A short visit to S. M. College, Shahjahanpur, U.P., in Sept. 2010 turned out to be a longer visit and a memorable pilgrimage with the visit to Dr. Radhakrishnan Study Centre in that college, established recently with the help of U.G.C. A look at the collection of books of Dr. Radhakrishnan and on this philosopher-statesman and some pictures displayed on the Display Boards transported me to the times of the first two decades of post-independence India, my formative years at school and college.
It was a pilgrimage through the golden memories of men and matters that were seriously engaged in moulding and shaping the destiny and future of India and were working really hard for laying the sure and solid foundations of her social, political and economic fabric. Also those were the times we were fired with the patriotic fervour by our highly dedicated teachers with their complete sense of belonging.
Today when I look around, the academic and political scenario makes me gravely sad with all the highly-vaunted advancement and accomplishment. As a teacher, I always yearn for a return to those campus days. Alas! We used to adore and sing of the architects of national independence, their deep-rooted love of the motherland and honest respect for human freedoms, dignity and values. Most of these ennobling and self-sacrificing souls, to name a few-Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Lal-Bal-Pal, Sardar Patel, C. Rajgopalachari, Rajen Babu, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Mrs. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Aurobindo Ghosh…..the list is long and my sincere apology to other guide-lights I couldn’t mention- left an indelible imprint on my mind and considerably shaped my mind and determined my outlook in an uncompromising manner.
I am still forward-looking and love advancement but the way things have moved and progressed in a chaotic manner has been difficult to digest. My rock-like faith in the cardinal virtues that make up the edifice of honorable life and incorrigible hopefulness tell me that these dark clouds of ignorance, fear and anxiety shall vanish sooner or later as the blood with which this land has been irrigated shall fructify. I know and painfully see that the radiance and brilliance of the light of those great souls stand badly dimmed or darkened in the areas where it should shine with greater splendour. I am happy that my sense of pride in one of these sources of eternal inspiration and the fire of my zeal to reverence it has not extinguished so far! I pray that it leads me on and on……
One of the most renowned teachers of the whole world in the 20th Century, Professor S. Radhakrishnan was a philosopher-statesman, a profound thinker, always a hungry scholar, an eloquent speaker, an innovative educationist, a great humanist with an outstanding vibrancy in his creative flow. With all these precious gifts in mind, we can measure the distinction of Sir Radhakrishnan as a teacher who taught at Madras, Mysore, Kolkata, Benaras Hindu University and Oxford University and was a visiting Professor to many others and astonished his audience with his astounding memory, envious range of interests and remarkable sweep of mind. We remember Goldsmith’s line from The Deserted Village and wonder to think how such a small head could contain all this. This is what a teacher is!
Chaucer also says about the Clerk of Oxford: “Gladly he would learn and gladly teach.”
When we read the books of Professor Radhakrishnan, he becomes invariably an inspiring and lasting influence on our personality and character. His vision in whatever capacity he worked and performed was all-embracive and all that he wrote and said was for the well-being and redemption of the whole of mankind. In his Introductory Essay to The Bhagavadgita, he writes:
“The teacher refines and reconciles the different currents of thought, the Vedic cult of sacrifice, the Upanisad teaching of the transcendent Brahman, the Bhagavata theism and tender piety, the Samkhya dualism and the Yoga meditation. He draws all these living elements of Hindu life and thought into an organic unity. He adopts the method, not of denial but of presentation and shows how these different lines of thought converge towards the same end.”
In brief, we may say that a teacher should be a serious scholar first and then he should perform with a complete sense of belonging to the profession and the pupil imbued and enthused with a certain amount of austerity and renunciation, deep humanity and tolerance. His breadth of vision motivates respect for the freedom and dignity of the entire creation. He was indeed the light of our culture and civilization too. Do we understand the input that is needed for such an output? Yes, a true Karmayogi who persistently pursues the path of Bhaktiyoga for Gyanyoga!
