The Torchbearer of Jivdaya !
A few years ago when I happened to visit Gujarat, our driver took a wrong turn on a deserted state highway in the outskirts of Patan (Google maps had not graced my cell phone at that time). Our driver was fanatically looking for someone who could guide us towards the main town and after treading a short distance, we came across a gentleman who offered to help us as he was heading towards the same destination. He boarded our vehicle and directed the route to the driver. Although the gentleman was in his mid-sixties, he seemed quite fit for his age and his banter continued non-stop which was quite annoying, given the fact that we were strangers moments ago. As we were about to reach the town, his excitement suddenly arose when I mentioned that we had come from Kolkata. He started recollecting something very earnestly and his eyes glinted as he announced that he also knew a great humanitarian from Kolkata. He proudly continued that this noble gentleman from Kolkata was deeply compassionate towards animals and had founded a NGO dedicated to animal care and underprivileged persons. Although I had already guessed who this gentleman was, out of formal curiosity when I asked the name, he smiled and said that he couldn’t recall his full name but people call him “Jitu Kaka”! Such is the fame of this visionary that people living thousands of kilometres away, also fondly remember him.
Today, I am going to share the story of this visionary, who has been a mentor to me & many other youths and will always be known as a humanitarian who has followed a single path of humanity and benevolence in his life. He has always followed and taught a single message that “the secret of life is in the love of god and the service of humanity”. He is none other than Shri Jitubhai Shah, fondly known as Jitu Kaka, the founder of one of the most notable institutions in Kolkata- Shri Jivdaya Mandal.
|Jitu Kaka with members of Jivdaya Mandal|
I was introduced to Jitu Kaka just after the turn of the millennium by our Pathshala (Jain school) teacher, Shri Vipulbhai who suggested I join the group. Initially apprehensive from the fact that strict discipline was observed in the group, I got along quite well due to the welcoming nature of Jitu Kaka. I vividly recall how well the group had distributed all the four Sundays of the month to some great initiatives – From freeing caged birds and livestock to feeding livestock at cow and buffalo shelters, the group reserved the first two Sundays for animal care. The next 2 Sundays would be dedicated to feeding the underprivileged at blind schools, orphanages, old age homes and fruit distribution at state run Government hospitals.
|Jitu Kaka chanting the Manglik to the birds!|
During the first Sunday of the month, Jitu Kaka would take us to Galiff Street in Hathibagan which turns into a pet market every Sunday. The market is a nightmare for any animal lover as hundreds of sellers in shabby surroundings would sell domestic pets and caged birds like Parrots, Pigeons and Munia’s to those who wish to keep them forever confined in cages. To enhance their beauty, these birds are coloured using harsh chemicals and cramped inside extremely small cages. Their pain could be felt from the loud cacophony emanating from each of these innocent lives inside those cages- as if they were shouting for help. From there we would purchase these birds and take them to the Chandraprabhu Swami temple (in Maniktalla) where they would be taken for darshan of the lord. The best part of this ritual was that when Jitu Kaka would then recite the manglik, each of the birds would devoutly face the lord in full obedience. Jitu Kaka believed that just a mere glimpse of the lord had the power to purify their future births, thus it was mandatory to conduct the darshan and manglik ritual every time before feeding them. As the evening would set in, we would reach the gorgeously bewitching East Kolkata wetlands in the outskirts of the city with the cages in our hands. As the sun would set in the horizon, Jitu Kaka would open each of these cages and hundreds of birds would spread their wings and catch a flight of freedom amidst such serene surroundings creating a sight to behold. Imagine the joy of freedom after being confined in shabby cages for months !
|Feeding the cattle !|
On the second Sunday of the month, Jitu Kaka would take us to the Gauhsala’s situated in Sodepur, Liluah or Kanchrapara to feed the cows, calves as well as other livestock like oxen, goats and buffaloes. These gaushalas, maintained by the Calcutta Pinjrapole Society have different enclosures for mulching cows, sick livestock and calves. Jitu Kaka would make sure that the all the volunteers use the best quality of vegetables, grass, rotis, bhusi and jaggery to feed the cattle. In addition to feeding the livestock, Jitu Kaka would make sure atleast one cow or buffalo would be rescued from the slaughterhouses and freed in any of these gaushalas. After feeding the cattle (which would consist more than 500 cows and buffaloes) Jitu Kaka would make a round of the entire gaushala caressing the livestock and chanting Navkar Mantra and manglik.
