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He did the English language proud

MAHATMA GANDHI called him the tallest of the tall patriots. He was the disciple of Gokhale along with Gandhiji. He was an Indian who did the English language proud. He was the Rt. Hon'ble V. S. Srinivasa Sastri — teacher, legislator, ambassador and statesman who was born on September 22, 1869, 10 days before Gandhiji.

Born in the village of Valangaiman, near Kumbakonam, to the poor Vaidik Sankaranarayana Sastri, Sastri had a brilliant stint at the Native High School, Kumbakonam, and then in the government college in the same town. Starting his life as a teacher he became the headmaster of the Hindu High School, Triplicane. His eight-year service there was memorable. Besides giving the students his attractive teaching of English and Sanskrit and the school his able administration, he gave the teaching community an organisation — the Madras Teachers Guild — to fight for their rights. It was he who founded the Triplicane Urban Co-operative Society, long before the government thought of starting co-operative societies in the State.

He gave up the profession he greatly loved to join the Servants of India Society started by Gokhale. Here the co-disciples Sastri and Gandhiji had so much love and respect for each other that Gandhiji took pride in addressing Sastri as his elder brother in all his correspondence. But this didn't mean that the two had similar views in their approach to the Freedom Struggle. When Gandhiji sought Sastri's advice before launching his non-cooperation movement, he stoutly opposed it warning that disregarding law and order would spell disaster to the country's future.

Even as a student Sastri cultivated a love for the English language and made the Webster's dictionary his Gita. Once he corrected the pronunciation of principal Hall of the Teachers College, Saidapet. To the principal's amazement the different dictionaries brought from the library showed Sastri was right. When Gandhiji sent him the first number of his `Harijan' his schoolmaster's eye could not but detect some slips of a subtle nature. Gandhiji was all praise for his mastery of English and wrote an article under the heading, `The School master Abroad'.

Sastri was considered to be one among the five top orators of the world. He used his language and eloquence to present India's case for self-government, in the councils of Europe. It was his speeches and statesmanship as the country's ambassador that made the British Dominions learn about India's greatness.

If the British government conferred upon him the highest honour with membership of his Majesty's Privy Council carrying with it the title `Right Honourable' for his services to the cause of world peace, disarmament, and democracy, the English people who were mesmerised by his speeches and his musical voice called him `Silver-tongued Srinivasa Sastri'.

Said Raghunatha Iyer, The Hindu: Sastri's delivery and the brilliant impact he made on the platform are the envy and despair of all aspirants of oratory.

The man's eloquence and scholarship came through in his addresses, which were rendered in a voice like silver chimes, mellifluous, slow and clear. Having heard him for the first time at Geneva, Balflour, a no mean judge, remarked that Sastri had made him realise the heights to which the English language could rise.

Despite his great services as a politician teaching was his first love. It was this love of teaching that made him accept the Vice-chancellorship of the Annamalai University. Remembering the hard days of his student life when he had to do his homework under the streetlight, Sastri spent the major part of his honorarium on hostel fee and scholarships for poor students. Once when funds did not permit him much, he kept a Harijan student with him in his home and supported him till he took his degree.

The speeches and writings, which he has left behind, are a precious legacy.

It is a pity that no mention is made of this great teacher in our Teacher's Day celebrations. And it is a greater pity that this illustrious patriot has no memorial either in Valangaiman, the place of his birth, or at Kumbakonam, which shaped his life. Will the present government look into the matter?


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