| Radical thinker
While I was still at school, the one name that was on all lips as the paradigm of the ultimate in scholarships was that of Hardayal. His name was always prefixed by two words, the great: he was the great Hardayal. Stories of his greatness as a student multiplied. He had a phenomenal memory: he read a book once, and he could reproduce its contents word for word; he was not only a topper in every subject, in every exam he took, he broke previous records with wide margins. Though this was not absolutely correct because at times he was beaten by other examinees to the second place, people refused to believe it. What made his reputation impregnable was the fact that he was also a revolutionary who spurned government patronage, directed the Ghadar movement in its early years in the United States of America and Canada and became the principal adviser of the German government’s attempt to ferment a revolt against the British raj during World War I. Then like his equally distinguished contemporary, Veer Savarkar, he took a complete somersault, apologized for his past errors and pledged loyalty to them. One may well ask, if Veer Savarkar’s portrait can be hung in our Parliament, why not Hardayal’s'
What was the truth about Hardayal’s alleged greatness' At long last, we have a biography written by his grand daughter and her husband which sifts fact from fiction: Hardayal: The Great Revolutionary, by E. Jaiwant and Shubh Paul.
Hardayal was born in Delhi on October 4, 1884, the sixth of seven children of Bhoti and Gauri Dayal Mathur, reader of the district court. He went to the Cambridge Mission School and graduated from St Stephens College. He won a stipend and joined Government College, Lahore. He took his MA in English language and literature and another MA in history, breaking the university record for the highest marks. He won a scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford. While in India, he had been impressed by Christian missionaries’ self-less dedication, the Arya and Brahmo Samaj attempts to purify Hinduism of meaningless rituals and superstition. He admired Lala Lajpat Rai and befriended Bhai Permanand.
Hardayal joined Oxford University in 1905. He was 21 and married. He could have easily walked into any government job, but had by now been infected by the bug of patriotism. “To hell with the ICS,” he said and refused to take the examination. He got to know Dadabhai Naoroji and Shyamaji Krishna Verma and decided to throw his lot in the freedom struggle. He returned the stipend money to the government and quit Oxford.
He was somewhat an ascetic. He never drank or smoked. He turned vegetarian, shed European clothes and took to wearing kurta and dhoti. He always slept on the floor. He studied different religions and regarded Buddha as his role model. He discussed the possibility of starting a new religion with Bhai Permanand who dissuaded him from doing so, saying, “My own view is that all religions are a kind of fraud on mankind. You will be merely adding one more fraud.”
Hardayal made a meagre living by delivering lectures on Indian philosophy and writing articles. He edited Madam Cama’s Bande Matram and Talwar. In 1911, he went to America to study Buddhism in Harvard. Stanford University invited him to teach Indian philosophy. His radical views — he advocated free love — ended his tenure at Stanford. He had also taken up with a Swiss girl, Fried Hauswirth, which scandalized his American and Indian admirers. While still at Stanford, Hardayal made contacts with Indian workers in the West Coast and went across to help them organize the Ghadar Party. When they got news of the attempt to kill Viceroy Hardings on December 23, 1912 in Delhi, Hardayal was among other Indians at Berkeley to celebrate the occasion dancing the bhangra and singing Bande Mataram.
The Ghadar Party was formed on November 1, 1913 with Hardayal as its guiding spirit. He was arrested by the US police and on release decided to go to Switzerland to rejoin Fried Hauswirth. In her turn, she came to the US to formalize her divorce, and instead of joining Hardayal married another Indian, Sarangdhar Das.
World War I broke out on August 4, 1914. Hardayal spent the early years of the war in Germany and Turkey, planning an invasion of India by a liberation force. He was naïve enough to believe that the Germans were eager to see India as a free country. It took him a long time to see through the subterfuge. He turned a bitter critic of Germans and Turks. Of the latter he opined: “Turks have no brains… as a nation they are utterly unfit to assume the leadership of the Muslim world.” Of the Germans who had financed his ventures, he wrote that they were “without character... avaricious. They work hard and are patriotics but that is perhaps their only virtue.” He became an ardent admirer of the British as a “truthful people… who had a moral and historical mission in India.” The British government had his pronouncements translated into Hindi and distributed free in India.
Hardayal had nowhere to go except to a neutral country. He chose Sweden. He had taken up with a Swedish woman, Agda Erikson, and with some difficulty managed to get a Swedish visa. He spent many years in Sweden, learnt to speak Swedish as he did 13 other languages. He lived with Agda, who described herself as Mrs Hardball. He wrote several books of which Hints on Self Culture is the best-known and sells to this day. He was allowed to return to England and was finally granted amnesty by the British with permission to go back to India. He was never able to do so. While on a lecture tour of the US, he died in his sleep in Philadelphia on March 4, 1939. He was only 54.
A heart-broken Agda Erikson took his ashes back to her native Sweden. That was all the great Hardayal left for her. His worldly wealth, for what it was worth, he left for his wife and her daughter, Shanti, who he never saw.
Do women love to be spiritual'
There must be something in female hormones which makes them more prone to turn to religion for solace than men. Come to think of it, I don’t know a single lady who is an agnostic or an atheist. But it did not come to me as a surprise that a hard-boiled journalist of the calibre of Rashme Sehgal who I have known over 15 years — she was with The Telegraph, The Independent, The Indian Post and is now special correspondent of The Times of India — had spiritualism fermenting inside her. Are women more insecure than men' Do they drown their personal sorrows in religion as men do in drink' They turn to godmen, godwomen and swamis in much larger numbers than do men.
I visited Ganeshpuri near Bombay many times when Swami Muktanand was alive. We got on very well and I wrote about him and his ashram for the New York Times. My reactions were not the same as Rashme Seghal’s. In her new collection A Home for Bhadrakali and Other Poems, she writes:
Ganeshpuri is the home of the pure in spirit,/ A village beyond waste and void,/ Home to a ‘siddhaguru’,/ The spirit walks across its many textures cutting across its several enterprises/ To find the centrifugal force/ That centres these myriad exercises.
Every goddess needs a house/ Made out of stone and mortar/ Built under the shade of a people tree/ With large windows/ To allow the sun to float through/ Bhadrakali is no exception/ She needs to live new to Bade Baba,/ Next to a saint who has lived/ Under the canopy of the wide Ganeshpuri sky.