Saturday, September 6, 2008
Remembering Leaders who deserve to be remembered
“Don’t the kids have school today?”
“No. Holiday. Teachers’ Day.”
“Wonder why the celebrate Teachers’ Day today?”
“Birthday of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. You know who he was, don’t you? Eminent Philosopher and India’s second President.”
“Oh really? Wonder why they celebrate his birthday as Teachers’ Day – maybe he taught at a high school or something. Would be interesting to find out.”
“Actually, he was a Professor at Oxford. Maybe you can try googling his name?”
I wasn’t to know it then, but that early morning conversation with the husband was going to me my most intelligent Teachers’ Day related conversation of the day.
In the evening, the Mothers were talking about how it would have been better if a "real holiday", and not Teachers' Day, had fallen on a Friday.
“At least it is good that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had the consideration not to be born on a Saturday”, I suggested mischievously. “It would have been such a waste to have to go to school to wish the teachers during the weekend.”
The blank looks I got proved that nobody had any idea what I was talking about. “You know, S. Radhakrishnan, the person who’s birthday we celebrate as Teachers’ Day.”
“Oh, so that who it was, was it?”, said someone when the silence started getting a bit uncomfortable. “I knew it was someone’s birthday. But I didn’t know his name.”
“Didn’t know, or don’t care?”, I wanted to ask, instead contented myself with saying. “S. Radhakrishnan. The second President of India, you know.”
By then, people had turned away. Nobody cared two hoots about the second President of India. Not that I blamed them. If the current incumbent was anything to go by, the office of the President of the Republic of India deserved no more respect than the lowest of a municipality officer. But that was not the point. The point was that nobody seemed to care about the degradation of the office either, or about anything else that they should be caring about.
“Forget S. Radhakrishnan, one of the most distinguished scholars India has produced”, I wanted to shout. “Do you even know who the first President of the country was? Or who wrote the Indian Constitution? Or anything at all about the history that your grandparents lived through?”
Apathy may be very fashionable at the moment, but how could anyone flaunt ignorance?
My parents’ generation may well be the last one that remembers the stalwarts who gave voice to the newly independent India and made her the power she became in the Non-aligned Movement. My generation just does not care.
I went to bed a disgruntled person.
Two years back, I had mentioned Teachers’ Day to a Polish friend of mine, and when she asked why we celebrated it when we did, I’d said – “Birthday of S. Radhakrishnan. Eminent philosopher and our second President.”
She’d immediately shot back – “I know that guy. He’s the one who wrote The Indian Philosophy, the book I consulted when I wanted to understand why you and E had such differing views on karma.”
We should be ashamed that a 25-year old student of International Relations in Warsaw knows more about one of our great leaders than we do. Or maybe we should just be happy that someone remembers him after all.