H.Y. SHARADA PRASAD will be 80 on April 15, 2004. He is a national treasure - serene, self-aware, sensitive, scholarly, supremely wise, raconteur par excellence, inspiring colleague, loyal friend; in short, a truly exceptional human being. I have known him for 39 years. I first set eyes on him when he came to New York in 1965 to set up the Nehru Exhibition on Park Avenue. What followed was unexpected. We had been colleagues in Indira Gandhi's Secretariat from 1966 to 1971. His goodness and his sound judgment are most impressive. He is what the Americans call a "slow burn" and the glow warms us all.
On March 3, 2004, an unusual "Convocation" of the Mysore University took place at Karnataka Bhavan in New Delhi. Karnataka Governor T.N. Chaturvedi (my friend), conferred on Sharada the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa. Sharada is not in the best of health and could not travel to his birthplace, Bangalore. In view of Sharada Prasad's unique distinction, an exception was made so that he could receive his D.Lit. in New Delhi. Sharada made a brief but superbly crafted speech:
All of us have three mothers. The first is the biological mother to whom we owe our body. The second is the motherland that gives us our heart and our soul. Then we have the alma mater who shapes our mind and helps us to evolve a faith to live by. From all three - janani, janmabhoomi and janmamata - I have received much more than what I deserve or have done for them. I am specially lucky to be born in India at a time when Mahatma Gandhi still walked the earth and preached the message of compassion.
Sharada Prasad has many publications to his credit. He was a Joint Editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was also the Principal Editor of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centenary Volume, and of The Spirit of India, a felicitation volume presented to Indira Gandhi and the volumes of commemoration published at the deaths of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. His own books include The Book I Shall Not Be Writing and Other Essays (Delhi, 2003); Rashtrapati Bhavan (Publications Division, 1992); Exploring Karnataka (with T.S. Satyan, for the Government of Karnataka, 1991); Indira Gandhi (a children's book published by Ladybird); and Editors on Editing (National Book Trust, 1992).
He has translated two novels of Jnanapith award winner K. Shivarama Karanth - Headman of the Little Hill (IBH), a rendering of Kudiyara Koosu, and The Woman of Basrur, a rendering of Mai Mangala Suliyalli, as well as Karanth's autobiography under the title Ten Faces of A Crazy Mind and his Baleye Belaku under the title Life, the Only Light for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
His Kannada books include a translation of R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends, first published in 1947 and recently re-issued by the National Book Trust. He contributed the annual report on India to the Britannica Book of the Year from 1961 to 2003 and he has been writing a weekly column in The Asian Age for the 10 years.
Having extensively travelled and visited more than 60 countries, Sharada Prasad has received several prestigious honours. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2000, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 2001 and a special award of the Karnataka Patrika Academy in 2002.
Alistair Cooke is not a household name in India today, but radio listeners the world over have listened to his weekly letter from America for the past 58 years. He is an Englishman who has made America his home. He is 95 and finally decided to call it a day. I met him once at a high-powered dinner in New York almost 40 years ago. What a brilliant conversationalist Cooke is. I was enthralled.
George Kennan, the American foreign policy guru, turned 100 on February 16. He has been at Princeton University for the past 50 years - still respected and admired. He was declared persona non grata by Stalin in 1952. Kennan had been Ambassador to the Soviet Union for just six months. His memoirs are such a joy to read, a masterpiece of that genre. He is the antithesis of Henry Kissinger and opposes American hegemony and over-extension. Colin Powell went to Princeton to pay tribute to one of the greatest Americans of the past 100 years.
THE Lok Sabha elections in my judgment are being trivialised, commercialised, vandalised. They need to be rescued from smart showbiz-savvy operators. The not-so-engaging frivolity of some of them is unseemly, undignified and, in a few cases, nauseating. It is said that politics is the art of the possible. In India, it is the art of the impossible.