Ram Dayal Munda plays a dholak during Sarhul celebrations at Ranchi University in March 2009
Simplicity was Dr Ram Dayal Munda’s second name. He ate wherever he was invited to, slept wherever he could and had no airs and graces despite being a scholar of great repute.
I met Dr Munda for the first time in 1981 when he came from the US to take charge of the new tribal and regional language department at Ranchi University. He was a perfect gentleman and treated me like a brother. I confided in him my dream for a separate state of Jharkhand.
During the prolonged statehood movement, I learnt a lot from the man who was humble to the core. For instance, when we submitted a memorandum to the government, he signed his name the last.
Though 10 years younger to him in age — and a freshman in political experience — he always addressed me as Sanjayji. Once I asked him, ‘why don’t you call me Sanjay?’, he just smiled and continued calling me Sanjayji.
He was a very learned man, but despite his depth of knowledge he had the wonderful gift of being able to explain things lucidly. He never used bombastic language.
If he was a culture connoisseur, he was also politically very sound. He read people’s mind and could unite communities — much like Jaipal Singh Munda (freedom fighter and hockey legend) — and this unity went a long way in creating Jharkhand.
A tribal leader had once asked Dr Munda why he was so fond of the rustic rhythm of drums. “It is the beat of unity. By beating drums we can create Jharkhand,” the iconic leader had replied.
Dr Munda’s return from the US was a blessing for us all. In the Eighties, when the Jharkhand movement was losing its vigour because of lip service from so-called leaders, this man resurrected it with his very presence. He became the architect of Jharkhand — a culturally rich tribal Jharkhand.
He used to say, “Our people have many things that will help the society and in future we’ve a major responsibility”.
He strongly believed in a symbiotic relationship with nature and held the view that the tribal way of life could solve many ills plaguing the society, the state and the country.
Once I asked him why he didn’t pen his thoughts and he said: “Our people don’t go by the written word. It is all there in rituals and rites, which appeal to people directly.”A great human being, Dr Munda stood ground for what he believed. His life is a fitting reply to those who think tribals are “anti-development, backward-looking frogs in a well”. His life snubs every myopic view about tribals.
He was a modern man in every sense. He rode a Bullet, but at the same time endorsed Gandhian philosophy. He always said that Mother Earth had enough to feed us, but not enough to feed our greed.
Dr Munda was very fond of a Rabindranath Tagore song that talks about the greatness of our country, a cauldron of myriad cultures that flourish together.
On one of our many trips abroad, I asked some foreign university scholars what they liked about Dr Munda. One said: “There are many scholars, but none so simple.”
His glory spread beyond borders. I am proud to be his disciple. No one can make up for his loss.
The writer is one of the founding members of Ajsu and remained a close associate of Ram Dayal Munda.
He is currently the convener of Jangal Bachao Andolan of which Munda was a founder