Many of the experiences that we have in our young age shape our lives and character. Each of us form our own interpretation of our early experiences and this impacts the way we think and react to what happens around us. People who influence our thinking usually mould these interpretations. For most of us, it is either an immediate family member or a charismatic teacher in our school. While Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was the key architect of Swami Vivekananda and his thinking in his later life, much has been written about on what could have shaped young Narendra’s life and thoughts in his childhood.

Two key people had a deep seated influence on him and some of his fiercely independent qualities that we see manifest throughout his life. They were his parents – father Vishwanath Datta and mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi. Swami Vivekananda used to say time and again that he was indebted to his mother for his intellectual development. What was unique about his mother’s influence was the fact that it was done unobtrusively and in a non-prescriptive manner. One often-quoted illustration is Narendra getting punished at school for no fault of his. His geography teacher had asked a question in class which he had answered correctly. The teacher thought that Narendra was wrong and punished him. Narendra insisted that his answer was correct and refused to change it. This made his teacher furious and he caned Narendra mercilessly. Narendra returned home eyes filled with tears and narrated the events to his mother. Her consoling words were “Why do you care if you are right? Follow the truth always, whatever happens”.

In another instance she gave this advice: “Be pure, live a clean life, defend your dignity and be respectful to others. Be gentle and modest, but do not hesitate to be firm when the situation requires it”. His father Vishwanath Datta is known to have shaped his concern for the poor and the suffering. Vishwanath Datta influenced Naren by living the values of charity and sympathy for the poor by his everyday actions.

While each one of us may have similar experiences in our own lives, very few of us will have the courage to stand by our convictions. Fewer still will have the ability to think through them and form own conclusions. The lessons learnt in our formative years go a long way in shaping our attitudes and the way we react to the reality and context around us.

Kannada version in Prajavani (09-Feb-12)