Cricket brat and school debater

When Kanhaiya Kumar, 29, enthralled the country with a stirring speech last evening, people in one corner of Bihar weren't surprised.

By Sanjeev Kumar Verma in Patna
  • Published 5.03.16
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Patna, March 4: When Kanhaiya Kumar, 29, enthralled the country with a stirring speech last evening, people in one corner of Bihar weren't surprised.

"God had blessed him with the gift of oratory when he was a child," his mother Meena Devi said over the phone today from the family's tiled house at semi-urban Bihat in Begusarai district, 120km east of Patna.

"He would always win the school debate and bring home prizes," the 55-year-old anganwadi worker added. "He doesn't even need to prepare his speeches."

Pramod Singh, a retired schoolteacher who had tutored a young Kanhaiya in Bihat, corroborated her: "He has been an extraordinary orator since his school days."

For all his gift of the gab, it seems, the third child of Meena Devi and Jaishankar could not escape the occasional parental tongue-lashing during his school days.

Conversations with the family of the JNU student leader, who is out on bail after being arrested on sedition charges, threw up a picture of a normal schoolboy, scuffling on the cricket pitch and fond of good clothes and movies.

"I would often scold him for fighting with his younger brother, Prince. I would tell him that he should instead take care of him," Meena Devi said.

Prince, who is preparing for the civil services exam, explained: "Kanhaiya was a very average batsman. During our evening cricket sessions at Bihat, he used to kick up a lot of commotion after getting out early in his innings. That led to the fights."

Kanhaiya, born in January 1987, studied till Class VI at Madhya Vidyalaya, Masnadpur, in Bihat before joining R.K.C. High School in Barauni, 10km away, from where he cleared his Class X board exams with a first division.

Father Jaishankar, 60, who owns a little over an acre of farmland and suffered a paralytic attack two years ago, remembers slapping Kanhaiya once for watching television too long at a neighbour's home.

"He loved to watch movies, music programmes and cricket on TV. Once I lost my cool and slapped him as he had spent several hours at a neighbour's home watching TV," he said.

Meena Devi said a young Kanhaiya would also pester her to buy him good clothes. But as time passed, the boy changed.

"He became mature and was okay with whatever clothes we bought him," Meena Devi said.

Cricket and TV gave way to studies and debating once Kanhaiya came to Patna for his graduation, bringing Prince with him. But before that, he had already made a key career decision.

After school, Kanhaiya had joined the Ram Ratan Singh College at Mokama, around 25km west of Bihat, taking up science in Class XI-XII.

"But he missed the first division in his intermediate exam by a few marks and told me that he wanted to switch to the humanities," Jaishankar recalled. "I had no problem with that and let him take up a subject of his choice."

Kanhaiya graduated in geography from the College of Commerce, Patna, with a first class and then earned his MA in sociology from the Nalanda Open University, Patna, again securing a first class.

The brothers lived in a small rented room near Patna Central School in Kankerbagh, southeast Patna.

"He used to tutor schoolchildren to pay for our stay in Patna," Prince said. "He was not a good cook, so that responsibility was mine."

Srikant Singh, a Hindi teacher at the College of Commerce, was the convener of the college debating society while Kanhaiya studied there.

"Kanhaiya used to participate in the debating events. He had Left leanings and would always stress the need to change society and make it exploitation-free," Singh remembers.

Kanhaiya joined JNU's School of International Studies in 2011 as an MPhil student, earning a monthly stipend of Rs 5,000. It rose to Rs 8,000 when he started his current PhD course.

But the JNU students' union president's engagement with student politics leaves him with hardly any time to visit his home.

"He last came to Bihat in November last year but stayed just a few hours as he had to undertake a tour of Bihar and Jharkhand in connection with some issues concerning students," Meena Devi said.

She is keen that he pays another visit and is itching to cook his favourite dishes: aloo parathas, omelettes and egg curry. But she realises she may have to wait a while.

"After his bail, we had a brief phone conversation. He said he had some important engagements and wouldn't be able to visit Bihat anytime soon," Meena Devi said.

"He asked me to come to Delhi with Prince. But that will be difficult, for I have to take care of my ailing husband too."