The Saga of Sijoul

It was a blood freezing night of winter in the late ’70s. A thatched house in the village caught fire disastrously. What remained to be seen was a heap of smoldering embers and ashes. Wafts of smoke from the remains began to engulf the area. The flames left the destitute of the house with sobs and shedding unceasing tears. The blaze was caused by burning woodpiles. It was so set as if to keep the body warm for want of sufficient winter clothes.

However, on the outbreak of this fire the villagers from their respective houses hurriedly came out. They carried bucketfuls of water and other containers whatever they could lay hand on and bring along, to douse the glaring fire.

Each of the cottagers acted as an expert fire brigade executive, putting out fires and saving lives. They did not have any option but to rescue themselves and their livestock from risk.

It was good that they succeeded in controlling the fire in a way that the adjoining houses remained untouched by the devastating blaze. There was no casualty at all. There was a sigh of relief for everyone for the fact that human lives and livestock were safe.

The clusters of rural community do not have a fire safety system even today as we find it in a town. There was no telecommunication at that time except the postal services. Neither was any electronic communication what we see today. There was no idea of a fire brigade system. But the ponds, wells and hand-pumps at some places were taken as the secure fire-safety measures in place those days. The wisdom, bonding and co-ordination the co-dwellers had, were their proven firefighting technology and spirit worth appreciating.

What was good to see then? The very next morning the male villagers, with their self-consciousness, went to fell bamboos and bring stalks from their respective farmlands. The female members of the village gathered and began to console and sympathize the victims, wiping their tears rolling down the cheeks. They all stood in unison for the rehabilitation work.

Some of them also brought other construction materials needed for a thatched house. Some began to size up the bamboos in order to build-up a structure. Others initiated to arrange things like hays, reeds, ropes and so forth. Some began to bore a hole for a wooden pillar to be fixed. Some chose to work on thatching the roof. The effort was afoot to ensure at least a roof over the victims’ heads. By evening, what was in public view was a new thatched house in place of the burnt one. It was all an expeditious collective effort and free of cost indeed.

The victims didn’t have to ask anybody for anything. It was generosity and magnanimity of the community men to stand by the sufferers. The role of late Madhe Babu and Sri Taleshwar Babu among others and entire the team which was headed by Sri Sitanand Jha, was brilliant and memorable forever. Each of the rescuers, humanitarians and others deserves high appreciation for their contributions. That was the commendable spirit at that time.

Sijoul is a riverine village falling in the Madhubani, district of Bihar where I was brought into the world on January 2, 1972. Since my birth I’d lived there till I was around 16 years of my formative life. The village under the Andhra Tharhi block is around 20 km away from the district town.

The tributary is now dried-up and no longer in existence. However, some remains and impressions do exist. The word 'Sijoul', earlier called Sujaul was derived from Hindi prefix- Su+Jal meaning good water in English to my knowledge and belief. The name ‘Sujaul’ is still in the land records of the Government of Bihar.  

Being a behaviourist, I had a very close observation of the life of people and village culture.  I have an unfettered attachment with my village. However, now I live in the national capital region of Delhi as a migrant.

In the village, I saw everyone leaving bed before sunrise at parati, a song sung early in the morning as a wake up-call. It was a taboo to get up late unless otherwise, one is bed-ridden because of ill-health.

This village is a wonderful example of community life, strong bonding, collectivism and pluralistic approach.  More or less, similar has been a picture of almost other villages in the belt of Mithila where Goddess Sita was born in treta epoch.

Even today, for any rituals, people from all castes and creed gather around to attend the functions. When there is a celebration of Lord Krishna's birth anniversary called Krishnashtami or Janmashtami, everybody participates in the celebration with great enthusiasm.

Traditionally, there happens to be a sacred thread ceremony in which people from all sections of society are invited. Their representation is ensured. Their cooperation is sought. Their artistic objects and materials needed in worshipping God are solicited. Once everybody and everything is placed, only then the ritual is taken as complete.

Such is a sense of togetherness and wow-feeling palpable here. People share their sorrows as well as happiness whatsoever and whenever. They live for each other. They stand together. They celebrate together. There is a Maithili proverb encouraging all of us    have a sharing nature- बैंट कुइट खाय, राजा घर जाय’. This goes in English like ‘a joy shared is a joy doubled, a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved’.  That’s the spirit here in Sijoul.  

