File photo Milind Soman | Facebook
File photo Milind Soman | Facebook
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The other thing that happened around the time I started swimming was my enrolment with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS.

Once again, it was all about location, location, location. The local shakha, or training centre, was at Shivaji Park itself, and Baba was a great believer in the benefits that would accrue to a young boy, in terms of disciplined living, physical fitness and right thinking, from being part of the junior cadres of the RSS. Also, it was just something many young boys in the neighbourhood did—a very Shivaji Park thing.

For a long time after I’d been enrolled, I hid out on the sidelines, concealed by a convenient hedge. I was annoyed that my parents had pushed a happy loner like me into forced activities with other children, without so much as a by-your-leave, and I wanted no part of it. My usual companions on the bench were an elderly Anglo-Indian couple and their boxer, Jeeves. One day, Aunty Prudence got so concerned about me hanging around by myself that she insisted on accompanying me home. When Aai came to the door (I think Aunty Prudence was most relieved to find that I hadn’t been lying, that I really did have a home and a mother who cared about me), she told her what I had really been doing each evening. Of course, after that, there was no escape from the shakha. The nice outcome—there’s always one, if you only care to look—of this whole episode was that I made two—rather, three—wonderful friends.

It became my job to walk Jeeves every evening, and so I did, very happily, for the rest of his life. When I read today all the subversive, communal propaganda the media attributes to RSS shakhas, I am frankly baffled. My memories of what happened at our shakha between 6 and 7 p.m. each weekday evening are completely different—we marched about in our khaki shorts, did some yoga, worked out in a traditional outdoor gymnasium with no fancy equipment, sang songs and chanted Sanskrit verses that we did not understand the meanings of, played games and had a bunch of fun with our fellows.


Also read: ‘RSS is family’ and what to do with non-Hindus: An RSS trainee’s camp notebook


Occasionally, we’d be taken on treks or overnight camping trips in the hills around Bombay, which we eagerly looked forward to and enjoyed very much. The whole thing was overseen by a team of mostly-well-meaning—if not always inspirational—adults, who truly believed they were helping raise good ‘civilian soldiers’— boys respectful of authority, well-behaved in the presence of adults and well-aware of the importance of physical fitness— who would put their efforts into nation-building when they grew up. A desi Scouts movement, if you will. As for the parents who registered their kids, most saw the shakha as just another way to keep their offspring in good shape and out of trouble.

My dad had been part of the RSS himself and was a proud Hindu. I didn’t see what there was to be proud about, but on the other hand, I didn’t see that there was much to complain about either. It just was. I don’t know what my shakha leaders felt about being Hindu—they didn’t really air their views on it to us, as far as I remember. Even if they had, I would not have paid attention—it would have made them sound too much like my dad.

This excerpt from Made in India: A Memoir by Milind Soman with Roopa Pai has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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76 Comments Share Your Views

76 COMMENTS

  1. Everyday when I go out to drop kids in morning. I see local Shakha happening. It is a group of committed 5 to 6 (60 plus) people doing their stuff. This in an area of more that 30,000 plus population. Oldest ones would be in 70s. Someday when others mostly irregular younger lot join it is still not more than 15 to 16. Interestingly there is Gurudwara,Church and Temple nearby. Quarter to half of the RSS ones who go to temple also do a bowdown at Gurudwara or Church. and not all go to temples (guess about 50%).Also i have never heard anyone giving speeches or any form of politcal activity even on crucial times like elections or like Balakot. It is especially ammusing when you hear news in morning and someone has a comment on RSS.

  2. Demonisation of RSS is a phenomenon which started in mid 1980. During my student days, between 1968-1970, I regularly attended an RSS shakha near home. As this writer descibes, it was about playing Indian games such as Khokho, Kabbadi, marching, occasinoally going on picnic. None told us, youngsters to hate or attack anyone. Nowadays, RSS is demonised so much that we would think that Jaish e Mohammed are boy scouts compared to RSS.

