Who is the Guru, Who the Disciple?
Meena is a Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer, an art critic and a writer.
She is a Bangladeshi citizen. For Meena, dance or art is not just for
entertainment; it is a powerful medium of social change. Meena was about 17 years old when the struggle for Bangladesh’s liberation started in East Pakistan. The Bengalies living in East Pakistan wanted their own country where they could preserve and promote Bangla language and culture,because they were not being allowed to do this by the rulers of Pakistan. The Bengali people had to wage an armed struggle to get their freedom. Millions of men and women joined the Mukti Vaahini or the Liberation Army. The Indian
government, army and people also supported this freedom struggle and so did
many others in different parts of the world.
Meena’s family was also supporting the freedom struggle. Young Meena and
her friend joined a cultural troupe which went from village to village, city to
city, in a truck, to show their solidarity with the freedom fighters. Through
their Mukteer Gaan or Songs of Liberation they enthused and encouraged
people to keep struggling until Bangladesh was created.
In 1971 Bangladesh became free. Meena went back to her studies, later got
married and created a family. Soon after her two children grew up a little,
Meena resumed her art and activism.
Meena has been a student all her life. She has an insatiable thirst for new
knowledge and creativity and she works hard to quench this thirst. No place is too far for learning for Meena. When Meena was about 40 years old, she suddenly decided to learn Sanskrit. Because her mother tongue Bangla is derived from Sanskrit, she wanted to deepen her understanding of these languages. Meena searched and found an institute in India which conducted Sanskrit courses. She took admission in that institute and landed there.
Most of the students in the course were men and they were all much younger than her. Not only were all the other students Hindu, they were upper caste Hindu. Meena was the lone Muslim and the authorities were quite surprised that she had come for this course. As Meena wore a sari, spoke Bangla and also quite fluent Hindi and mingled with every one easily, her nationality and religion was no barrier. Perhaps most of the students did not even know she was Muslim. Because she was older than the others she soon became Meena Didi to all. Because she was a fast learner and had a good understanding of languages, many students came to her with their questions.
Towards the end of the course an elderly lady came from another town to teach them Sanskrit grammar. She was introduced as one of the most knowledgeable Sanskrit grammar teachers. Meena learnt diligently from her and the Guruji also soon discovered and admired Meena’s keenness to learn and her passion for Sanskrit. Guruji was also very impressed by the way Meena conducted herself. Guruji took extra care to teach Meena. After a few days, when Meena was sitting alone in her room, there was a knock on the door. She opened the door and found Guruji standing there. Meena welcomed her and offered her the only chair in the room. Guruji told Meena that she was very impressed by her keenness to learn Sanskrit and if Meena wanted to learn more grammar she could go with Guruji to her town, stay with her and learn. Meena, the ready learner, was delighted by this offer and she promptly accepted this kind offer. Guruji also seemed pleased by Meena’s enthusiastic acceptance of her offer. In order to get to know Meena better, Guruji asked her “I know that you are from Bangladesh, but I do not even know your full name yet. What is it?” Meena responded enthusiastically “My name is Meena Rehman, Guruji”. “Meena Rehman? But this is not a Hindu name?” said Guruji perplexed. “I am not a Hindu Guruji. I am from a Muslim family”, responded Meena in her usual calm manner.
Guruji’s demeanor suddenly changed, she got up in a huff and left the room without saying another word. Meena was aghast. She had never been treated like this because of her religion. Her family had never distinguished between religions. They were taught to respect all religions and actually her family was not religious at all. This is why Meena happily pursued Bharatnatyam, was immersed in Rabindra Sangeet and had now come to India to learn Sanskrit.
During the following days in her class Guruji barely looked at Meena. She stopped asking Meena any questions, the way she used to. Meena was upset
about Guruji’s behavior and also sad that she would not be able to learn more from Guruji, but there was nothing she could do about it. On the evening before the course was to finish, Guruji suddenly came to Meena’s room and said “If you want to learn more grammar, you can come with me tomorrow to my home and town. Do you want to do that?” Meena was totally perplexed and not able to understand what was happening, however, she mumbled “ Jee… jee Guruji. I will go with you tomorrow”. Guruji walked out without saying anything more. Meena was confused. She was not sure what to expect and what she should be doing, but she had already taken a decision to go along with Guruji. The two women took the night train the next day and reached Guruji’s town and home on the following morning. Guruji lived in a small flat. She showed Meena her room, the bathroom and then the kitchen. She stopped outside the kitchen and told Meena “this is my kitchen. You are not to enter it. I will cook, give you your food, you sit outside on this table and eat. After that you wash your utensils and put them on the table. Okay?” “Jee Guruji. This is fine” said Meena suppressing her feelings. Every day Guruji taught Meena for several hours, cooked all the meals, gave Meena her food and Meena sat alone outside and ate. Meena learnt Sanskrit and quietly learnt many other lessons about life.
A day before Meena’s departure, Guruji put some vegetables on the table and told Meena “ Meena beti, this evening you will cook . I will show you
everything in the kitchen. Then we will both eat together”. Meena responded,, “ Jee Guruji. I will cook this evening and both of us will eat
together”.Meena was smiling and once again very surprised. We don’t stop learning and changing, do we? Meena thought. She was glad she did not react to Guruji’s attitude and behavior and thus gave Guruji the opportunity to reflect and learn. And of course, Meena also got to learn grammar from one of the best teachers.