On the occasion of the 139th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, which is being celebrated as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas, I am re-posting the childhood story of the Iron Man of India. It is said that the seeds of greatness are sown in childhood. The Sardar’s story amply bears this out.
‘Mr.Agarwala is late again today,’ said a boy in the classroom of Nadiad High School in Gujarat.
‘What do we do while we wait for him to come?’ asked another boy.
‘Why don’t we sing a song? I’m sure Mr.Agarwala wouldn’t mind if we sang instead of disturbing other classes,’ Vallabh said.
They all agreed and began singing. Just then, Mr.Agarwala came in and was not at all pleased by the sight and sound of the class!
‘Who gave you permission to sing? Do you think this is a music class?’ the teacher thundered.
Vallabh got up. ‘No sir. We know it is the English class, but would you rather that we cried till you came?’ he asked his teacher boldly.
‘How dare you speak to me like that? Leave the class immediately!’ said the teacher.
Vallabh got up quietly, picked up his books and gave his class a piercing glance before leaving. That was the cue for the boys. As one, they all got up and marched out after their unspoken leader. Mr.Agarwala looked on helplessly.
Later, Vallabh was summoned by the Principal Mr.H.M.Bharucha.
‘Mr.Agarwala tells me that you not only answered him back insolently but also instigated the entire class to walk out.’
‘Sir, Mr.Agarwala never comes to class on time. So we decided to sing instead of making a racket and disturbing other classes!’ he replied.
The Principal had never encountered anyone who spoke up so boldly.He also understood that Vallabh had a valid point to make. But as the Principal, he could not to let the students get the better of the teachers.
‘I want you to apologise to Mr.Agarwala for your rudeness,’ he said and was completely unprepared for Vallabh’s reply:
‘Sir, it is Mr.Agarwala who should apologise to the class for not only habitually coming late, but also scolding us for singing. We have not done any wrong.’
Mr.Bharucha realised the righteousness behind Vallabh’s statement and let him off, with only a warning that time.
Vallabh was very strong willed and did exactly what he knew was right, ready to face the consequences of his speech and action. This nature of his got him regularly in trouble with teachers. When he was in the Baroda Government High School, it happened again, this time with his maths teacher. One day, the teacher got stuck while solving an algebra problem and finally managed to do it wrongly.
‘Sir, that is not the right way to solve the problem,’ pointed out the ever honest Vallabh.
‘Oh, is that so, master? Why don’t you come and solve it and sit on my chair?’ he asked most sarcastically. But Vallabh took him at his word.
He went to the blackboard and solved the problem correctly and then proceeded to sit on the teacher’s chair. He was sent to the Principal Mr.Narvane for his impudence.
‘Why did you do it?’ he asked Vallabh.
‘Sir, I only obeyed the master. He asked me to solve the problem and sit on his chair and I did!’ replied Vallabh simply.
Mr.Narvane was tired of the complaints against Vallabh and threatened to throw him out of school. But before he did, Vallabh himself left to go back to his old school in Nadiad. But his fight for justice did not stop.
One of the teachers had a stationery business and forced the students to buy stationery items from his shop, at rates higher than the market.
‘Why should we pay more for the same items?’ Vallabh asked his fellow students.
‘But he makes us buy from him. What can we do?’ the boys asked helplessly.
‘We must protest against this injustice!’ said Vallabh. He then proceeded to organise a strike of the students. Day after day, they stayed away from class to protest. After a week, the Principal promised to put a stop to the practice and the students went back to class.
This might give the impression that Vallabh was always protesting against authority and picking up quarrels with his teachers. But that was not the truth. He only stood up for what was right and fought for justice. There was a time when he stood for his teacher too, when he felt that he was being wronged.
Mr.Chinoobhai, his school teacher stood as a candidate in the Municipal elections of Nadiad. The other candidate was Babubhai, a wealthy bania (trader) of Nadiad who openly ridiculed the school teacher for his audacity to stand against him.
‘Master, I would advise you to withdraw your name from the race. You don’t even have the means to canvass and are sure to lose!’ he told the teacher.
A mild mannered person, the teacher might have withdrawn had not Vallabh heard about it. He, along with the other friends of the teacher convinced him not to withdraw. ‘We will canvass for you sir,’ said Vallabh.
When the teacher didn’t take back his nomination, the Babubhai began intimidating him.
‘Okay since you refuse to see reason, I’ll make a wager. The loser will shave off his moustache!’ he announced publicly. When Vallabh heard of this, he went to the bania’s house with several of his friends.
‘I accept the challenge on behalf of my master,’ he said. Babubhai and his cronies laughed aloud.
After that Vallabh went to the school teacher’s house. ‘Sir, I am going to collect an army of students to canvass for your victory and then we will pull off Babubhai’s moustache!’ he told him. The teacher was apprehensive, but didn’t protest.
‘It is a challenge to the honour of our school. We should see that our master wins with a thumping majority. We have to work hard for his victory!’ Vallabh told the students.
Ever ready to follow their leader, they all worked day and night and went from house to house to canvass for their teacher. Vallabh gave speeches about their candidate. The people of Nadiad were impressed by the sincerity of the students and decided to vote for the teacher, ignoring the bania’s bribes and false promises. The teacher won the election, much to the chagrin of Babubhai. He now desperately hoped that Vallabh wouldn’t remember his challenge to shave the loser’s moustache but he hoped in vain.
Once the results were declared, Vallabh, accompanied by his friends and a barber promptly reached the Babubhai’s house. He read out the terms of the wager to the assembled public. The bania, who was hiding behind locked doors, was made to come out and his moustache was shaved off ceremoniously in the presence of everyone.
Vallabh thus successfully silenced him and upheld the honour of his teacher and school.
Little wonder that this righteous student grew up to be known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, who unified the country by bringing the hundreds of royal kingdoms under the Indian Union, even using force against the Nizam of Hyderabad to put down an armed rebellion. He was adept at using persuasion to achieve the goals even as he stood firm in his convictions and beliefs. He never compromised on his principles while discharging his duties as the first Home Minister of Independent India.
(Adapted from the original ‘The Righteous Schoolboy’, written by Thangamani for The Children’s World)
(Image courtesy: photogallery.indiatimes.com)