It’s an irony how most real-life superheroes who save and sustain us, each day, every day, silently and unconditionally have to wait for a cinematic blessing to get due recognition from us. Probably that’s why we don’t know about Sudhanshu Biswas yet. His story, though thoroughly inspirational, has yet not caught the fancy of any big Bollywood director.
Honoured by the Padma Shri in 2018, he is a veteran 99-year-old freedom fighter who left his home in his early teens to fight for our independence. As a member of the famous revolutionary group, Anushilan Samity, Sudhanshu Biswas has dodged death a number of times during his gun battles with the British troops. He has been jailed several times, one of which was for his bold attack for carrying a live bomb at a British administration gathering. He narrowly escaped to Narayanganj, (current Bangladesh) and later returned to Kolkata to work with freedom fighters like Bina Das and Amiya Mondal. The bullet marks on his body still sing the glory of his bravery. One might think that his bravery was only confined till 1947 when India attained independence. However, his large heart encompassed not just the dream of an independent India but of an equal, progressive, and a peaceful nation where humanity triumphs all values. Thinking that his outward duties for the society were completed, he refrained from joining politics unlike many freedom figures of his time and resolved to endure an inward battle of self-realization.
Since childhood, his family had been disciples of Shri Ramakrishna, the guru of Swami Vivekananda. His teachings were instilled in Sudhanshu’s value system since birth. In 1948, inspired by Swami Vivekananda, he set out for the Himalayas for the company of saints to bask in their wisdom. He also associated himself with the Domes and Chamars of Varanasi, tribes who burn dead bodies at the crematorium and break skulls with bamboo sticks. He remained in such aloofness, away from the turmoil of the society for 14 long years. He later returned to Kolkata. Witnessing the plight of the common man, he decided to practice what he had been preached all his life – to serve his fellowmen. However, instead of relying on alms of the rich, he decided to earn a livelihood himself so that he could use that money freely for his social work. Hence, set up a plastic factory in Kolkata. As a Secretary of the All India Plastic Association, he even went on a hunger strike in the parliament for a few industrial issues and had to be persuaded by the then Cheif minister, and the Congress president of West Bengal to put an end to the strike. With his business running well, he built ashrams and schools in such remote areas of West Bengal that probably the government never took into account.
His increasing involvement in social work was being disturbed by the demands of his business.
“I remembered the teachings of Swami Vivekananda who had asked his devotees to work to uplift the marginalized. In a moment, I decided to dedicate my life to the service of humanity.”
In 1973, he shut down his business to dedicate himself completely to the service of the downtrodden and marginalized sections of the society. He established Sri Ramakrishna Sevashram at South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal, around 35 from Kolkata. As quoted by The Weekend Leader, he says,
“I always felt that education is the key to a better future of any nation. I wanted to work for those children who were destitute and had no one to look after their education and other necessities. I began providing food and accommodation to homeless children or those who didn’t have any earning member in their house.”
In the last four decades, he has set up 18 residential schools for such children, all boys, in the most remote areas around West Bengal. The schools currently don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate girls. Not just children, many old aged people who have nowhere to go are also welcome in his ashrams in return of a nominal fee.
Thousands of children, many of whom are orphans, have not only become professionally successful but also better humans. One unique aspect of schooling in Ramakrishna Sevashram is the holistic environment where, in Sudhanshu Biswas’ words, “man-making education is imparted”. Along with providing education, the school runs vocational centres, free medical camps, and an ambulance in case of emergencies, for the village.
All the schools are eco-friendly with their own organic plantations and solar panels.
If you think that by virtue of age, he is only over-looking the management of these schools, boy are you wrong! He actively teaches Mathematics in the school without any calculator and physically exerts more than an average teenager. Dressed in a simple white ganji, dhoti, and a cap, till 95 years of age, he stood tall as a pine tree and walked briskly as a cheetah. Even now, at 99, I’d say he is fitter than most people in their fifties!
“This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.”
His heartwarming humility shines through his eyes. He is so nonchalant about his service that when he was informed that he’d be conferred with the Padma Shri in 2018, his only response was “Do I have to travel to Delhi to collect it?”. Many journalists who have featured him claim that it is impossible to grab his attention during school hours. However, their wait always seems worthy once they get to meet him.
How rare it is to find people like Sudhanshu Biswas whose entire life has been about the well-being of others. Be it aggressively fighting for the country using guns, or compassionately fighting for the upliftment of its people through holistic education, Sudhanshu has given life to the following words of Swami Vivekananda,
“This is the gist of all worship – to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Siva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Siva, and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary.”
Note: If you wish to donate or volunteer for the cause Mr Sudhanshu Biswas is toiling hard for, please visit their website.