Last Saturday, I found myself in a very curious situation. ‘Curious’, because the room was packed with alumni of Hindu College, an institution that we in St Stephen’s credit with only one thing, that is, they have a better view from across the road!
Kavita A Sharma, a former principal of that college was launching a history – and there was no question in my mind that I won’t fly down and feel the magisterial work in my hand.
There was also an event in parallel, an annual facilitation of distinguished alumni – one of them being the redoubtable Arnab Goswami.
I wasn’t prepared for Goswami on my table, whispering constantly to an NDTV anchor right through the half an hour he graced the occasion. My fellow Stephanian and vice chair of our alumni trust, SY Quraishi, fresh from launching his own masterpiece on the Indian Elections, was seated on my immediate, right waiting for Arnab’s attention.
“Hum safe hain na?,” I whispered to Quraishi.
The former CEC wore an enigmatic smile, before turning to the author, asking her to sign a copy of her book. With characteristic presence of mind, he finally managed to share a copy of his own book to Arnab, inscribing, ‘More power to your voice, dear Arnab’.
The anchorman at began his short speech with St Stephen’s, and he couldn’t help ending it on the same note!
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this award means more to me than any award in my life and let me share with you that when I entered Hindu College, the gates of St Stephen’s were closed, …(and) when I appeared before the interview panel for Oxford University, I only said, ‘you should select me only because I am not from St Stephen’s!”
The burden of my song in this edition of #FuturePerfect is about what happened thanks to the simple emotion I felt after reading the book on hand.
How little did I know of the contribution of Hindu College to our Freedom Movement. There I was, in 1985, for the next five years of my education, struggling with Maurice Dobb and Eric Hobsbawm, crossing over to Jai Singh Dhaba a thousand times – but indifferent to the magic of Chandrashekhar Azad having hid in the very same hostel.
Why did I need 30 years and Sharma’s book to know about the letter that Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Principal NV Thadani, inviting him to head a college in Benaras that would be rooted in the Non-Cooperation Movement?
Why did I deny myself the thrill of reading the lines that Rabindranath Tagore wrote when he visited the college in 1936?
It is all very well to foster an inter-college rivalry. But indifference to a shared history – and illiteracy about things said and done ‘before Google’ is a tragedy. Try Harvard and Yale or Cambridge and Oxford – and you’ll empathise with how alumni across both sides have fostered the richness of their heritage beyond mere words and personal networking.
What is this tendency to lionise the TV stars of the day and ignore, in the process, those who created the free nation that fosters the media that we hope to be proud of?
And considering the trust and honour that is bestowed upon him,why no feature on your own alma mater? Don’t you think a media leader should weave in a failing institution’s magical association with the Freedom Movement?
Disclaimer: There is no controversy or titillation that either Sharma or Quraishi have stoked. In fact, making features on their work(s) will require research and vision – and a certain nonchalance about our horrendous television rating system.
NB: Arnab is only a representative example. The same holds true for other ‘doyens’ like Sagarika Ghose and Barkha Dutt, honoured by St Stephen’s in the premier edition of the CF Andrews Distinguished Alumnus Award.
The columnist works at the intersect of media, regulation and strategy at RIL. He also serves as a trustee in the St Stephen’s Alumni Foundation. The views here are personal. Tweets @therohitbansal