brought into our friendship vexed me very much. Seeing this, my father called me to him and affectionately said "Atul, you have done a very good thing in bringing your difficulties to us. In doing this you have shown your devotedness to your parents, your religion and duty. This is really admirable. There are two sides to this question. There is the conduct of love and understanding which your friends are showing and there are our religious rules. The Christian teaching, "Love thy God with all thy mind and thy neighbour as thyself", which James got from his religion, is really praiseworthy. Though a great scholar and well versed in the Vedas, I never had such lofty thoughts come into my mind, nor have I ever dreamed of pratising them. Is there any love for others in my mind ? Am I ready to sacrifice voluntarily for others like that Christian boy ? Because of my love for others, do I share the suffering and sorrow which others experience ? The teaching 'To love thy neighbour as thyself' is quite new to me. Is this love possible in such a system as our caste-system, different religious sects and different deities and their worshippers ? In this tumultuous outcry of castes and different sects don't we show jealousy and hatred ? These questions puzzle me greatly."
Then I said to my mother, "If what you say is true, why do you obey the religion which compels you to act exactly contrary? And, why do you force mc to obey these regulations which will take away all love from my life ? I am greatly confused. You must lead me through this.". Further discussions were reserved for the future.
I was progressing in my studies. I began to study Natural History, Philosophy, Botany, Zoology, Geology, Chemistry etc. Now I lost faith in the feeling of Divinity which I thought was in the Earth, the Sun, the river Ganges, the Cow etc. because I understood their scientific interpretations. My old idea of the eclipse that Rahu and Ketu (two great demons) try to devour the sun or the moon, was completely shattered. From astronomy I learned that eclipses occur because of the particular position of the earth, the sun and the moon at a particular time.
At this time, in Dacca, William Carey of the Baptist Mission, used to conduct Bible Classes for children. He spoke Bengali just like a Bengali. he would tell us Stories about Jesus in very simple language, illustrating them with very interesting pictures. I attended this class every Sunday with great joy.
My father taught Sanskrit in the Government School besides doing his priestly duties Thus he came in contact with people of different religions. As he was a good lecturer, he would get invitations to speak about great reformers of Hinduism, such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshav Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. I used to go with him to these lectures. Also I went many times to Christian services. All these things had a great part to play in breaking down the wall of Hindu orthodoxy which surrounded us.
My father began to write Bengali text-books for schools and also opened a book shop. He earned considerable money but his partners misappropriated much of this and we became very poor. At this time I was in college, but found it difficult to study under such circumstances and resolved to become rich. But my father, being a devoted Government servant asked for help and Government authorities wrote our college Principal that we were to be given free education.
However, we still had to pay off our debts. Then an offer came to me. I was given a chance to take training to become Superintendent of Police. I was to get one hundred and fifty rupees, as a stipend during my training period and after appointment, I would get an excellent salary. Against the wishes of my family, I refused to accept this offer. I wanted freedom not servitude. All thought 1 was insane.
As I had to do something for my family, 1 borrowed fifty rupees, gave some of it for our household needs, and with the remainder, reopened our old book-shop. On my attractive sign-board I wrote, "'Law books, College books, School books; Books of all kinds are available." For some time I kept up this business in which my fellow merchants kept the stock of books while I bought books on commission and sold them to customers.
In spite of our desperate financial condition, which was known to our friends and relatives, the father of a very lovely Brahmin girl came to my father with a proposal of Marriage. My father was eager for me to accept it. Though I had never seen her, I knew her fair and handsome brother and because I knew that both families were willing, I carried in my heart the conviction that she would be the girl for me. Later on the usual formality of seeing the girl was over and I expressed my approval; but there were two important matters that needed to be attended to. One was whether or not our horoscopes and stars were in full agreement. The other was that of a dowry. Our horoscopes and stars were found to be in full agreement, and my father declared that he would have no dowry whatsoever. As my prospective bride's father was a poor man this saved him from great worry. He would have to borrow that amount and then repay it all his life. All of you know how several proposals of marriage break down on this issue of dowry although other points are quite favorable.
We had a very simple and quiet wedding. Very shortly after our marriage our circumstances took a decided turn for the better. Naturally we all thought that it was due to the fact that she had brought great good fortune to our family. She was honored and loved greatly. Now 1 had both wealth and wife. I was satisfying my youthful desires according to my own will. But I never neglected my book-business because I had a lust for money. I began to neglect my health and so I became very weak. In January 1915, a customer asked me the price of a book. I tried to reply but found I could not speak. This was a warning and was the result of my unwise ways of living. I could not help pondering over it. Had my voice stopped for good, and had my end come ? What would be the good of my money and my happy life? What was the use of earning so much money at the cost of my health and who would care or all these things if should drop out of the picture ?
My family was small I had no bad habits. I never drank liquor, smoked or gambled. From one angle my moral character was irreproachable. Now I decided to earn just enough for our needs and t take a rest. No idea ever occurred to my selfish mind to give help to those in need.
The thought of death and separation from all my dear ones, troubled me very much. All the world became an illusion. The future was dark to me. I was completely disillusioned about worldly happiness and luxuries. I became restless and dizzy I could not sleep at night. The comfortable house, the soft smooth bed, the soothing company of my beloved wife, the love of my two daughters failed to give me peace of mind. All these worldly possessions seemed useless to me.
One night I sat up in bed and screamed. I felt myself being drowned in deep water, my trouble was not physical, but spiritual, mental. I had been sleeping all these years. The tine for inner awakening had come. I resolved to move forward on a new path.
Now I turned over my business to an agent who was to pay me a certain amount of money each month enough to meet our family expenses. Now the anxiety and worry was gone. I had very little to do but just eat and sleep and take care of myself. Now I was enjoying a life of ease and enjoyment. However, a man accustomed to active vigorous life gets tired just doing nothing. This lack of employment affected my body and mind. Just then a friend came to my rescue. He took me to an astrologer. This astrologer told me from the lines on my palm, all the happenings of my past life. Then I was amazed to see how accurately he told me of my past life. Then he began to tell my future. Becoming very curious, I asked him if he could teach me this art of Palmistry. He gave me books on Palmistry and Astrology and within a few days I became an expert in this art. I was thrilled with this new experience. Many rich, respectable, and high government officials began to flock to me for consultations. Some of the men and women wanted me to give them some sort of charm by which they could win the desired man or woman. Although I might have become rich in this way, I refused their money, and warned them that these rings and amulets were a deception. However, they didn't believe me and continued to ask for them.
Gradually as I became a great palmist and astrologer, I began to neglect my family more and
more. One day my wife burst out in a torrent of complaints to me saying, "As a businessman, you neglected us Now you have been making horoscopes of hundreds of people free of cost, and at the sacrifice of your own health and comfort. You gave up your lucrative business in order to have a life of rest, and now you spend your days and nights studying this palmistry. You have not made any horoscope of either of your own daughters". This happened just as I was leaving the house. ďAll right", I said, "Give me the exact time of the birth of my elder daughter and you shall have her horoscope tonight." She gave me the necessary papers, and I hurried to my teacher with them. I told him, the first thing we had to do was to make a horoscope of my daughter. We decided to prepare one separately, and the result was that they tallied exactly. Both showed that my daughter was to die within three months. I almost fainted and fell to the floor with a loud cry. I feared death. "The fear of death is more terrible than death itself". I had many plans for my beloved daughters. What was the use of them now? The calculator himself was the victim of his own calculations. The surest way to check the astrological conclusions was to check the palm. If both tallied then it was sure. When I reached home my daughter was asleep but I began to examine her palm. My brain refused to work. I didn't mention this to my wife.