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.


Bubbly Bala said...

It is not just your generation but even many of our generation also seem to not be interested in him any more. His granddaughter was invited to speak yesterday, and the size of the audience proved that not too many people are interested in knowing what kind of family man this great scholar was.
I was so excited ever since Usha informed me about the talk and asked me to make it a point to attend. But there were so few of us around.
Those of us who did go were all iterested folks, many asking her very interesting questions and some even discussing his writings. And she poor lady was so overwhelmed by our enthusiasm.

Natasha said...

It is indeed a pity. He is one of the truly great men that we have had in the last century, and to forget him completely is such a pity. When you told me his granddaughter had given a talk, I was very envious of you - had I been in Bangalore, I would have definitely attended, even if I had to take both the kids along with me, and spend half the time just shutting them up.
The amazing thing is that he seems to be better known abroad than here - the moment I mentioned his name, my Polish friend placed him, and she told me that she often consults his book when she has doubts about the interpretation of Indian philosophy.

Bubbly Bala said...

She was so approachable.It would have been nicer if you had spoken to her because you might have had some sensible queries like many of the men had. But the nice thing is that she took pains to answer the stupid ones too and there was no condescending attitude.
There was a nice photograph of all the children of the great man. The 5 daughters and only son holding a tumbler of coffee in his hand, looking no different from any average middle class South Indian family. Another one was of the lady accompanying her grandfather on a trip to Koyna.The best part is that she took pains to put together an album of photographs that she thought might interest us.

Natasha said...

I am gradually coming to the conclusion that the greater a person you are the less of a difference there is between the personna you project and the person you really are. Radhakrishnan did not need Wedgewood crockery for his filter coffee to taste good.


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