The Pink Paperback Book
Posted June 29, 2006
Sitting in English 101, back to school after 20 years, My professor assigns us the project of writing about our appreciation of literature. So what will I write? something different. something nobody else would write about. My Professor does not know much about Vedic culture, will she understand? How do I write something so wonderful so that a regular all American non-devotee would know? After this paper was graded with an "A", my professor asked where she could get a copy of the Pink Paperback Book. All glories to Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur. Writing outside the limits of Vaishnavism, so that other will become interested.
The Pink Paperback Book
So what does an elderly magistrate court deputy in West Bengal, India, employed by the British Government around the years of 1866-1887 have in common with a hillbilly born Ohio woman 100+ years later?
Absolutely nothing... except for a small pink paperback book.
A century apart, continents apart, cultures apart. This silent unknown scholar having passed from existence before the automobile became a family commodity. He never got to see the independence of India from the British, indoor plumbing or electricity to power a computer. He wrote over 100 essays, books and periodicals by candle light late at night after long days in court. Due to his education and respected position within the British Government his writings intrigued his colleagues. After many years of sacrifice his dream to educate the British, the whole English speaking world, about the unifying nature of our common spiritual existence was becoming a reality.
This gentleman, Bhaktivinode Thakur, would never have imagined one of his books in the hands of this Ohio hillbilly. It was 1996 when I attended a weekend seminar in rural Pennsylvania. This pink paperback book was the subject of one of the classes I registered to take. It was difficult to comprehend at first because it was written in old fashion British English in which I was unfamiliar. On break from class I would sit outside and read slowly out loud each sentence.
I practiced by reading out loud imitating a concocted British accent. It all sounded like Shakespeare to me. "Etu brute, then fall Caesar" was about all I could remember from my high school literature class. No seriously... I wanted to understand this material. I stopped fooling around with the theatrics and began to read silently with intent.
Classes were over for the evening. I took this pink paperback book and sat under a tree to read some more. The book may have only been 200 pages long and I finished it in a few hours. The awe and wonder of the concepts I was beginning to understand compelled me to think more, wonder more and desire to know even more. I read the book again and again, all night long I read this book, slowly with intent stopping to think and appreciate every paragraph.
In this pink paperback, Bhaktivinode Thakurs audience was the educated Englishmen of his time. His intent was to somehow teach his "fellow brethren" that there is One God regardless of the Christian/Hindu separation. His tone was respectful, ever so gently presenting ideas without causing any offense to the listener. This author was perfect in creating the scene and environment, I almost felt as if I was also an Englishman in a Victorian India.
The rest of the seminar I spent every moment doing further research about this man called the Thakur. I went to the bookshelf at this facility and pulled down every book I could find written by him. Other books like Harinama Cintamani had a different audience and purpose. This book was directed towards the Hindu Vaishnava community instructing lessons on personal humility. Poems like Saragrahi Vaishnava addressed social issues of his day.
A biography about this author sent chills down my spine. One tragedy after another in his young life. Yet he overcame fear, pain and heartbreak. He was born into a very wealthy family whom had many servants in his grandfather's home. By the age of eight, however, five of his family members passed away leaving his widowed mother with no means to take care of him.
By the age of 18 (1856) he began writing in both English and Bengali and studied literature extensively, specifically, the works of Channing, Emerson, Parker and Newman. An Englishman named George Thompson who was a well known orator in the British Parliament taught speechmaking to Bhaktivinode. He even wrote two books describing the life of Porus, who met Alexander the Great.
Although most of his writing was for the scholarly class, his compassion and kindness even extended to the uneducated villagers of Bengal. He took his ideas and wrote them to song so that those who were illiterate could still learn through music.
He married and his first wife passed away, he married again with a total of 10 children, most of whom were to become scholars educated by the British. He was a school teacher, later headmaster, eventually a government employee, and finally the most distinguished teacher of spiritual life.
Such an ordinary man could have an extraordinary life. In spite of distractions he always had faith. If a person like this could survive and remain softhearted no matter what happened, then could I? On some level this man became real and alive. His breaths were his words, his voice was the ink on the pages and his body was his books.
Before I left that weekend seminar I stopped to admire an old black and white photograph of Bhaktivinode Thakur. He was a funny looking fellow with flaxen colored bushy eyebrows and dark skin, somewhat on the chubby side. Making sure nobody else was in the room to overhear myself talking to this photograph, I introduced myself to Bhaktivinode. I told him a little about myself, how I came to this seminar and what I learned by coming. I showed him the little pink paperback book. "Look," I said, "this is one of your books and its over here in Port Royal Pennsylvania, United States and the year is 1996"
I walked away from that seminar with a Hero and an adopted great great grandfather. Since that weekend I have always gravitated towards his teachings and those of his youngest son, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, who also became a well known scholar, writer and teacher like his father.
That little pink paperback book was entitled, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His Life and Precepts. An original copy did make it to the New World, as in the 1960's it was rediscovered at the McGill Library in Montreal, Canada
I do not own that original book any longer. While in North Carolina during an activity at Duke University I met a young lady who was very interested in spiritual life, and a philosophy major. I gave her my copy of the pink paperback knowing that it would be placed in good hands, feeling very honored that I was able to give Bhaktivinode Thakur to an Ivy League student and further this knowledge. Bhaktivinode was thinking 100 years ago about Oxford University in England- his books are there. Now at least one of his books is with a student at Duke.
Abaya Charan, The Video Epic Part 1. Veda Foundation. Anaheim, California
Dasa, Rupa-vilasa. The Seventh Goswami 1989 Sri Sri Sitaram Seva Trust. Juhu, Mumbai India
Srila Sac-cid Ananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura Prabhupada 5/02/06