Thursday, 8 February 2018
H M Patel: A Phenomenon ( Founder's Day Speech) by Dr. Sulabha Natraj
H M : A Phenomenon between 27th August 1904 and 30th Nov. 1993
Attending the Founder’s Day Celebrations at the H M P I ET & R has been a part of my life since the very first in 1966 when there used to be numerous cultural items, a major one being an English play. After the Founder’s demise, the day is earmarked for a memorial lecture. I might hardly have missed a couple of these celebrations owing to be away from the town. Then I was attending the function as part of the audience.
So, after accepting the invitation to deliver a talk, soon it dawned on to me that this time I was supposed to be the speaker at this prestigious event! I was anxious about what I’d say about a stalwart like Dr. H M Patel for there is so much to say yet nothing would be enough. He lived such a rich, such a phenomenal life that it is difficult to make choice about his personal characteristics and works, assignments, achievements, accomplishments.
I have known Dr. H M Saheb (as he was fondly known) since the birth of this institute in 1965. I was a mere slip of a girl when our family had moved to Vallabh Vidyanagar. My father happened to be a faculty member at the institute thus I had a kind of family right to attend the functions at the institute! After completing my schooling, I took admission at this institute at the 5-year integrated teacher education program (BABEd, followed by one-year M.Ed. prog) and after teaching at school for a year, like a rough coin, I returned to my mint, this very institute to be polished further and in a different avatar, as a faculty member. Thus, I had the fortune to observe the Founder from varying perspectives.
We look at the past and try to understand it, learn from it in the context of our contemporary world. So reference to the people and contexts in the present will be seen in my presentation. Similarly, each one views the world differently. Therefore, versatile personalities such as H M Saheb are viewed differently by different people. A lot is said about them yet lives of such social transformers are so rich that something can always be added. Here is that attempt. In a way, mine is a unique view point because I’m the first alumnus of the institute to talk about the Founder at this memorial lecture. That’s a huge privilege and also an onus! Reflecting over HM Saheb’s life is an intellectual pursuit, a challenge to be coherent. Talking about him is a creative endeavour and a social and political statement. Therefore, it is challenging.
When the Founder was alive he used to attend all the major functions at the institute. Every year the 27th of August was celebrated in his presence when we used to tie a Rakhi to him and offer coconut wishing him good health. Then he would be offered mementos, replicas of famous monuments: the Sun Temple of Modhera, sidi Saiyyad’s Jaali of Ahmedabad, etc. All these trophies were returned to the college at the same function and offered as trophies to honour students for their talents. That’s how we had the Best Sports Person Trophy, Best Scholar Trophy, Best All Rounder Trophy, Debater Trophy, etc. They must be still there in the cupboards in the library, I suppose. There used to be some play in English for which all of us, students, faculty members and the Principal Prof. Subhash Jain put in a great deal of effort. Principals of colleges on the campus and Heads of P G Depts from the University would attend the programme, essentially to watch the English play and to participate in the celebrations of Dr. H M Patel’s birthday.
My impressions about Dr. H M Patel can best be expressed through a handful of incidents. Quite a few of them could also be called ‘encounters’! It was the year 1966. I studying in class six when I saw him for the first time. The occasion was 3rd March, the foundation day of this seat of learning, that is, Vallabh Vidyanagar. Those were the days when arrival of 3rd March created ripples in the hearts of the residents of this township. The day assumed a special significance through a variety of academic and cultural activities. one of these events was an elocution competition on the topic ‘Vallabh Vidyanagar – My Home Town’. Dr. H M Patel was listening to us - kids - with a great deal of attention. He held this township dear to his heart, as his progeny. Not only did he enjoy talking about her but also listening to others adore her. He couldn’t tolerate anything that adversely affected the growth and development of this town. I still remember that in his speech he had invited and challenged all of us present there------ all in our early teens – to build a strong, vibrant Vidyanagar. I took an instant liking to this English gentleman (which later developed into admiration) who thought that even children could build nations. I felt instantly inspired.
