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 Lonely Traveller 


 B. K. Roy Burmon

The measure of the vigour of a culture is the capacity to nourish individuals who can embrace the 'beyond' without loosing their own; who can see in the mirror of "other" cultures the humanist essence of their own culture. Chinese culture has undoubtedly nourished many such individuals; but to us in India, it is the name of Prof. Tan Yun-shan which looms like a shining star. On the occasion of the opening ceremony of Cheena Bhavan (Chinese Hall), as part of Visva-Bharati University Santiniketan, Prof. Tan remined the audience of the Statement of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China, to the effect that all the depressed nations in the East, specially India and China, must be naturally sympathetic towards one another and must Cooperate in striving together for the common objective. Amplifying this statement Prof. Tan observed "By Cooperation and striving together, we do not mean any such alliance or league as those so-called modern powers and Eastern and Western imperialists have made to crush the weak and plunder them outright. We simply join in our mutual sympathy and love. We simply strive for our own equality and freedom. We will never stand against the good of any country and people."

Speaking about Prof. Tan Yun-shan himself, the Chinese scholar W. Pachow observed. "He always advocated the spiritual culture of China and India, and wished that the two peoples get a good example in their modern practice for other nations to emulate. In this way, confict and war could be eliminated, and world peace prevail. Human kind would enter the datong utopia in which the people could sleep at night with their doors open, and wealth would scatter on the roads without anyone claiming it as his/her private property, or the world would become a Sukhavati in which the people would live amidst charming music and fragrant flowers, without desire, greed, hatred and conflict. Prof. Tan was such a visionary whose vistas did not limit within the boundries of Sine-Indian Culture, but enhancing the prospects of the happiness of entire humanity."

I had the privilege of enjoying the affection of Prof. Tan in the late 1970s when I joined Visva-Bharati as Professor of Anthropology. It was four decades too late. In the 1930s as a restless adolescent, I was extremely unhappy at the act of aggression Japan was perpetrating on China. My imagination, as that of many others of my generation, was fired when on the initiative of Jawaharlal Nehru a medical mission from India left for China. I wanted to reach China and give a good fight to the Japanese. But also I thought I must make some preparation before starting the one-man mission to China. I had heard about Prof. Tan and his Centre for Chinese Studies in Santiniketan, one of the items in my agenda was to meet him. But I did not do it. Perhaps prudence had the better of the enthusiasm. I ran away from my home and could manage to reach only upto Burma, where I was located by the Burmese police and sent back home.

When I joined Visva-Bharati, Prof. Tan was not permanently living there. He was spending some time at Bodhgaya where he wanted to build up a World-Buddhist Academy. During one of his prolonged visits to Santiniketan, my wife who was attached to Cheena Bhavan for her post-doctoral work on Tibet, came in contact with him. Some how she felt that he was a lonely traveller in a mindless crowd. On her invitation Prof. Tan and Mrs. Tan visited us at our house. During our discussion I told him about my adolescent chivalrous venture to assist China in her fight to maintain her freedom. Prof. Tan savvied an amused smile but quietly placed his hand on my shoulder. I knew he conveyed to me the muse of his soul. After that we met several times. From Bodhgaya he wrote to me to be a member of the Council of the World Buddhist Academy he was planning to set up. I felt greatly honoured and readily responded.

Though Prof. Tan weighed down by age, had formally relinquished the change of Cheena Bhawan in 1967 to all of us he embodied the spirit of the institution. Bue he represented mroe. He was the symbol of the intellectual-spiritual universal brotherhood that Rabindranath Tagore, the activist poet ried to create at Santiniketan. There were many at Santiniketan who thought that Tagore's was a failed experiment. But Prof. Tan was an incorrigible optimist. His frail body carried an iron will. During his visits to Santiniketan, in hischaracteristic mild manner he always conveyed the message: there may be temporary set-backs, but in the aeon of time there is nothing called defeat for any authentic endeavour in the journey towards a common human presence.

In our paying homage to the memory of Prof. Tan Yun-Shan we actually renew our pledge to ourselves to be active partisans in the struggle for creating a universal one-ness of freedom and peace. If we are there, truly to ourselves, the 'others' are truly with us; if 'others' are there true to their-selves the truth of us resides in them. Prof. Tan might or might not have spoken this in so many words; but his life, his living in manking, is an affirmation of this. 


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