PD Tribune- Radhakrishnan

“I want to meet the professor who reads 24 hours a day,” said Stalin when he expressed his desire to see Dr Radhakrishnan at Kremlin. The philosopher, by his ability and shrewdness, had created an atmosphere in Moscow which endeared him to Soviet officials. If he succeeded admirably as our Ambassador in Moscow, it was because he knew, “how to function like an electric radiator exactly adjusted to the demands of the climate.” This meeting made history and was the biggest scoop of Dr Radhakrishnan’s diplomatic career.

In the early years of his life, Radhakrishnan was a very poor man. He used to eat his food on banana leaves and not in a plate or thali, as he could not afford to buy either. Once he did not have the money to buy even the banana leaves. That day he carefully cleaned the floor, spread the food on it and ate it. His salary those days was about Rs 17 per month only and he had a big family to support. He had borrowed some money and could not pay even the interest on it. He had to auction his medals to meet his needs. This has been revealed by none else than his famous writer son S. Gopal.

Some of Dr Radhakrishnan’s dictums and pronouncements have become famous because of their logic, brilliance and grandeur of language. Here are some of his statements.

“Millennium is a time when all the heads will be hard, all the pillows soft.”

“It takes centuries to make a little history, it takes centuries of history to make a tradition.”

“Politics is never an art of obtaining political power. It is an essential branch of the art of promoting human welfare.”

After World War II he wrote, “Peace is already lost during the winning of the war, since the same sort of men and same ideas and institutions that produced the catastrophe are to be allowed to dominate the peace table.”

As long as you read the books of philosophers, you feel greatly impressed by them, but when you come in contact with them, you feel a little disillusioned. You find that they are visionaries and impractical men and live only in the realm of imagination, but away from the realities of life. But not so with Dr Radhakrishnan. He was practical and had insight into human nature. He was comfortable in the company of the learned, but had no contempt for those who had been kept bereft of higher education. It was true that he did not feel very much at ease with all sorts of men and enjoyed only the company of those who he knew intimately. In this connection C.E.M. Joad has an interesting incident to narrate. “I shall not easily forget dining in company with Radhakrishnan at HG Wells flat. Besides, Wells and myself, there was only one other person present. J.N. Sullivan, the well-known writer on scientific subjects. The talk was continuous, and eager, it included science, philosophy, the state of the world, the possible collapse of the western civilization. Radhakrishnan was for the most part silent. He sat there refusing one after another the dishes of an elaborate meal, drinking only water, listening. We others, knowing his reputation as a speaker and conversationalist were, I think, a little surprised at this silence, surprised and impressed not so much because what he did say was always to the point, but because his silence in such a discussion was a richer and more significant thing that any positive contribution he could have made.”

Joad had described Dr Radhakrishnan as a liaison officer between the East and the West. By training and temperament, he was peculiarly well-equipped to reconcile the conflicts between the East and the West. Equally at home with Kant and Hegel, Shankaracharya and Ramakrishna Parmahansa, he was a citizen of the world. To the West, he seemed to be the typical western intellectual, while the East regarded him as a sage, rishi, who symbolised the ancient wisdom of the Orient. Dr Radhakrishnan wove spells not only in lecture halls but also in drawing rooms. As a conversationalist, he was always thought-provoking and scintillating, but he refused to monopolise the conversation. He was as good a listener as a talker. Though words came to him in a torrent, he knew the value of silence which in his case was more eloquent than the rhetoric of brilliant men.

An independent man, if ever there was one, Dr Radhakrishnan did not hesitate to call a spade a spade if the occasion demanded it.

His spirit of independence found aggressive expression in a famous encounter he had in 1942 with the then Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Sir Maurice Hallett. Dr Radhakrishnan, who had gone to Lucknow to protest against the closing of Banaras Hindu University, of which he was the then Vice-Chancellor, discovered in Sir Maurice an autocrat, who refused to listen to reason. The Governor lost his temper when the philosopher defended the students who had been punished for having participated in the struggle for freedom. Dr Radhakrishnan rose to the occasion. In words burning with indignation, he gave a bit of his mind to the Governor. During the 20-minute exchange of hot words, Dr Radhakrishnan forgot that his job was to lecture on Kant and Hegel. He had become the voice of Indian nationalism.

One of the most striking things about Dr Radhakrishnan was his versatility. And very few in India can claim such a magnificent record of success as was his. His powerful mind, his power of speech, his command over the English language, his dedication to work and his mental alacrity greatly contributed to his success in life. He had the wisdom of a sage, detachment of a philosopher, maturity of a statesman. Whatever in life he touched, he adorned. His ability to adapt himself to circumstances was remarkable. He was a remarkable personality who at once impressed and inspired.


PD Tandon was a freedom fighter, eminent author and journalist, whose name appears on fifty two books in Hindi and English, of which some were translated into Urdu and Tamil also. During the Quit India Movement of 1942.

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