Imagine sitting on a small square mattress placed on the floor, with a small square table in front of you. Just like students studied, once upon a time, in a Gurukul.
You look up from the scrolls and your gaze falls on the silvery hues of the mighty Ganges, flowing past you with its hidden secrets. Whispering tales from folklore of mighty kings and queens, heroes lost in time, civilizations long forgotten, a living legend. What would this atmosphere evoke in you? Would this setting be ideal for a temple of learning? Would you be motivated to study deeper in this ancient locale, vibrant with energy?
Such were the questions which sprung up in my mind when I was standing by the window at the Syadvada Mahavidyalaya on the ghats of the Ganga, in Varanasi. It is with wonder I look at the richness India is. She holds so many treasures in her folds and folds of intricately woven tapestry. Syadvada is a heritage school which has contributed to keeping Jainism alive for over a 100 years. A school which was visited by the father of the nation, his handwritten note carefully preserved in the pages of a book, turned yellow with age.
A library whose cupboards might hold many forgotten manuscripts and rare journals.
And what looks like a heritage, pre-independence building with a courtyard seeped in colonial times.
Indeed this place holds together collective history of God knows how many eras, it’s walls witness to the making of it.
The Mahavidyalaya boasts another gem, the custodian of the institution, President Awardee Professor Phoolchand Jain Premi.
If I have met anyone who would be the richest, when it comes to knowledge, it would be him. This gentlemen has dedicated his life to the study of Prakrit, Jainism and Indology. Such richness of knowledge in one person, one can sit the entire day next to him, and be mesmerized with interesting snippets from history. He has also kept alive a language, in his family commonly spoken around 2500 years ago. Prakrit, a medium in which Mahaveera passed on his enlightenment to the world. More than a dozen Indian languages owe their genesis to it. His contribution so remarkable, his entire family, from his wife to three children and daughters in law have completed or close to completing their doctorates in Prakrit. One family with 6 doctorates and the 7th in the making.
His better half had only passed her 11th when she was betrothed to him and today she holds three PhDs, in addition to raising three brilliant kids. Her kitchen converted into a remarkable study room with Jain Sutras stuck on the wall, for her to memorize, as she goes along her daily chores.
Their first born President Awardee, Dr. Anekant Jain has published India’s first registered Newspaper in Prakrit. His last born Dr. Arihant Jain, a newsletter on Prakrit, in English, about the on going activities in the field of Prakrit. Dr. Indu Jain, his daughter recited the Mangalashtak and Mahavirashtak in the ancient language of Prakrit, as the Prime Minister laid down the foundation, of the new Parliament House, just a couple of weeks ago.
There are some rare people for whom worldly possessions, wealth and riches don’t hold any excitement or passion. They are driven by a thirst to keep alive and nurture an ancient flame. They are that bridge which connects our past to the present. Would it be incorrect then to say that Dr. Phoolchand ji and his family’s body of work, to the field of Prakrit, is an institution in itself, brought alive by a visionary, who views the world in a totally different way.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.