The lecture series established that the Sangh is an ever-evolving organisation, one that moves with the times and shapes the society like a potter does clay at his wheel
As I sat in Vigyan Bhawan, I travelled back to the time that I first had the opportunity to listen to Shri Mohan Bhagwatji. It was from a couple of years ago and I as a writer was seeking to understand this organisation that was growing at a rapid pace and was widely spoken of. It hadn’t been my idea, the editor of a publication asked if I would be interested in writing about the RSS – his editorial sense told him that a fresh perspective on the Sangh, by someone like me, unencumbered by the politics of the day and the undercurrents would do an honest job of it. At the time, I was more involved in my creative writing, my lifestyle, my preoccupations were very different from what they are today. The only thing I brought with me was an open mind, one that was unburdened by prejudice one way or the other.
So began my interactions, by the time, I arrived for the gathering that would provide me with the opportunity to listen to the Sarsanghachalak in person, I was no expert on the Sangh but had developed a sense of the ideology and felt like I would be welcomed. And I was.
For me, the Sarsanghachalak had always been a remote and intimidating figure, one who yielded great power. As I interacted with the Sangh, I saw a different perspective amongst swayamsevaks and their families, an emotion that may be best described as deep respect tinged with affection. It was familial in its tone and that invisible embrace that I experienced was “the way”” of the Sangh. I was well aware of all that made me different, and yet those “differences” never got in the way of my interactions. My apprehensions were all self-created. However, I was still to learn some lessons, like punctuality. On the first day of the interaction, I arrived late to the programme, in my defence, I was unwell and had barely made it, but nonetheless, although no one commented, it was the unique subtlety of the Sangh that informed me that I had to watch the clock!
On that occasion, what struck me about the Sarsanghachalak was his ease with words, his deep understanding of the human condition, that seared through the artificialities that we festoon ourselves with, in an attempt to fit into the world. We are still deeply insecure, independence, this so-called “modern” era of the internet and jet-age travel have not relieved us of the burden of reconciling with our true selves. It comes from a lack of understanding of where we come from and especially an education system that teaches us to reject our roots, in the mistaken belief that it means to progress to do so. We are taught to be sceptical of that is the rational way, but we are asked to abandon that scepticism when we are encouraged to abandon our cultural mores.
There was a lot that Shri Bhagwat spoke of during that address, words that are impossible to reproduce here in full text and essence, this piece is but an attempt to interpret them by sharing their lingering impact. I walked away from that first address, a little more confident, assured in an imperceptible way, it wasn’t in the discernible, in the way I spoke or behaved, but like the sediments had settled. The parts of me, the bits that were organic and rooted in Bharat but I had been led to believe were in conflict with the demands of the world floated above me. I had tried to swipe them away, to seek clarity, now they settled within me, armouring me with a deeper connection to this land, rooting me. It was the beginning; it is still the beginning in many ways. The journey is a long one, and it is more about inner transformation than outward manifestations. It is about unlearning in order to learn again.
As I sat in Vigyan Bhawan, with so many others who were listening to Shri Bhagwat for the first time, in their silence and rapt attention, I realised that my experience was not entirely a unique one. This intervention by Shri Bhagwat came at the right time, the curiosity about the Sangh has never been higher. The Sangh has been a victim of stereotyping for many years, put in a box and defined by powers that wanted to seek its destruction without understanding its temperament. What the lecture series established was that the Sangh is an ever-evolving organisation, one that moves with the times, shapes the society like a potter does clay at his wheel, but also an organisation that lets the wheel (i.e. society) turn and evolve at its own pace. It's this balance that the Sangh has perfected in its ninety three-year-old history, to be one with society, from it and of it, that defines its uniqueness. I spoke to a young lady who had never heard the Sarsanghachalak speak before and was of another ideological persuasion, she remarked with that familiar affection that he reminded her of a wise family elder. There wasn't much else I could say to add to her description.