Behind such social engineering, exemplary village life and family togetherness, I found none but Sri Sitanand Jha and Sri Nityanand Jha. Both of them are blood brothers. The former is the eldest and the latter is  the youngest. They worked hard industriously and unstintingly to change the landscape of the village. Both of them have been visionaries keen on social change and uplifting. Both of them are social thinkers. I hold both of them in the highest esteem for many reasons, some of which I can share with you later. 

The eldest one could not continue his schooling after the third standard 'cos the poverty he was faced with. But then he ensured that his younger brother received a university education.

Thus, the seed of education was sown in the village. It is blooming and fructifying to the extent that Sijoul has got the first-ever private university of Bihar to its credit, namely, Sandip University.

The university was enacted by the law of the state and it conforms to the norms of University Grants Commission. This University is in addition to one earlier established with the same name at Nasik in Maharashtra. The founder of both universities is no other than Dr Sandip Jha, eldest son of Sri Nityanand Jha.

This is worth mentioning here that my aunt Laldai Devi, a home-maker was widowed in 1982. My uncle late Basant Jha, who was the only bread-earner of the family breathed his last at Burdwan, leaving behind my three cousins and my aunt aggrieved with the life's loss.

What was a special occurrence after the death of my uncle was Sri NN Jha held an extraordinary meeting and passed a resolution with consents taken from his cousins and nephews to support the widow with economic aid. Backing began to chip in. But after a few months, others stopped.

Sri NN Jha, a school teacher at the relevant time in Kolkata National High School continued to send her thirty rupees every month by way of money order.  His financial support continued for a pretty long time until I was able to manage the state of affairs. Later on, my cousin Rajiv Kumar Jha, popularly known as Raju grew up and stood on his own feet. He began to earn his victuals for the family.

Acharya Rajiv is an MA Sanskrit. He is a scholar with commanding knowledge of all four Vedas.

He enchants them with gestures. What a coincidence that he is posted as a teacher at Burnpur Riverside School (+2) at West Burdwan in West Bengal where his father left for his heavenly abode when he was hardly eight-months old. 

Such is the greatness and sacrifice of my uncle Sri NN Jha, who always furthered the cause of education. He has a great bearing and influence on people including me. I still treasure a few of his letters penned to me in late ’80s. He has been a guiding force not only to me but the society at large. He’s always held that education is the deciding factor in the making of our life.      

Sijaul is a village in Mithila where people can enjoy and live a life of educational prosperity even in the hours of economic scarcity. 8th-century scholar Mandan Mishra, who in a way defeated Adi Shankaracharya from the south, in Shastrartha, a scholarly debate, is a great example of prosperity in scarcity. Mandan is often quoted as an example of how to lead a happy life even in poverty. Education is the yardstick of happiness.  It is of course  a stepping stone, so to say a ladder to success.

It won’t be out of place to mention again here Sri Sitanand Jha, who sacrificed a lot for Sijoul and educational development in the village. Nobody would take it otherwise when he scolded anyone. He has always remained an ideal and revered personality of the village and around. He is the man behind Sri NN Jha and others including me in the village.

In the village, nobody was allowed to do anything wrong or digress from the righteous path of life. Drinking was forbidden. In his awe and respect, everyone in the village used to enjoy his guardianship and he’s always chosen to tread a righteous path. What the village has seen as growth, development and prosperity today could be rightly credited to him.

Thanks to his seriousness, consciousness and spirit of values, dissemination of education, the first-ever Bihar's private University that is, Sandip University mentioned above, has seen the light of the day in this riverine village. The village sends across a beautiful message to the world how virtuous work gets translated into something bigger in the society.

I remain obliged to both of my uncles whom I call Kariya Kaka and Padhua Kaka respectively for their selfless guidance and support.  I can write a lot about them but through another article.  A respectful Kariya Kaka is the name for his Krishna complexion and Padhua Kaka for being a highly educated, well-read and scholarly person.

However, at present, the fallout of the village development is a gradual decline in bonding, cooperation and respect for each other. With education progressing, human values must be strengthened, protected and appreciated.   
                                                                   ----- Dr Birbal Jha

Dr Birbal Jha is a noted author and Managing Director of Lingua Multiservices Pvt Ltd having a popular trademark brand ‘British Lingua’. He is credited as having created a revolution in English training with slogan ‘English for all’ in India. He has also been accorded the status of the ‘Youngest Living legend of Mithila ‘.