Saturday, May 20, 2017

The original startups and unicorns

Windows. The older versions. The ones that you looked out of. Not looked in through a computer.

Long ago, in my native village, they had these big four doored windows with iron bars, I used to sit at them. Two specifically nice ones, one overlooking a nice small mango orchard and another one overlooking a courtyard that had a "samadhi sthal" of our forefathers on one side and the Mandir on the other side and the clean middle area.

I watched a lot of things happen from these two windows. Summers they were. Lazy cows parked in the middle of the courtyard. Tied to tethers. Munching on what they had in their mouths. The mouths covered by a hay net so that they cannot eat more from the fodder stacks kept on one side of the courtyard. The floor of the courtyard made of clay. Everyday wiped with clay and dung mixture to keep it clean and cool. Trees as diverse as Jackfruit to neem to mango flanking the courtyard. The pond beyond the samadhi on the left. The ducks in the pond on the left. They quacked among themselves. On quite afternoons one could hear their entire conversations.

I discovered stories about my forefathers then. During those quiet afternoons.

It is the 1880s. Haripada Narayan Majumdar has just returned from Birsingha. Birsingha being the place where Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great Bengal Renaissance man and the revered teacher of Bengali grammar lives. Birsingha is about 18 miles away through the kuchcha roads from Shrirampur, our village.  Haripada wants to build a school in the village but he has no funds. He has taken with him some gold of his wife. She's okay with the idea. Vidyasagar does not take the gold. Tells him to show his determination by just starting a class in his courtyard. He gives him three copies of "Varna Parichay" the modern grammar book written by Vidyasagar himself. Haripada is overwhelmed as he recounts the incident and shows the books to his illiterate family. He is going to teach himself and then the others.

He does so.

In a year there are 18 children in that very courtyard under the shade of the peepul that I don't see now doing Bengali grammar and basic maths.

Vidyasagar is on the board of the province school authority in two years. He is called to inspect. He does so. He is shown the three tattered copies of the books he lent. He asks students some questions. He also is happy with the answers. He signs then and there for a school in a neighborhood village as he wants more students to come to be taught by my forefather.

One child grows up to be a freedom fighter and true to the hot blooded Bengali fire in the belly, he takes up arms and becomes a comrade of Aurobindo Ghosh. You would know him more by the Aurobindo ashram of Pondicherry that he founded later when he again found peace within.

Haripada dies in the famine of early 1900s. His legacy lives on through more promising students in the oncoming decades.

Now, students and their families are all over the world. Some I know. Many I have no way of knowing.

Wouldn't you call that a unicorn startup? A startup that lasted beyond its life and still gives to the society?

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