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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 47  No: 01


15 August 2000

Education and the Art of Reading

Nani A. Palkhivala

Every child should be given a chance of developing himself and doing the best he can for his country and himself.
This is the year of the birth centenary of Ganesh Ramrao Bhatkal. I am delighted that celebrations in honour of his birth centenary have been undertaken by the G. R. Bhatkal Foundation.
It is a matter of deep personal satisfaction to me that I have the opportunity of making a public acknowledgment of my indebtedness to Bhatkal to whom I owe a debt of gratitude which I could never repay.
Bhatkal helped me in three inestimable ways. He allowed me to treat the Popular Book Depot as if it was public library. During my career as an arts student - 1936-1942 - I remember going to his bookshop almost every evening. I read whatever I wanted, and as long as I wanted, browsing among the thousands of books which lined the shelves.
Bhatkal was kind enough to let me take books on approval which I read at home and carefully returned.
I remember many days when I kept on reading in the bookshop even after the front door was closed, and coming out some time later by the back door which was kept unlocked for a while after the main door had been closed.
It was in those years that I read the lines of Wordsworth which have always been etched in my memory. “...that best portion of a good man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love.” Bhatkal was a man to whom those lines applied with singular appropriateness. Whatever I am today is, in a large measure, due to Bhatkal’s infinite kindness, goodness, and desire to help a struggling young student.
Culture is what remains after you have forgotten all that you set out to learn. The aim of character-based higher education must be to leave you with a residium called culture which would teach you a meaningful philosophy of life and enrich your character. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan said, civilisation is an act of the spirit.

Mechanical progress should not be confused with civilization. Ancient India was far more civilized than modern India with its satellites in space.
Our obsession with freedom, openness and equality has produced a generation of Indians bereft of their own civilization and ignorant of their own culture. Today, education has spawned cultural illiterates and moral idiots.
Schools and universities have been swamped with intellectual laziness bred from the modern doctrines that everything is relative and all values are equal. Liberal education and knowledge of the classics, which were the hallmarks of higher education when I was at college, have almost disappeared.
The fatal flaw in Indian democracy has been that we are so wedded to equality that we have reduced this great country to a level where the same degree of equality prevails as in the graveyard. We would rather have uniformity and mediocrity, than meritocracy.

It is my unshakable conviction that if Emperor Ashoka or Emperor Akbar were to stand for the office of President, he would have no chance of being elected.
Adult franchise in a country without great leadership is virtually an unfailing prescription for backwardness. The only hope for Indian democracy having rebirth is to produce a strong man of exceptional calibre who can give the right leadership to the people instead of being led by them. We must bury fifty fathoms deep the notion that decisions must be taken by seeking a consensus.
I am a great champion of universal education. Every child should be given a chance of developing himself and doing the best he can for his country and himself. But I do believe that the cleverest and brainiest stratum of the children, who are diligent and endowed with exceptional talents, should be taken special care of and given the environment in which their outstanding ability and character can come to full fruition.

Bhavan's Journal

15 August 2000

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Language: English
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