The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 13, 2001
Speaking generally

Of awards and awardees
By Chanchal Sarkar

WHEN it was set up a lot of people in Asia sneered at it as "a teflon version of the Nobel Prize". But over time it has shown the depth and width of the Asian heritage. People chosen for the Magsaysay Prize have been well-known not only in their own countries but throughout Asia. Here are some names from India: Jayaprakash Narayan, Chintaman D. Deshmukh, Satyajit Ray, M.S. Swaminathan, K. Verghese (founder of Amul) and Baba Amte. The latest recipient was Aruna Roy whose work for the right of information in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states is now becoming well-known.

India has a Gandhi Peace Prize which has also been awarded to fine people. Who could be finer than Nelson Mandela who was here the other day to receive it? But the Magsaysay’s approach is a little different. First, it has five different and specific categories, not just a general recognition of greatness, for which the prizes are given each year: Community Leadership, Public Service, Government Service, Journalism, Literature and the Creative Arts and International Understanding.

Before the awardees are chosen every available information about the potential recipients is collected and then distinguished individuals (or parties) are sent out to the potential recipients’ countries to conduct research on the people suggested. These people travel in the countries concerned and talk to a lot of people about the subjects being researched. Then the results are communicated to a selection committee which chooses the final awardee. I hope the Gandhi Peace Prize is awarded after the same punctilious and thorough search.


An awardee comes to mind who died not long ago, Akhtar Hameed Khan of Pakistan who got the prize for Government Service in 1963. Akhtar Hameed Khan was in the ICS — he must have been one of its oldest surviving members when he passed away. In 1947 he opted for Pakistan and, in work, he opted for rural development and became the founder of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD as it is called) in 1956 in Comilla, then in East Pakistan.

He went back to Pakistan and continued work among the poor and disadvantaged. Later he worked in one of the new and overgrown suburbs of Karachi which was full of refugees from India and Bangladesh. I met him there once and was shown round the centre from which he was working. Having spent much of his working life in Bengal he knew Bengali well and when we talked about rural development he said how thoroughly he had read Gandhi and Tagore on that subject. Gandhiji, he said, was a great thinker on rural matters but his own preference, he said, was Tagore whose understanding was much deeper.

Translating Tagore

A visitor, who is not a first-time visitor to Delhi has translated works of Rabindranath Tagore. One of the greatest tragedies for Tagore and for Indian literature is that he has been so poorly translated. I cannot speak of Malayalam or Manipuri but the English translations do not carry even a fractional evidence of Tagore’s overawing talent. He himself was a very poor translator of his own works into English. Fortunately he did not attempt much of this and his friends like the famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats and the painter William Rothenstein, who both did so much to push him towards the Nobel Prize, were close to tearing their hair over the translation (mainly by Tagore) of Gitanjali.

So the works of Tagore have rested for many years imperfectly translated and therefore imperfectly appreciated. In the West he has been considered a ‘has been’ for quite some time and even during the peak of his fame very malicious and vengeful things were written about him by well-known writers like D.H. Lawrence.

Much of this, I feel, was because Tagore cannot be known through imperfect and vacuous translations. Radice has tried to fill that gap somewhat and his translations are the closest to the real Tagore. But even he, Head of the Department for South and South East Asia in the University of London, has been able to touch only a small portion of Tagore’s contributions. His interpretation of Tagore is also insightful but there will have to be many more Radices to do full justice to Rabindranath Tagore. Radice’s latest work is Jottings, Sparks Collected Brief Poems of Rabindranath Tagore.

Menace of ragging

What sort of a country do we have where the Supreme Court has to pass orders on ragging in educational institutions?

Senior citizens like me have been seeing news and views about ragging in Delhi alone for 48 years and there has been little or no improvement. Deterioration, perhaps, or the Supreme Court would not have been asked to step in. There have been a few suicides and quite a few students have changed colleges because they could not take it.

Ragging is not peculiar to India or to Delhi. It goes on in other parts of India. It also goes on abroad and sometimes there are a few lurid news stories about it. But not many about such a hurtful, malicious psychologically and physically dangerous practice, as is the case here.

All that has resulted are empty promises. Principals or head teachers, apparently have no control over their students and students’ and teachers’ unions are helpless. Another phenomenon that has been increasing in Indian universities is that of molestation of women in the workplace. But of that nothing more in this piece.

This much is plain, however, the Supreme Court cannot stop ragging. Its orders will be like the orders about Delhi’s transport. They simply will not be implemented and the Court will be left to watch helplessly.

Immortalising the ‘deserving’

After much thought I have hit upon a method of immortalising ‘deserving’. In educational institutions there should hang on the walls a portrait and brief career-histories of those ‘distinguished’ alumni who were tried and sentenced for malfeasance. That will not be the perfect deterrent but still.....

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