In my presentation, I have planned to talk about the Founder’s works and accomplishments in general then moving on to focus on his contribution in the field of education, and English to be specific. Since the audience today comprises mainly students and youth of two generations away from the time when Dr. H M Patel lived I think it would be worthwhile and highly inspiring to say a few things about the major aspects of his life in general.
His was a versatile personality. Therefore, he is variously known as “a superb intellectual, a social worker, a man of vision, a scholar of economics, a servant of the society, an institution builder, a well-wisher of rural masses, an Indian Englishman, an humble intellectual, a pragmatic visionary, a liberal minded person, an exemplary leader, a cool orator, a film maker, etc. He was European in etiquette but a loving family man. He had lived numerous lives in one life-time: he was the chairman of GEB, advisor to the committee on utilization of Narmada water, an economist, Finance Minister in the Central Govt. At the age of 42, he was the youngest cabinet secretary. He was a statesman, an environmentalist, Defence Secretary, sarpanch of a small town. He was indeed a confluence of power, prosperity and humility.
Epic life: Considering the innumerable roles that he played and the high quality that he showed in anything he undertook to do, in fact, some of his contemporaries have called him ‘a phenomenon’. He was not only an Indian Civil Servant, but the topper at the exam wherein Indian as well as British aspirants used to appear. Regarding his reputation as an ICS, I’ve read that many of his British colleagues respected him, admired him. He was so powerful and so gifted that even the British officers, when they had to come to him, used to feel shaken. He certainly had established a name for himself even during the British days.
Sardar trusted HM so much that after the partition, when the geographical and material assets were to be divided between India and Pakistan, H M was given this responsibility from the Indian side. Dividing the land, the army, railways, postal and other services and resources between the two countries was indeed a responsibility fit only for the best of the cadre. That was the time when he worked for 18-20 hrs a day! When he had completed the responsibility of division of assets, when Sardar was shown the document he said, “Well, if Hirubhai has signed it, I will sign it. I have nothing further to say”.
After the independence, Pak-India had collided over Kashmir. Pakistan had invaded Kashmir. Nehru and Sardar assigned the responsibility to HM who handled the responsibility so dexterously that Lord Mountbatten, who himself was an efficient administrator was taken aback by HM’s management. He was also at Germany’s Hamburg as India’s Raid Commission in Europe just before World War II. (1937-39). Such an internationally busy person also chose to be the sarpanch of a small rural town called Vallabh Vidyanagar. Thus, he was simultaneously a global as well as a local resident. In the words of Wordsworth in Skylark, his was ‘ kinderd point of heaven and earth…’ His one foot was in the heaven and the other on the earth!
HM Saheb’s ideas on economics were ahead of the time he lived in. He believed that the State/ government was not to run industries or businesses. It was to govern, administer, facilitate and monitor these businesses and run only those industries which private entrepreneurs could not. He was against too many hurdles and controls over private enterprises. His policies in the 6th decade of the last century were liberal, much before glasnost and perestroika happened and liberalization, privatization and globalisation became a popular theme at seminars. During his tenure as the Finance Minister, prices of commodities were very much under control. HM was one of the select civil servants who did much to smooth India’s transition to independence and to carry the country through the traumas of partition, war and move towards socialism. As the Finance Minister in the Central Cabinet he brought about financial stability to the Indian economy. He also advocated open market and freedom to private businesses which has happened now 4 decades after his vision.
According to his contemporaries, HM Saheb had the understanding and tact to retain what was good in the old times and imbibe the new needed for healthy rural transformation. In attire, life style and disciplined conduct he was a European yet was a servant of the rural masses. He had taken the most relevant from both the cultures -- Indian and western. He was a private man who never talked about himself. He was courtesy personified. He had good taste and high standards in everything he was interested in and undertook to do. He was fair-minded. Personal likes and dislikes did not influence his judgment. He did not need lengthy explanations to grasp situations. He could size up situations at one hearing. However, he got easily irritated by inefficiency in anyone’s work.