  3. That expressed in his book MilindSoman, I like to say,any one can may have the same experience in
    RSS sakha.Since 1925 RSS is the only organisition
    in India who used to follow the same idea and idology,that the patriotism and nothing but the patriotism must be unconditional for every citizen
    Irrespectiv of cast,or creed every citizen should try
    to give his/her,best to make India great.In the,concludind part of each sakha Prarthana or the
    Prayer denotes the idiology,and way to achive the
    Goal- “param baibhabsali matribhumi”— the real
    dream of a true patriot.

    • In 1950 I was ten years old. We use to attend shakha in my small town. We played lot of desi game like kho kho, hututu and dhwaj-dhwaj i.e. winning flag of opposite party. Our Muslim friends also joined us. Nobody talked about religion difference s in shakha

  4. Well said Milind..
    I have worked with a wing of RSS and trust me ..its all about brotherhood and patriotism. The communal angle is ignited by the political parties who have vested interest in creating riots. RSS believes in single law for all. Be it the minority or majority , one needs to keep the welfare of country in mind before demanding different laws for oneself.
    We only hear and see what the opposition party or media house wants us to know …one never knows what the hidden agenda is…

  5. I second the experience of Milind soman. In my brief stint as a kid I figured out that they could influence highly successful and well meaning people to join shakas dedicatedly. This is also a reflection that Shakas meant only deshprem and inculcating good habits to become good citizen of country. I still recall that my mates were from various religion, caste and creed and simply no body was interested in their origin.

  6. I m a Muslim, and I remember going to RSS shakhas set up in a ground near my home with my friends. And today I feel whatever Milind Soman said is absolutely true.
    Back then situation were not like as it is today or whatever we are made to believe. Even today I have very few friends and they are Non Muslims.

    • Well Said Adbur…I believe both sides Hindus and Muslims need to reach out to each other…both have problems we can not single out a community….Hindus keep hating Muslims,…Muslims keep everything other than religion as secondary…this circle should end.

      • In any community not everyone has the same level of faith or follow religion with the same level of conviction, how can you generalize Muslims like that?

  7. Everybody is commenting his own experience way back in 70s &80s and giving good conduct certificate. No one demonize RSS in 70s & 80s as much as today. They should examine the today only then they should make comments and give good conduct certificate. These comments only reflects how much wisdom you people got. You are not ready to analyse the present situation.

  8. Voh zamana alag tha bhai, ye zamana alag hein. Ab kya karen. Ab unka asli chehra saamne aa raha hein. Kisi ne kaha hein ki, ‘kisi kisi ko power do, to unka niyat pata chalta hein.’ Aap Mano ya na mano, yehi ho raha hein.

  9. As the Hindus are law binding and easy- soft- targets, one can blame it, as he wish without any fear. Can u say the same lines against the anti national outfits so easily and in one go, that too fearlessly ? It is the tragedy, this country is witnessing since centuries, such people. Nowadays, it is a fashion, to criticize Hinduism, to come to limelight.

    • No one criticizes Hindu’s or Hinduism. If you are talking about Hindutva then yes.. but Hindutva and Hinduism are different, it is like chalk and cheese..

  10. Chaddi gang should be band, they are the cause of communal disharmony in India.
    RSS thinks that one day they will end the muslims in India, fools don’t know in the process they are hurting their own matra bhumi.

    • Islamic radicals, Indians employed in arabian gulf countries, wahabi culturisation spoiled muslim generation and converted them into terrorists, declaring others kaafir. Just look 20years before dresses of muslim generation,particularly ladies and differentiate between now. Now only hijab, black burqa, black dress, bearded without moustache appears everywhere and are goons,criminals, anti national.

  11. I have Info that it was the RSS cadre who calmly & quietly helped out the Chennai residents during heavy flooding that happened few years back. No TV channels ever mentioned that good & quite done effective work. And you name such helpful humans as facist.

    • It is RSS Swayamsevak who do such help silently.. I have been Swayamsevak and never hated muslims or other religions.. never taught to do so

  12. When I was about 13 years old I too attended few RSS classes, especially on Sundays. Even though I have no memory of any Islam bashing in the classes, I remember reading some of the literatures which talks about India becoming a Muslim country very soon etc.
    As regards to the casteism, looking back now I can say for sure that all the top posts of RSS then in my town were filled with Brahmins.

