Brij Mohan Pande
Born in 1939, Delhi
The picture of the neighbourhood I grew up in would be incomplete without the presence of Mr.Brij Mohan Pande. Ever since I remember, he had been around. It was only today I discovered that it was way back in the 1960’s that Pande uncle (as I would refer to him) had moved here with his family.
Gangs of us, 6 to 12 year olds would be running around wild, playing all sorts of games every evening in the last lane of the neighbourhood adjoining Park Gulmohar’s entrance. It was a “dead-end” which became rather alive with our roars of laughter and stomping footsteps. We irritated several grown up’s around with the noisy late afternoons and evenings. Few were supportive of our free spirited out door games – Pande uncle took the lead. With his hands clasped behind his back, thick rimmed spectacles and neatly creased trousers, he responded to our loud “नमस्ते” (Namaste – Indian way to greet) with great zest. In case we were too busy playing, he would come up to us children and greet us warmly.
On my last visits to Delhi, we often got talking in the sleepy little lane we live in. This was the time I would head out for a stroll and Pande uncle would be returning from his evening round of the temple nearby. Uncle and I would connect instantly. Even though, many years passed by in the middle where our interaction had been limited to just a “नमस्ते ”. As I returned back from another little meeting with him, it felt as if nothing has changed since 22 odd years ago, when I would often ask him for his suggestions for the neighbourhood activities to be initiated by our local children’s group.
As we got rolling into the conversation with Taruna filming us, he mentioned at least three times how he was a very ordinary student and didn’t do well in studies during school and college years. Pande uncle did his Post Graduation Diploma in Archeology. It was only in 1959 the School of Archeology was started. “I was one of the 10 students of the first batch”, he shared. The School of Archaeology was rechristened as Institute of Archeology, of which he was made the Director.
With the nature of his profession as an archeologist, Pande uncle has had the opportunity to travel to various parts of the country, as well as abroad. This, he has thoroughly enjoyed. The archeology team had a jeep dedicated to them and they travelled to Ladakh, Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, amongst several other places for excavations. He regrets not having travelled to the North East, Angkor Wat, the Pyramids in Egypt or Parthenon in Greece. However, he said that this has been compensated by visits to great Indian monuments.
A major life event…..
As we sat on a bench in the park together on our second meeting, I asked Uncle to share a major event from his life. “When I got an award for my Hindi book. This was a very happy moment, particularly as it was unexpected,” he said. With a gleaming smile and eyes that seemed rounder than before in the fading sun, Uncle, in his earthy, down to earth way shared how he wasn’t really sure if he would deserve such an appreciation of his work. In a meeting with the Director of the K.K. Birla Foundation, this news was shared with him. He was asked not to disclose being selected for the Shankar Puraskar till it was declared in the newspapers. Mrs. Pande was waiting for him outside the meeting room. Keeping this thrilling news to himself was difficult. “मेरे पेट में दर्द हो गया ” (It gave me a stomach ache to keep the news to myself ), he shared. Finally, he walked up to a tree and disclosed all the details. The narration of the incident was so vivid, that listening to it, I felt like that lucky tree!
Joyous moments in various stages of life…
Right from childhood, playing has been most joyous for Pande uncle. In his early childhood it was games like “कई डंडा ” (Kai Danda – a local Indian game which is played with a stick, in a group), climbing trees, and later cricket. Now I understand why I often saw him join the older children in their evening games and encouraged us with all the running around the houses we indulged in. A group of us children were once struggling with sticking posters to the walls in order to invite people to a fun fare we were organising during the festive holidays. Uncle taught us how to make “लाई” ( Lai – a home made glue) that we could use for sticking them on. This was of course very thrilling. As we happily recalled this incident together, tilting his head downward and raising both his brows, wearing his classic soft smile, he shared how he is still making soap at home. “A great man is he who has not lost the heart of a child”, the words of the Chinese philosopher, Mencius flashed through my head.
“Meeting friends gave me great joy”, said uncle. Friendships are of great value to him. Two of his childhood friends are still living and he cherishes their moments spent together.
Filmed and edited by Taruna Hooda
In my observation, activities that bring people together have really been appreciated and encouraged by Pande uncle – be it little skits and dance programs organised by children of the neighbourhood or community activities carried out by the welfare association. A “people’s person”, Pande uncle elaborated how he connects with people of all walks of life and interaction with others put him at ease and give him joy. Even though, he has a lot of writing and studying to do at the moment, he makes it a point to meet with neighbours and have conversations. This is so true. If you live in the last lane of Y block, at some point of the day or evening, you would surely spot uncle talking with someone or the other on the street, right outside his house or around the local temple. Thanks to this inclination, I have been able to connect with him over the years.
The most challenging time in life and how it was overcome….
The most difficult period of his life was during his posting in Agra. The U.P. Government decided to organize a festival at the Fatehpur Sikri and the Agra Fort. They wanted to do several things and uncle, being posted there, had to put his foot down on many occasions as their activities would cause damage to the monuments.”They did all they wanted to, despite that”, he shared with a mildly agitated tone. The incident caused him a lot of physical and mental strain.”I had to take leave and put in a request to be transferred to another place”, he said, describing the intensity of the levels of stress.
