Pen portraits of eminent men
GLIMPSES OF THE GREAT: S. Ramakrishnan; Collated by Seshrao Chavan, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kulapathi Munshi Marg, Mumbai-400007. Rs. 650.
S. RAMAKRISHNAN WAS the moving spirit of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan till his death. He was intimately associated with all the leaders of the freedom movement and also a large number of saints, scholars and statesmen, both in India and abroad. Though modestly titled "glimpses", he offers more than a profile and quite some insight into each.
In the first section, there are brief biographical sketches about renowned saints like Adi Sankara and Kanchi Paramacharya (Ramakrishnan had accompanied C. Subramaniam and their conversation with the Paramacharya on secularism is included in this book too), Swami Sivananda and Abhinava Vidya Teertha and Pandrimalai Swami.
He has also included pen-portraits of Pant Maharaj of Bhagavat Katha fame and Tulsidas Vishram, a great crusader for the cause of cow protection, little known in the south so far.
In the second section, we have recollections of his association with great patriots and statesmen like Gandhiji, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Acharya Kripalani, Rajaji, Vinoba Bhave and a host of others.
A close associate of K.M. Munshi for long, the author knew most of them intimately and we have revealing vignettes about everyone. His general observation is that these leaders, whatever the differences in outlook, were above personal pettiness.
He recalls Nehru visiting Rajaji in Delhi, even as they were exchanging hot words from opposite premises. Kripalani, while convalescing in a Bombay hospital, decided to sever his association with a national trust as its chairman, just because the secretary of the trust put a long distance call from Delhi about a matter which could have waited or warranted only a postcard. He would not work with those who were liberal with public money.
He and Jayaprakash Narayan were instrumental in unseating the Congress in 1977 and the very next year, he did not mince words which are worth recalling. "I have tried to serve the nation for the last 72 years with whatever ability God has given me. It has been a labour of love. I had no connection with any government before or after Independence. As a human creation, I consider all governments imperfect; only some less than the others."
There are lighter asides too like Kripalani climbing a coconut tree. K.M. Munshi and R.R. Diwakar wondered whether they should congratulate or console each other on their being eased out of the cabinet and appointed as Governors of U.P and Bihar.
Sri Prakasa, a classmate, told a self-commiserating Nehru that it was wrong on his part to deal directly with chief ministers reducing the governors to mere figureheads.
The author salutes C.D. Deshmukh for his refinement and Y.B. Chavan for his able administration and M.C. Chagla on his correct definition of a Hindu, which would go a long way in promoting communal harmony.
The author is grateful to Lord Mountbatten and Margaret Thatcher for their support in the U.K. for Bhavan's activities in spreading Indian culture.
The book will elicit mixed feelings in the reader. But, we can also be proud that we belong to the same country where such men walked the Earth once.
A. S. PADMANABHAN
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