The teacher in Sir Radhakrishnan had a prophetic vision; his analysis and understanding of what had been ailing our civilization is true even today; his diagnosis of the problems that scare and threaten mankind is valid even now. He was amazingly gifted with insight and foresight born out of his accurate far-sightedness. He performed so graciously and reverentially in his challenging assignments as India’s ambassador to Russia, the Vice-President of India from 1952-62 and, later, as President of India from 1962-67 only because of the virtues he cultivated and practiced as a teacher. A nation is certainly the best gainer from the personality of such a teacher, “a voluminous writer with an uncanny flair for lucidity and epigrammatic strength.”
We should well understand why the birthday of Dr. Radhakrishnan, 5th of September, is celebrated as Teacher's Day every year all over India. And the celebrations are lackluster and dismal and have vanished into oblivion by and large. I have been shocked beyond endurance in the past some years, the Heads of the Institutions and the faculty had to be reminded about the day which invoked a lukewarm, and even dead response. This dismal awareness of our heritage in the academics and among the academicians further reflects the sorry mess there. However, when a full lecture was delivered to the students, it roused their unusual curiosity and the impact of the personality of this teacher with a world-wide reputation on them was visible. I wonder how much can be done to raise the level of awareness in a short duration of those who are specially lectured on Personality Development!
Now the celebrations of great days, auspicious days every year, the Teacher's Day being one among them when we observe great formalities in organizing them, talking high ideals among the yawning audience and many eagerly waiting for their turn to speak. All are in a holiday mood , a much awaited departure from the routine! These loud messages sound hollow because there is little or no practice to bring about a qualitative change in personal and public life. There is an obvious mess everywhere and the real lot of man is bleak. On such days, it should be clear to the gathering, elite or otherwise, that they have to ensure a unique sense of fulfillment pledging ourselves to the honest pursuit of the paths that lead to the harmonious growth of total life and sacrifice our present for lasting happiness of all in future:
“Leave now for apes and dogs,
Man has forever!” - Browning in “The Grammarian’s Funeral”
That is what we learn from the teacher in Dr. Radhakrishnan and the vision of a teacher in him. He was the enlightened soul of mankind, the conscience of education, the guidelight of society and civilization, sage-philosopher and the philosopher-statesman and an eminent man of large erudition. He was and is the spiritual ambassador of India to the entire world. He lived all his life with utmost concern for the freedom of human spirit and human dignity; and, at no stage, he compromised this dignity and freedom for material glamour and the dazzle of power. He taught that the quality of education was determined by the quality of teacher. Such teachers are a living quotation even when they are extinct physically and are remembered with reverence. Even today!
In all his speeches and writings, be they on education, philosophy, science, religion, culture, civilization, politics, his total stress was on the quality of life. His foresight and prophetic observations on human conduct have a single aim- the awakening of human soul for the awake and enlightened man alone can understand and fulfill his obligations and responsibilities to humanity at large otherwise millions and billions keep groping in the dark causing accidents. He was a man of strong convictions whose faith in the democratic ideals never faltered, whose hope for man’s better and happier future never dimmed in spite of the fog of fear, ignorance, insecurity and anxiety, whose faith in human potentialities remained unflinching. His luminous personality is a symbol of the classical standards and values, his catholic tastes, that make up a glorious civilization. In Kalki or The Future of Civilization, he says:
“Democracy has become confused with ignorance, lack of discipline, and low tastes……………..Though educational facilities are within the reach of large numbers, the level of culture is not high. It has become more easy to get into a college and more difficult to get educated. We are taught to read but not trained to think…………..Those who know better are afraid to speak out but keep step with the average mind. Uncivilized mass-impulses, crowd emotions and class-resentments have taken the place of authority and tradition.”
Written before partition of India, these words have the indelible stamp of authenticity today too. This is the vision of a teacher. At another place in the same book, he reflects on man’s barbarism and his show of humanism working together when he says:
“War with its devastated fields and ruined cities, with its millions of dead and more millions of maimed and wounded, its broken-hearted and defiled women and its starved children bereft of their natural protection, its hate and atmosphere of lies and intrigue, is an outrage on all that is human. So long as this devil-dance does not disgust us, we cannot pretend to be civilized. It is no good preventing cruelty to animals and building hospitals for the sick and poor houses for the destitute so long as we willing to mow down masses of men by machine-guns and poison non-combatants,including the aged and the infirm, women and children-and all for what? For the glory of God and the honour of the nation!”