On being asked how he overcame this difficulty, uncle straightened his back and said, “I shouldn’t claim that, but I had some inner strength and it was because of this I could withstand all that and I continued to maintain my stand”. With a sense of victory, he elaborated how ultimately, the Government of U.P. was not given permission to hold any function in the monuments. He emphasised the importance of maintaining one’s stand, despite all odds.
Something special that makes the heart beat with love, now……
Adjusting the rim of his spectacles, uncle said “I get great pleasure in studying”. On being asked what subjects have drawn him strongly, he shared how archeology is a vast field and from art, culture to excavations – his interests go across various subjects. His most recent work is on the peregrination of a yogi. This yogi had written his name on several temples in different places. As I type this out, I think I need another meeting with uncle soon, to learn more about this yogi and his journey. Surely a topic of my interest.
Though reading and writing are his main priority, with the feeling of having less time and much to do, uncle still makes it a point that he continues with his social interactions as well.
The present desire….
Pande uncle has over a dozen academic papers that he needs to finish. A tour through his room was like a walk into a very “living” library. Books of all sizes and papers overwhelmed the space. “Now you know why I am all mixed up,” he grinned, responding to my request for old photographs. His present desire is the completion of all these works at the earliest.
A message for all….
“I think I would prefer that people are spontaneous in their behaviour”, he emphasised how spontaneity should not be stretched to its absurd limits, that it offends anyone. It is very important to be “discretely spontaneous”, shared uncle. What a precise expression, with these two words put together, I thought.
On talents, individual qualities and sharing….
I asked uncle about how a usual day looks like. He said that he has led a disciplined life with regulated timings, healthy eating habits and yoga. As he described his glass of milk consumed with precisely four almonds, मुनक्का (rasin) and अंजीर (figs), post the morning walk, the glint in his eyes and the measure of the glass shown with his hand gesture, reminded me of my Nanaji (maternal grandfather). As we moved into the day he stated that 4 pm sharp is the family tea time. The evening routine often involves sitting in the temple area and having chit chats with neighbours. The rest of the time he spends reading and writing.
As a teenager, I had big ideas on community development projects and cultural activities. Some of them managed to take shape and others fizzled out due to my change of interest or decline of passion. Pande uncle kept abreast with all the little projects we did. When I shared a new proposal with him, he often narrowed his eyes, that pierced straight into mine and dismissively said, “Looks like soda water enthusiasm.” The phrase meant that in some time, all the bubbles of enthusiasm would die out and the work would not be done. He was often very right about this. Till date I have been using this “soda water check” as a litmus test before starting any project. It has taught me to allow the feeling of initiating something new to sink deep within, immerse myself into it, patiently wait and then take on the action – with a sense of commitment. I told Pande uncle how these pearls of wisdom have been a very important guiding factor in my life.
Pande uncle got married in the year 1966 to Mrs. Munni Pande. They have two children – Mahima and Siddharth. I remember seeing uncle walk with Mrs. Pande, holding her by the hand, in the park every evening. The months before she left us all (9th February 2015), she faced difficulty in walking freely. The love, care and dedication that I saw between them really touched my heart. I was not married at that time. The thought occurred that if I ever have a partner, this is how our bond must develop through the years.
On the Academic front, uncle has achieved a great deal. He has been the first archeologist to be awarded the Shankar Puraskar (award) for his book, Puratattva Prasang – an outstanding work in Hindi on indian philosophy, culture and art. He was nominated by the Government of India as a member of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology. He has led and participated in excavations in over a dozen sites and directed major excavations and conservation works. Pande Uncle, with his strong leadership skills, has also groomed several archeologists who are today working with the Archeological Survey of India. He is a member of numerous professional and academic bodies and is the author of several articles and publications in research journals in India and abroad. His latest published book is Qutb Minar and its Monuments. If history and archeology were to shape up as my interest at any point, I would surely get to reading it.
Reading uncles article “Treasure under the Village Fields” in The Equator Line magazine, the January-March 2016 issue, was extremely fascinating for me. As someone who hasn’t really connected with history as a subject, the tour into various excavation sites through his eyes, was rather captivating. It seemed that huge treasure boxes are opening up under the excavated mounds of Kalibangan, Burzahom, Purana Qila, Thanesar and Goraj. The child like awe and happiness reflects beautifully in his words tracing out the passion he holds for archeology. A sentence that I read several times over is – “Every time I went to a new site, surveyed the land around, and got down to digging, a thought came to me about the unhurried, humdrum life on the ground having no idea about the exciting episodes from the past hidden inside”. The spirit of adventure meshed with a deep reflection and observation, in his expression, reminded me on how I feel that in routine living we often have no idea about the treasures and gifts hidden within us.
In the process of this exercise with uncle, I got access to “Collective Wisdom – Preservation and development of Buddhism” – edited by him. This book is the first in the series of the proceedings of the Global Buddhist Congregation that took place in November 2011, New Delhi. Interestingly, this was the time I was living in a Buddhist Nunnery in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh). I went through the sections written by Sogyal Rimpoche and Jack Petranker. It took me back to the Dharma classes and lectures I had attended during that time. Was interesting to discover that Pande uncle and I have had Dharma pouring into us through different ways in that year itself.
A man full of life, compassion, dedication and strong values is how I would describe Pande uncle.