  13. I have seen both shakas and Saraswati sishumandir as well. The kind of open mindedness , physical fitness, patriotism and respect towards fellow beings which are taught in those organisations are unparalleled.

  14. Somewhat like Soman, I used to rin with friend to nearest RSS sakha, to escape ragging in 1st year!!
    We always got the samosa after drill.

    They only asked youth to be ready to sacrifice for the nation. They never ever said anything against any person or community!!

    I pity those who say negative things about RSS. They must be sick in the mind or burning from their own hate poison!!

    • What would you say about all these leaders who speak against some particular religious groups? They try to disintegrate the country by targeting the minorities, falsely boasting they were the Hindus, and the country belongs only to them. Do u agree with them?

  15. Yes what ever Milind Soman said is absolutely correct. I have been to the Shakha at Shivaji Park regularly in the 70’s and 80’s.

  16. It’s true. Most of the experiences are common with me. I also found only fun, discipline and cultural activities in Shakha which bonds me with the roots of country.

  17. The reason of painting RSS as an organization hating minorities is that the organization does not want to promote the divisive ideas of nurturing separate identities. They want to promote peace rather than conflicts between different sections of Indian society.
    But the agitating groups, especially with leftist ideologies think that injustices in society can be redressed only by fighting with the established social order. They feel that bonhomie between between different sections of society is against their objective of polarizing society into two camps for winning the fight against their enemies.
    Thus seen it becomes clear that the issue is basically political. RSS is trying to unite people under nationalism which is possible only if people believe themselves as having some common heritage of which they can feel proud and which creates bonds of camaraderie between citizens. The leftists want to promote the feelings of injustice in as many sections as possible and then unite them to fight their common enemy.
    After destroying the enemy, either the sections fight among themselves to share the spoils or some dominant section enforces power over others. But that doesn’t create bonhomie, it only suppresses decent. But for the groups with different agendas coming together the priority is defeating their common enemy, that determines their common minimum programme!
    The vicious propaganda against RSS appears to be of guided by this agenda.

      • Why you hate communists? Is it because they preached religion is the opium of the masses??. What these shakas are doing is to submerge the agonizing cries of the thousands of communities for relief snd respite from the oppression of Hindu social order imposed on unsuspecting masses by a Scheming group of outsiders!

  18. People demonize RSS because they are afraid of it. No other explanation and we need not be perturbed. If the demonization is coming from our enemies, much more reason to join RSS.

  19. This was the reason last year RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat Ji said come and see the RSS first then you will come to know what we do, brillient article on working of RSS and propoganda run against it.
    Come and see what RSS do you would love to it.

    • Mohan bhagavath wants brhmanvad and manuvad to be undisturbed. They think it is the best state of affairs. Maybe for the top 1%, but not not for the greatest good of the greatest number which should be the social ideal.

      • Brother for every good comment..
        There will be ur anti post..
        I think u r the person belongs to communist and non Hindu..
        Even though we won’t hate you like you do..
        All ur posts are telling what you are..
        Don’t blame them RSS was good organization where my friends used to tell me what they teach in the ground of shakas..

  20. I am glad Milind had the guts to openly talk about his childhood association with RSS. I also had a very similar experience albeit a short one. My dad put me in the local shakha during the summer vacations when I was around 12. This was in the early 90s in Mumbai. Never once did the elders managing us talk about Hindutva, Hindu supremacy, Muslim hatred etc. etc. It was always about physical fitness and patriotism. They would make us do different exercises and always encourage us to be law abiding citizens. I was quite saddened the way RSS was painted as a fascist organization later in that decade and ever since.

  21. All those (Hindu as well as others) who have not Attended ShaKha or RSS meetings think it as mysterious KKK type movement. Then they spread rumour about RSS satisfying their fantasy.

  22. I have been to shakha and Shishu Mandir too, what Milind is saying is true and if I add, RSS teach only to be a better citizen, nothing else.
    If you understand RSS, you must go inside once, don’t listen these leftist and congress propoganda.

