My childhood was spent in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Gagode was a small village of about eighty houses, in Colaba district. It had no school and most of its inhabitants were illiterate.
The women of every household used to get up with the first light to begin their work. The first job was to grind grain into flour for the day’s needs, in circular stone hand-mill. Then followed the sweeping of courtyard, which were sprinkled with a mixture of cow-dung and water to lay the dust and keep them fresh and clean. While their hands were occupied with these and other chores, the women’s lips would be singing hymns in the name of the Lord.
My grandfather was an Inamdar, a kind of landlord. We lived in quite a big house, with a spacious courtyard where there were a great many frogs of different kinds, which all night long kept up a regular Mandukya Upnishad. I was quite scared of these innumerable frogs; later I read the description given by the sage Vashishtha in the Veda: ‘One frog looks rather like a bullock, another like a goat, another is spotted, and they all croak in chorus like Brahmans chanting the Vedas. In the hot weather they grow dry and withered like Brahmans performing austerities, but in the rains they grow fresh and vigorous and shout with joy.’ What an imaginative way of looking at frogs!
But people tell me that nowadays the number of frogs in our courtyard is not even the quarter of what it was then. Frogs legs are regarded as a delicacy in France, so frogs are caught for export. Sometimes when I am asked when I plan to go back to Gagode I answer: ‘When the courtyard is as full of frogs as it used to be!’ Gagode had a lake – a very large lake! There was a very tall tree beside it, and a spacious temple. Many years later, when I was forty years of age, I went back there and found that lake, tree and temple had all shrunk. One could easily throw a stone right across the lake and easily climb the tree. It was only in a child’s eye that they had seemed so big.
I used to wander about the village watching labourers at their work. One day I was standing watching some men splitting a big rock. One of them noticed me. ‘Would you like to try your hand Vinya?’ he asked. ‘Oh yes please!’ So when after a few more blows the rock had reached breaking point they put the hammer into my hand. I struck with all my little might, and sure enough the rock fell apart. To please me the good-natured labourers stood and cheered: ‘Well done Vinya! The Inamdar’s boy split the rock!’
Sometimes on special occasions a Brahmin
would come to our home at Gagode and give a recital from the Vedas. I would sit and listen, and soon had made up my own Veda in Marathi, which I chanted with all the sonorous intonation of the Brahmin’s Sanskrit mantras. All it said was that ‘horses are grazing on the bank of the river’, but delivered in that style it sounded magnificent!