These are the concerns of a teacher so serious about the glory of civilization!
Professor Radhakrishnan’s candid, frank and fearless expression of views has left behind a legacy that will continue to inspire love, reverence, sympathy and understanding in the ages to come. His love of learning, his broad sympathies, his heart-felt concern for man’s misery, his vision of balanced man, his constant pursuit of truth matched by his boundless humility are an answer to the puzzle and mystery of human life. How ironical that we let such luminaries pass into oblivion so callously and, if at all they appear in the back chamber of our mind with the glow of their light, our crass materiality makes it obscure and bizarre. This is our real tragedy today.
We are in the best of times and in the worst of times, we are in the most blessed of times and in the most cursed of times, we are in the times of Floods of lights and we are in times of floods of darkness; ours are the deadliest of times and ours are the pleasantest of times. Intellectual dishonesty, politics of manipulations, willfully promoting ignorance despite the free availability of rich resources, unmindful of negligence of professional growth, ever in search of cozy nooks as escape-routes, liberal and unfair use of academic authority and powers to serve our own prejudices- all to be in the social and economic swim of the razzle-dazzle of daily life- this is what ails our academia! Whatever be the conditions or environment, we can’t escape our responsibility as teachers.
Today the teachers are working in an age marked by fast-track growth in every field, resulting in escalating fears, worries, anxieties and tensions; also the priorities of all, including the teachers, have changed. However, there exists a mechanism to regulate such a life. There is everywhere a stress on positive outlook meaning thereby that there is something seriously wrong somewhere in our pattern of living and working. Of all the segments of society, teaching still is significant wherein responsibilities are challenging and demanding. Once a teacher learns this and responds to the professional obligations, there would be an upward looking all around. We also observe spiritual hollowness, intellectual shallowness, personal arrogance, greed, jealousy and egotism. Emphasis in all our activity is on mundane success.
The need urgently is to ask ourselves where we are lost. Coercion has taken the place of persuasion; the moral fiber of society is loosened, shaken and broken, almost at every end. The rantings of spiritual wisdom are inaudible in the deafening shouts of prosperous hee-haws. Helplessness, despondency and frustration have struck deep into the sensitive minds. It is not at all astonishing that the teacher and the vision of a teacher in Sir Radhakrishnan could see this all then. The learned, honest and unfatiguing guide of humanity issued forewarnings also on this count. And they have gone unheeded all along! Before any devastating disaster overpowers humanity because of us, the teachers, and history records it as an unpardonable wrong, let us wake up to our onerous task, happily chosen or fallen upon us by chance. This determines the role of the teacher in the present situation. Never before, not even in the time of Dr. Radhakrishnan who had been a witness to the disastrous consequences of the Two World Wars due to which partial stupor is still there, have the challenges and responsibilities of a teacher been so tremendous.
In the end, I hope that the teachers working in the schools, colleges and universities will define to themselves what it is to be a teacher and what essential regular inputs can make their performance meaningful, purposeful and laudable. This is a high time for self-introspection. It may be noted that ever-freshening zest for learning, unobstructed pursuit of truth, sense of mission, capacity for taking pains in disseminating light and knowledge, standing like a rock in the face of human degradation are some of the essential traits of a true teacher. Such a teacher shall produce men and women of immense moral and intellectual prowess and strength of character to guide and shape the radiant flow of humanity. It is earnestly hoped that the inspiring and elevating influences of luminaries like Professor Radhakrishnan will help us, the teachers, in remedying the situation as a double blessing!
1) Radhakrishnan, S: The Bhagavadgita; Blackie & son (INDIA) Ltd, New Delhi, Ed. 1977;
2) Radhakrishnan,Sarvapalli: Kalki ot The Future of Civilization; Kalyani Publishers, Ludhiana, Ed. 1974;
3) Radhakrishnan, S: Religion and Culture; Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi, Ed.1968;
4) Radhakrishnan, S: Mahatma Gandhi: Essays & Reflections (Edited); Jaico Publishing House, Bombay, Ed. 1956;
5) Radhakrishnan, S: Our Heritage; Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi, Ed.1973;
6) Radhakrishnan, S: Recovery of Faith; Hind Pocket Books, Delhi, Ed. Aug.1967.