Mr. I G. Patel, the then Governor of the Reserved Bank of India, called him a private person. “HM never sought publicity, nor ever sought any kind of interview with anybody. All that mattered to him was the public cause, public duty, public purpose and that is a rare thing”. Another bureaucrat, Maurice Zinkin, an Under Secretary in Textile Control in Industries Ministry, 1943, says, “HM was a very nice man. He was never malicious; he did not gossip except in the most friendly way. He cooperated with his equals and developed his juniors. He was never afraid to express his opinion but he always knew when duty demanded obedience. He was helped to carry the burden of constant decision-making by the happiness of his marriage, affection of his friends and the depth of his religious faith. He was always a patriot.”
Although educated in Britain and an admirer of their work culture, H M Saheb was an Indian at heart. He loathed slavish mentality of any degree and kind. On the inauguration of the Extension & Media centre, the British High Commissioner to India, Sir John Brasnett, was a guest at the Institute. I had been asked to anchor the programme. While inviting Mr. Brasnett on to the stage, I had mentioned the ‘familial’ ties between India and Britain. The Briton looked amused but Dr. Patel was restless. Later, during his speech he referred to the ‘colonised psyche’ of our people and the harm it had caused to the nation. Although he was open to everything desirable in other cultures, he was deeply rooted in Sanskar that were thoroughly Indian.
On conservation: As early as in the 70s, he wrote a book with the title ‘A Policy for National Conservation’ when the theme was not really very popular. He had expressed concern about the flora and fauna and rehabilitation of the displaced population. He held meetings, gave talks and drew attention of public to the damages that different projects were causing to the ecological balance. He was not merely a pessimistic critic of the national myopia on this issue. His essays should be viewed in the context of continued governmental and public lack of concern for conservation even today.
Education: Although HM Saheb’s field of work was politics, he was NOT a politician. He was a great statesman, an administrator, a leader, and a highly knowledgeable person (Gyanipurush). He had innumerable interests but his priority was education. He was a great torch-bearer of education. His rich personal library, his command over many languages, his liking for participation in academic meets, his love and regard for men of letters, his writing and speeches on education and his concrete suggestions for the same etc. testify to the fact that he was every inch an academician. When he was the Finance Minister, as per the protocol, there were numerous security personnel accompanying him at the institute functions. But he himself was the usual casual person without any show off. He was truly an academician with focus on quality and excellence. He was ready to take great risks for the sake of discipline and quality. Once when for some reason the students of the BVM, the first engineering college of Gujarat went on a strike, HM Saheb called the parents of the students and tried to talk to them. When even the parents were adamant, he declared that if the college was not to prepare quality youth, it should be closed down! It is this legacy of insistence on quality and excellence at the CVM institutions kept alive by the current Chairman sir that is keeping CVM institutions ahead of the run-of-the mill degree shops even today in the days of stark commenrcialisation! During the initial years of the building of this township, there were numerous teething troubles. In fact, numerous vested interests did not want such a person of high integrity to be at the help of the CVM. So, once even the garden of his house was set on fire! But HM was fearless. He was sad due to the indiscipline but had full faith in his work.
He was a voracious reader. He used to express his concern over paucity of thinking and reflective practice among the academicians and the society at large. He used to say, “Reflective thinking was never needed so much as it is today”. He was a man of dialogue and discussion.
Adorned in western attire, suit-boots and a matching necktie, he seemed to be a distant, reserved person but he was quite warm once approached. Although he himself spoke less, he was a very good listener. He was outspoken but not aggressive. He was highly disciplined and expected such conduct but simultaneously was liberal. His own life was no-nonsense type yet was humble and tolerant at others’ follies. This has been mentioned by his colleagues and contemporaries.
