A few moments with Paramacharya

Dr. K.R.V. Rao

I deemed myself a blessed person, as His Holiness the Saint of Kanchi had broken his silence period and was free to converse when I called on him to pay my respects on the morning of January 29, 1975.

The previous time I had called on him was sometimes in 1970, when I was Education Minister in the Government of India and went to Kanchi to inaugurate a function under the auspices of the Kamakoti Peetham at which the then Junior Swamiji presided.

Before going to function, I met His Holiness for the first time and paid Him my respects. He was gracious enough to talk to me on the problem of youth and declining values for a few minutes and I felt strengthened in my conviction that the basic problem confronting the country was that of values and stimulated my desire to do something about it. But I also knew the limitations of a Central Education Minister and the difficulties of accommodating values in an effective fashion in the vast and sprawling institutional complex of Indian education. All that I could do was to make speeches and the country was justifiably bored by speeches, especially when they were made by Ministers.

When I ceased to be a Minister, I wrote a book on : Values and Economic Development- the Indian Challenge," - The book sold reasonably well, but the decline in values continued. And then I started building an institute of Social and Economic Change in Bangalore and got absorbed in my new `adventure' as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called it. But I knew well enough that this was only an opiate and was not likely to make any impact on the crisis in values that had overtaken my country.

So my thoughts started wandering again in quest of something I could do in the matter that may actually have some effect. I thought I should read and think and write another book, this time more merely on values, but on what could be done to give values a viability in our changing and developing society. It was in that context and I thought that the blessing of His Holiness might help. I thought I would take a chance of his pure but also kind and compassionate self to throw its shadow on me and set alight the desired vision and strength that could enable me to pursue my quest. I did not dream at that time that I would also be blessed with the opportunity to talk to him on the subject and not only get his blessings but also his thoughts and advice on what I have now set my heart on. That did happen on the morning of January 29 when I went to his cottage on the outskirts of Kanchi.

His Holiness was seated on a platform in a medium sized room and in the same room there was another person who conveyed to His Holiness questions or requests from seekers and repeated his answers to them. The seekers and devotees had to stand in a queue outside a large window through which one could bet a full view of His Holiness, ask questions and receive answers from his interpreter. I took my place in the queue and impatiently awaited my turn. Before me was a party who were asking questions about the size, shape etc., of some vahana which they were wanting to endow a temple with I believe it was of the Goddess Kamakshi. There were many questions on details and they were all answered patiently, thought I was feeling impatient of what I though in my egoism was a waste of His Holiness' time. Then came the turn of an obviously overawed devotee who sought His Holiness's blessings and received them.

Now it was my turn. I put my head through the window and was enchanted beyond measure of the sight of His Holiness. There was something about his appearance that was outside my experience. I do not know how to describe it. I saw an embodiment of purity. a child-like innocence belied his age, and a feeling of someone rather divine and perhaps not quite of this world. I was thrilled beyond description.

I reminded him that I had met him some years ago when I was Education Minister and he nodded enthusiastically, indicating that he recalled the meeting with pleasure.

I then told him that I was very much worried about he state of values in the country and that I wanted to do research on the subject and find out how to constitute a society that would sustain good values and prevent them from deterioration and decline.

He showed great interest in what I said, his eyes bent upon me with approving kindness, and he asked me to find out how it was that for 5000 years, certain basic values had endured in our country in spite of all the vicissitudes that the country had undergone. I nodded vigorously in assent.

He then told me that some 50 years ago, a scholar from Gujarat had worked on this subject and wanted me to read his writings. Then there was a period of nearly three to four minutes when he tried to tell me the name of the scholar. He knew the name all right, but could not make his interpreter follow what he was saying. `Durga' was what he appeared to be saying but when both the interpreter and I repeated `Durga' he shook his head in dissent. I then asked whether he meant Anand Shankar Dhruva (who I knew was an eminent philosopher from Gujarat), His Holiness shook his head vigorously in dissent. He repeated `Dur' but said that it was not Durga and that some other word followed. We could not follow. Meanwhile his robe had slipped from his shoulder with his activity and I was thrilled by the glimpse of his chest He then put one of his legs forwards, patted it vigorously and said kaal. (Tamil word for leg.) I then understood and asked whether the name was "Durkal" and a vigorous nod of assent followed, accompanied by a smile of pure pleasure at my understanding. Later when I mentioned this to Shri S. Ramakrishnan at the Bhavan in Bombay with whom were also present Shri J.L. Hathi and Prof. J.H. Dhave, Shri Dave immediately recalled the name of Prof. Durkal who had written on the subject of values in Hindu tradition more than 50 years ago, but said that Prof. Durkal wrote in Gujarati.

I immediately requested him to get his writings even if they were in Gujarati and wondered within myself how His Holiness of Kanchi has become acquainted with his work and been so impressed as to recall it for my benefit after so many years. May be, they had met and exchanged views. I don't know. What mattered to me was that His Holiness had taken a small man like me so seriously and had gone out of his way to delve into his memory and give me guidance in my utopian undertaking. I fell both elated and humble; and was filled with joy at His grace. Now I had to go through my self-imposed but Herculean task. His Holiness had encouraged me.

His Holiness then went on to asked me to took at the educational system, the effects of co-education at the higher stages, the way in which parents function towards one another, towards their children, and towards others who came to see them or about whom they talk, and the value atmosphere they create at home, popular films and songs, and the value-hazards to which youth get exposed in their contacts with the society in which they live and with which they mix.

I do not say that His Holiness said all this in so many identical words, but this was the broad under standing that I received from his talk interspersed with the benign and childlike enthusiasm and crystal like purity with which he said it.

I wanted to stay longer and ask many questions, but my legs were getting cramped with leaning in one posture on the wall and my craning neck was also claiming attention. The crowd behind me, which was first impressed, then interested, was now getting impatient with the length of my interview. They had their own problems to place before His Holiness and were wondering when their turn would come. I have a feeling that even the interpreter was getting a little impatient, but His Holiness was calm and interested and might not have minded my continuing.

But good social sense prevailed on me and I thought I should put a stop of my greed. I therefore told His Holiness that I sought his blessings in my quest and expressed the hope that I may have the good fortune of meeting Him again.

His Holiness raised his right hand in blessing not once or twice but five times. I am sure He could see that I did not want to leave and yet I had to. His repeated blessing was his message of solace, cheer and encouragement; and it is his uplifted hand in blessing and his benign and compassionable but also encouraging smile that I carried with me when I left and still carry, though time and distance should by now have left it behind.

Anyway, I am now committed to this wild and hazardous undertaking. I have find out why values have remained and yet been prevented from functioning and what made them function for brief spells, and what has made them survive in spite of their failure to regulate human society and behaviour in practice. I am sure the values are verities. What is wrong is our institutions, motivations, images o successes and of fulfillment, our educational, economic and political systems, our upbringing from childhood, and our social relations. It is easy to see that is wrong, but it is infinitely more difficult to find out what can bring about the right functional concord between the values and institutions and human behaviour. Anyway, I have to try.

I hope I shall be blessed by His Holiness with more occasions to meet him and get sprinkled by his wisdom and purified by his grace. Next time I hope that I shall have the chance to talk to him face to face without a wall and without an interpreter to come between us. Above all, I want to give him my respects in traditional Hindu fashion and take the dust of His feet on my Head. Will it happen? I do not know. Only His Holiness does.