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In the shadows of the great: Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
At the 1953 convocation of Allahabad University, I received my Bachelors degree at the hands of Vice President of India, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishan, most famous exponent of Indian Philosophy to the world.

For me it had a very special significance, for I was receiving my degree from my father's guru. I mumbled to him our family's regards. A towering personality, he was Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford. After being knighted by the British, he was known as Sir Sarvapalli.

When Dr. Radhakrishnan's thesis on Vedanta got unexpected rave reviews from Western scholars, he wrote: 'The challenge of Christian critics impelled me to make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it. My pride as a Hindu, roused by the enterprise and eloquence of Swami Vivekananda, was deeply hurt by the treatment accorded to Hinduism in missionary institutions.'

In UK, Dr. Radhakrishnan was my father's Ph.D. guide. He also wrote the Foreword for my father's first book, 'Nature of Consciousness in Indian Philosophy'. The Guru-Shishya relationship did not end here. Both for their lifetime, worked together on many projects in the field of comparative philosophy.

Whenever my father went to the Vice President's residence for their academic work, we children used to tag along to play in the well tended garden. Later, when he became President of India, we visited Rashtrapati Bhavan, too. I used to wonder, that the imposing edifice had been witness to many historical confabulations. He was a no nonsense type of scholar, known for his resounding oratory. I was overawed by him and preferred to stay quiet in his presence. To the extent I could gather, he could not suffer fools. Sternly he would cut them off.

At home we had a copy of the Bhagwad Geeta along with our other scriptures. Often, my elders would refer to it and discuss the third chapter on Karma Yoga - 'Effort is thy duty. Reward is not thy concern'. Beyond this I knew nothing about the great book. Then at school we had to study Mathew Arnold's 'Song Celestial', which was a long poetic translation of Bhagwad Geeta. It is then that I got a whiff of what a grand treatise it must have been.

Later at the engineering college, as a prize I received a book, 'Bhagwad Geeta' by Dr. S. Radhakrishan. His scholarly translation and commentary became a most widely sought reference book on Geeta. When I travelled abroad, I used to find in the hotel bedside drawer, the Gideon's Holy Bible - for solace of the lonely traveller. Soon Dr. Radhakrishnan's Geeta was also placed along with the Bible in the same drawer.

On Geeta, he wrote: '…. that, every Scripture has two qualities: one, temporary and perishable, that reflects the ideas of the people, the period and the country in which it is produced; and the second, eternal and imperishable. The permanent truths are capable of being lived and seen by a higher than intellectual vision at all times. The Geeta is a perennial philosophy; eternal and applicable to the past, present and the future'.

When my father was bedridden for a year, I got a close glimpse of what academic work Dr. Radhkarishnan, Dr. Charles Moore (University of Hawaii) and my father were involved in. I used to open his mail and read it out to him. I also typed his replies. They were discussing editorial content for the prestigious journal 'Philosophy East West'. They were also collating material for a book. Later they were involved in the foundation of the East West Centre in Honolulu, a clearing house for joint research between American and Asian scholars. Till a few years ago, Ratan Tata was also one of the governors of the Centre.

His term as President of India got over in 1967. He continued to be a sought after speaker, always making out a case for bridging Eastern and Western thought. As his health started failing he retired to his home on Cathedral Road, Madras. After I was posted in Madras, my father used to visit his guru regularity. Our home was not far away. My father bemoaned the fact such a giant of a man, lay stricken by ill health, and tears would roll down his eyes. A fact of life, that no one can escape death!

He passed away in 1975, at the age of 86. It appeared that whole of Madras was streaming on to Cathedral Road, to bid adieu to a great son of India. He had desired that his birthday, the 5th September be celebrated not as his birthday, but as Teacher's Day. "Teachers should be the best minds in the country", were his famous words.

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