He strongly believed and used to say education is the first step towards development. Education develops thoughts and thinking, so very much needed for progress. And, truly revolution does not come with talks and speeches. If you believe in something, then you must act. Patel Saheb was a man of action. One example of this is the film he planned to make on Sardar Patel so that future generations could be kept aware of the contribution of Sardar in the freedom struggle and nation building. The film was his tribute to Sardar Patel.
On every Founder’s Day, he would join us, the faculty members at the lunch. During this time he would ask us, “What are you reading these days? What is it about? How do you get ready to teach?” No one dared say anything but the truth. He seemed to read our minds. He was highly concerned about the ill-effects of private tuition classes. Anyone who had the fortune to be in his company or had opportunities to even listen to his talks would vouch for the depth and breadth of his ideas. His talks used to be highly thought provoking. For instance, he often used to say, “Why do people feel hurt so easily in simple issues? Further would add, “English does not have an expression like ‘risai javun’! In the West, people are able to debate over issues without getting personal”. He used to wonder whether it was intolerance for diverse views, a feeling of exclusion, ego or lack of democratic maturity that led to such sulking.
He had a passion for intellectual activities. His wish was to create a nurturing climate for development of talents among the youth on the campus. Discussions and debates for the purpose used to be his favourite activity. The Study circle continued for some time because he believed that interaction on the contemporary social issues was very important for development of awareness and a democratic perspective among the youth. He was sad that the activity did not really flourish. But he used to say, “Someday, somewhere, something will happen!” This idea of a Study Circle is a good way of paying a tribute to the Founder.
He was highly concerned about deterioration of standards in education, especially primary and secondary education. He had talked about these issues, even offered ideas for improvement. These were published in ‘Prathmik Shikshan: Dasha ane Disha’ and ‘Madhyamik Shikashan – Padkar ane Parivartan’.
English : Educated that he was at Oxford, he spoke the standard Oxford English. He was also aware of the need to learn good English for people in Gujarat. His concern for English was the genesis of this institute. On his 60th birthday, the people of the township decided to offer him a bagful of money as a symbol of gratitude for the service rendered by him to the society. On this he had said, “Since the time I knew that I was going to be offered a bag, I’ve been worried about what is to be done with the money. I think that at present no other subject needs so much help as English. Therefore, I dedicate this amount for the purpose”. That is how this institute came into existence. Then it was called HMPIE. Later when projects from outside agencies started flowing in, the Research & Training wings were added.
The decade of the 60s was anti-English time in the State of Gujarat. Even the ruling party was with anti-English policies. Barring a few exceptions almost everyone was anti-English. The youth today may not understand the situation much. But let me explain a bit. Being good at English, even being at this institute in the 70s (over three decades after the independence) too was considered anti-national! If you were for English, you were not a patriot! That was the feeling in the air amidst which Dr. H M Patel thought of establishing this institute to prepare teachers to teach good English in schools so that the new generations of Gujarat could benefit in ways more than one! Imagine the loss that the business houses of Gujarat would have made if the people running them did not know sufficient English. What would have happened to the dreams of a large number of Gujarati families to settle in the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and elsewhere? Dr H M Patel was a visionary - patriot who knew what was needed for the progress of the newly formed State of Gujarat. His education at Oxford as well as grooming through international exposure and projects had made him broadminded. Also, he was ready to take risks about being branded anti-national! The HMPIETR is his dream come true! It was a real accomplishment. Normally politicians cannot see life beyond short-term gains. But HM Saheb was a statesman who could see the future of the society and had gumption, the courage to act according to his beliefs. It is believed that people who are visionary are not practical. HM Saheb was both.