|Members feeding the underpriveleged|
The third Sunday of the month was dedicated to serving the underprivileged. Jitu Kaka would take us to either an orphanage or a blind school or an old age home. We would visit the Calcutta School of Blind in Behala, Dakshineshwar Adyapeeth, The Refuge Orphanage in Bowbazar and the Old age home set up by the Missionaries of Charity in Park Circus. On some of the days, special food would be distributed or stationary kits and books would be given to children. On other days we would distribute warm clothes and or fresh fruits. Jitu Kaka made sure that on special occasions like Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, laddoos would be distributed at these centres. For us, these would mean nothing, but for those orphans, these small things gave them immense joy. Their warm smiles would convey the value of these basic necessities which we have never valued in our lives. Once during a visit to an old age home, an elderly lady with dishevelled hair lunged forward and kept on asking – When is Diwali? Please tell me when is Diwali? When we answered that Diwali had already gone, she broke down completely. When we inquired, the authorities informed us that a few years back her son had promised her that he would take her back on Diwali, but he never came back to her and since then, her loneliness had made her senile. Such pain and the agony in the eyes of those people taught us the value of our life, the value of our parents, the theory of Karma- This is perhaps, what Jitu Kaka wanted to teach us in addition to serving the society.
|Stationary distribution in Orphanages|
On the fourth Sunday of the month, Jitu Kaka would take us to Government hospitals like Medical College, Nil Ratan Sarkar Hospital, R.G. Kar Hospital among others where we would distribute a host of fresh fruits (like apples, sweet lime, oranges, pomegranates and bananas along with seasonal fruits) to more than 700 patients and their family members. One would believe there would not be any need to distribute fruits in state run hospitals, but the fact is that the patients who come here do not even have money to pay for the basic treatment or medicines. We have seen patients literally beg for extra fruits which conveys its value to them.
|Bhakti's organised by Jitu Kaka|
While these noble activities continued, on some days, Jitu Kaka would also organise Snatra Puja’s and Samayik’s where he would imbibe the culture of Bhakti and Sadhana in our hearts. Another important trait of Jitu Kaka was his focus on children and the youth as he believed that the teachings of Lord Mahavir should be imbibed in smaller ages as they would stay with them forever. He would teach us important lessons of life through stories and fables and would make sure that each of us would follow the basic tenets of Jainism properly.
|The Annual Jatra's|
However, the turning points of most of the youths would come during the Annual Jatra (religious trips) in the month of December to various corners of India. Jitu Kaka always made sure that young members of the group were included in such trips where the true practice of Jainism could be instilled in them. Irrespective of the location, north or the south, these trips would cover compulsorily Shankheshwar and Palitana as well. From the beginning of the trip till the end, Jitu Kaka ensured that all the members remain disciplined and attend morning & evening Pratikraman, Chovyar as well as regular rituals like Vasakshep puja, Ashtaprakari Puja and vayavacch of Sadhu’s and Sadhviji bhagwant’s.
|Vayyavach of Sadhviji Bhagwants|
I recall Jitu Kaka’s discipline and devotion to god during those trips – Even during train journeys he would compulsorily conduct the morning bhakti and evening bhavna; At another time when we were at Bhorol Tirth, the temperatures dipped below 2-3 degrees, still he woke all of us up at 4:30 in the morning and conducted the Pratikraman. Jitu Kaka made sure that all of the members compulsorily did Chovyar. Once when we were heading towards Jaisalmer in Rajasthan he made sure that we all did Chovyar by having Khakhra and Bhujiya in the middle of the Thar desert as the sun was about to set! Once during a Bhavna at Shankheshwar Tirth, Jitu Kaka personally requested the singer to let me sing one stavan. After I completed the stavan, one gentleman from the audience who had bid for the second aarti (there are 5 aarti’s every night in Shankheshwar) for more than 50,000 rupees, gave up his chance and gave me the laabh of doing the aarti ! I have been blessed to have been a part of 7 such annual trips wherein I covered more than 250 Tirth Bhumis!
Today, even after three decades of continuous service to mankind, Jivdaya Mandal continues to grow on the able shoulders of Shri Jitu Kaka and he has made sure that these charitable activities do not stop even for a single day. I have been blessed to be groomed under his guidance and all these activities and the teachings of Jitu Kaka has made me what I am today. He would deeply focus on prabhu bhakti and it was only due to his encouragement and learning that I started singing and conducting various puja’s and pujan’s. Today majority of eminent Jain singers and musicians in Kolkata like Shri Dhirenbhai Sanghvi, Shri Ketanbhai Shah, Shri Niravbhai Shah, Shri Hiteshbhai Mehta Shri Vimalbhai Vasa, Shri Pareshbhai Mehta, Shri Manishbhai Dave and Shri Vamanbhai Pandya started their journeys from Jivdaya Mandal. Also, a lot of charitable organisations trace their roots to Jivdaya Mandal and Jitu Kaka.
On my first day at the Jivdaya Mandal, I wondered why all the members compulsorily followed the ritual of touching the feet of Jitu Kaka. Later on, I understood that the practice was not just out of compliance but out of sheer respect towards this visionary who has carried the torch of love and benevolence to mankind!