  23. It was quite revealing about RSS, thanks to Milind for openly Frank opinion from his experience.
    Wonder why RSS has been termed as a demon, mainly as Muslim haters. The recent riots in Delhi was disturbing, but incidentally RSS has been blamed. But neither before or after there was any comments from RSS leadership.

  24. I have been a leftist from my childhood till college days. I worked in India and abroad for 40 years and after my retirement only I got to know about RSS snd Sangh parivar outfits closely. It was totally different what I have been read/tutored by our media and public. During last 6 years, esp. after Modiji’s rise, I have attended many programs/meetings and even inside meetings in RSS Karyalaya. Never ever have I come across any bad remarks, any ill will statements about any other religion. That includes Marxism which is sworn enemy of RSS in Kerala. Sangh Parivar or BJP supporters may say anything. But RSS leaders are not bladdermouths they are thorough gentlemen. Pure Deshpremis. It is pity to see how opposition, other so called secular leaders, and other religionists paint RSS.

  25. Living as we do in this age of Instagram and Twitter with instant viral propoganda against RSS it’s imperative that RSS has a professional PUBLIC RELATIONS organisation to publicise what I’ve just read about the Shakha environment and more importantly that Muslims also have a munch. If these are the true values of RSS ( I didn’t know myself) then the leadership is failing in getting this Msg across. General perception of RSS is anti Muslim; anti Gandhi and Godse the killer was a member.

  26. Sorry no … No minority is allowed, neither the majority. Only Indians. They never ask your religion/caste etc. Every one gets the same respect irrespective of one’s social status. Folks of all age group come , do yoga, sing songs and play. Playing is the most enjoyable part of it. Both 6 years and 60 years old play together. You feel highly rejuvenated after attending it.

    • Pity on your blocked mind. If your idealogy that all Indians are equal, Kindly provide the list of Dalits , ST’s, OBC’s, Budhists, Sikhs, Muslims and Christian’s has been worked as sarsangh Chalaks of RSS.

  27. People make false accusations rss is just like a desi scout as he said, it just promotes nation loving mentality in you that’s , it does not hate preach, sad to see that left has totally malign the image of rss.

  28. RSS is definitely a very good organisation with only intent of service to the nation. There are thousands of RSS Karyakartas whom one should interact with for understanding the ideology of RSS. People who have never been to any SHAKHA or don’t interact with RSS Karyakartas due to their inherent hate for RSS and Hindus obviously only run negative narratives about RSS.

    • then why the patriotic organisation like rss doesn’t participate in freedom struggle against British and why British used to give savarkar pension of 6o rs

  29. Hope what Milind is saying is still true. I would be the first one to send my kids to the RSS Shakhas. By the way, are minorities allowed to be an RSS worker?

    • People like you only knows to ask such stupid questions while you can simply google and find out many many non-Hindu RSS workers.

    • Sorry no … No minority is allowed, neither the majority. Only Indians. They never ask your religion/caste etc. Every one gets the same respect irrespective of one’s social status. Folks of all age group come , do yoga, sing songs and play. Playing is the most enjoyable part of it. Both 6 years and 60 years old play together. You feel highly rejuvenated after attending it.

    • Yes everyone is welcome in RSS shakhas.
      I recommend you go and participate in some of the shakhas in your location and feel yourself. It’ll take an hour for a complete shakha on a usual day.

    • Pls do. Its best place for a kid to be present in the evening. A child doesn’t realise when he picked up leadership traits. Children are in good atmosphere and learn to be a team, disciplined and respectful too. If children can attend camps then nothing like it. Even you can attend the short winter camp to know RSS first hand

    • In RSS Sakha there is no minority, no majority, no upper caste, no lower caste. All are Bhartiya, all are the son of Maa Bharti… Everyone is welcome in sakha without any paper formality or admission. Only criteria is that the person joining must be well aaare that he is going to get NOTHING rather he has to give up something for the sake of the nation, for the sake of taking Maa Bharti to the utmost place i.e. “परमवैभव”

  30. Propaganda against RSS is all fabricated. RSS haters see RSS as a bottleneck in their anti-Hindu and anti-India activities. They invent lies, fabricate fake stories and use left liberal cabal to defame RSS.

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