His use of English was the Oxbridge variety. There was no ambiguity, clear opinion, impeccable accent. It was a treat listening to him. He was someone who believed in exactness, precision in everything. He could be surprisingly articulate. He never wasted words. In fact, he rarely restructured his sentences, especially in English. Here it will be very relevant to mention David Graddol’s research as published in his book English India Next, 2004. The opening sentences of the book are these: “India speaks English. That’s what the world thinks". Then he goes on to talk about the non-standard use of English due to proliferation of English medium schools in India the largest English speaking population outside the English world. He is so very right. Despite proliferation of English, proficient users of English in India are rare today. That is because second language learning being an additional accomplishment demands rigor and perseverance. So, young friends, learn to be proficient in English. Use the standard Indian variety. Be intelligible. Be accurate. Be fluent. Learn to say what you mean. At the individual level, even this will be a great tribute to this lover of languages! Moreover, you can gain a great deal through skilful use of this global language! Become a teacher, a coach, a translator, a media person, a researcher, a writer/ editor, reporter, even a transcript writer. Become sales persons for various business houses! The purpose of establishing this institute can be served by developing our proficiency in English.
He was very good at Sanskrit, too. That was his second language while at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. Initially, when he had come to VVN he fumbled while using Gujarati. But within no time he was even writing for newspapers, journals and magazines. ‘Nirikshak’, a well-known newsletter in Gujarati wherein literary luminaries such as Shri Umashankar Joshi, Mavalankar, Ishwar Petlikar, Yashvant Shukla ji contributed was supported by Dr. H M Patel. He even has translated/ trans-created novels of Shri K Munshi ji. (Tapasvini and Pruthvi Vallabh). His contribution and support to bring out volumes of Akhand Aanad and Gnangangotri are well known to the senior generation. Gnangangotri was originally supposed to be in 8 volumes but it expanded into 30! Despite the heavy cost he supported the endeavour for its worth. He advocated strengthening of Gujarati, the Bhumibhasha among the youth for that is the first channel for cognitive development and this basic language learning ability develops language learning agility, too. Once any one language develops well, it becomes the basis for comparison and contrast for learning other languages, especially for adult learners.
Another major contribution of HM Saheb in the field of education was the medical college in Karamsad. Unlike Karnataka and Maharashtra, in those days Gujarat had no private medical colleges. Visionary that he was, HM was convinced that efforts by private agencies were needed to supplement government efforts to produce qualified doctors trained in rural surroundings. So, he marshaled resources and doggedly followed up all the intricate procedures to start a private medical college within a short span of time.
He saw life in totality: He has reflected over, written about and worked on assignments and projects on societal development, politics, culture, environment, education, literature, fine arts, public administration, management, science, health, rural development and many more. He was an institution-builder of a high order. Apart from being the Chairman of CVM, he was either a creator or a founder member of many an institution such as Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, New Delhi, Dharmaj Kelvani Mandal, Dharmaj, Sardar Patel Institute of Economic & Social Research, Ahmedabad, Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi; he also created Vitthal Udyognagar, the industrial extension of VVN and Arogya Mandal to provide health and medical services to the rural masses of Charotar region. He was associated with several socio-cultural, educational organizations.
Message to the youth
He had a soft corner for students and youth. Also, he had huge faith in the youth of the country. He would observe people at work and in different activities and encourage individual students and young faculty members. When he was the Defence Secretary at the National level, he established the National Cadet Corps (NCC), for engagement of the youth in civic defence. He initiated establishment of the Career Development Centre (CDC) at the age of 80 because he thought bright students from Anand-VVN should be provided guidance and opportunities for excellence. His emphasis was not only on material resources and technology but development of human resources.
He was a man of action. He even exhorted people who lacked commitment. During her visit to VVN, respected Vimalatai Thakar (a saint, social worker, who had worked with Jay Narayan ji and was a youth leader) was talking about the responsibility of the elite, the educated people towards social awakening. She challenged the small gathering there to take up a few activities in VVN. Someone from the group suggested that a committee be formed for the purpose. Upon this, the devout karmyogi, Dr. H M Patel said, “There is no need to form a committee. I’d like persons present here to raise their hands if they would like to undertake these tasks”. He always meant business.
One more such incident. In the year 1974, the university athletic team had performed exceptionally well at the zonal level. Until then no athlete from this university had ever won medals outside Gujarat. On our return from Gwalior where the athletic events were held, we went to see Dr. Patel who was the Chairperson of the Board of Sports at the University. The Syndicate session was on. However, on hearing the news of our team’s victory he called us inside the Board room and congratulated us amidst discussion. For a person who was a stickler for rules, this was something out of the way. But there he was --- a different person, a patron of the youth, of those who persevered. He encouraged people who would strive. During the 80s, when the institute had begun to make its presence felt across the nation, the Founder would publicly appreciate the efforts of the Director, faculty. Since praise from him came very rarely, it was valued highly. However, after the appreciation he would show higher ceilings to be reached.
What do we learn from such an epic life?
1. Punctuality and discipline at work and life: He was never late for any programme even as the Finance Minister he came in/on time and insisted that programmes should begin on time. Higher values such as perseverance, commitment, honesty and integrity
2. Excellent communication with economy yet exactness in the use of words.
3. Become effective teachers and trainers so as to pay the debt to the institution that is grooming you and making you employable. In this manner you can extend yourself to help the society. With the backing of this institute, the young teachers should vouch to make Gujarat really proficient in English for at present that is our major strength against China.
4. An Impact Study of the institute may be taken up. It could be by a team working on different aspects of accomplishments by the institute during the last 6 decades or so.
5. An active Study Circle was an idea dear to our dear Founder. This institute can take a lead to make it happen.
All of these are doable ideas, aren’t they? In a letter to a student HM Saheb has said, “ …I venture to hope that you will never forget that one’s real satisfaction is derived only from a life from which the element of service is never absent….”.
I suggest that all the young people in this hall should read, rather study, the memorial volume HM. Even those who feel disinterested in anything will spring to buoyancy, such are the unique episodes of this great person who walked on the soil of VVN and stood in the corridors of this very institute established by him.
The Bhagwat Geeta says, “ The soul is not born, nor does it die. It is not killed when the body is killed”. Therefore, HM Saheb’s blessings will always be with us. Life is just a journey, a changeless, eternal trip. HM Saheb kept the world of education aware and awake for 3 and a half decades. He did not give himself time to grow old. He worked like a man in his prime of youth well in his 80s, too.
The history of VVN is replete with stories of perseverance, sacrifice and dedication to the cause of building a township for progress of the rural India. The Founders of the township Shri Bhaikaka and Shri Bhikhabhai Saheb sowed the seeds. They established the township. Dr. H M Patel nurtured the seeds and the sapling that was a young township. He consolidated the gains of the earlier efforts. As a natural process, the tree, once mature, has to grow in size and volume. Now, our current chairman, Dr. C L Patel is expanding and extending the township. Each of these stages, of laying down the foundation, consolidating it and then expanding the area requires humungous efforts and resources. For these servants of the society, their work has been their religion and when such a thing happens, there is no time for fatigue and frustration. This can be a major lesson for the youth today who live under tremendous stress for some unknown reasons. Such luminaries are the pride of Gujarat.
When we are close to great people in terms of time and place, we are not able to recognize the depth and width of their work, their influence. The yeoman service done by Dr H M Patel and Dr. C L Saheb is beyond the grasp of most of us. That is a shortcoming on our part. It is no exaggeration to say that these great persons have dedicated all their energies for imparting good, quality education to the rural youth at the door steps but also broken new grounds through innovative ideas to build a unique modern educational campus. I bow down to each one of these great souls.
Finally, if I were to say only one sentence about Dr. H M Patel, I’d sum up saying this: His honest, persistent and selfless hard work, dispassionate, brilliant and visionary perspective and insistence on values have left his footprints on the history of V VN, Gujarat, and India.
Each one of us staying in this town wedded to knowledge gathering and knowledge creation ought to do our best to nurture the climate that is rich with learning. That will be our tribute to these great lives that have lived for the society. If we strive towards these, HM’s soul will surely shower blessings on us.
Colleges of Education
Charutar Vidya Mandal