Interviewer: Dr. Radhakrishnan– the great scholar, philosopher, and the statesman of India, Namaskar. We would like to begin from your childhood. Please tell us something about your background, family, and, early stage of life.
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I come from a very humble background. My small village is on the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. My father was a subordinate revenue officer. He wanted me to become a priest. I did my schooling from Tiruttani. Thereafter, I completed my M.A. in philosophy. My first book was titled as “Indian Philosophy”.
Interviewer: Sir, your book “Indian Philosophy” is a classic and a literary masterpiece. In the words of George P. Conger– “Among the philosophers of our time, no one has achieved so much in so many fields as has Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India.” Please throw light on this book.
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I authored a thesis on– “The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions” when I was in college. In consonance with my inclination towards the subject, this book is a pre meditated answer to the misconception that the Vedanta System is devoid of ethics. When I wrote this report, I was sceptical that my philosophy professor would get enraged after reading it. However, to my surprise, he greatly appreciated my work, which was published later. I was only twenty then.
Interviewer: Your appointment as the President of India was hailed by Bertrand Russell, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, as he said– “It is an honour to philosophy that Dr. Radhakrishnan should be the President of India and I, as a philosopher, take special pleasure in this. Plato aspired for philosophers to become kings and it is a tribute to India that she should make a philosopher her President.” Sir, as is said that philosophy is mainly about theories, imagination, and intuition. As a renowned philosopher, what is your supposition with philosophy?
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: To me ‘intuition’ is a rationale for all forms of experience, as it embodies the veritable cognisance of the REAL BRAHMAN. It functions at the supreme level of consciousness and therefore I consider it to be of fundamental form of experience. It is beyond the limits of logic and language and there is no conception by which we can define it.
Interviewer: Sir, how do you perceive God and Religion?
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: According to me, the idea of God is an interpretation of experience.
I comprehend religion as the conquest of fear; the antidote to failure and death. It is rightly said that a man without religion is like a horse without bridle.
My interpretation of religion is delving deep into the essence and experience of the REAL TRUTH i.e. Darsana and anubhava, which ultimately aims to harmonise and blend the Inner Self to the Central Reality. Under the powerful leverage of religion, man can bring forth his inner divinity. Thus, religion has the power to superintend the change in his nature.
I would also like to add that “If philosophy of religion is to become scientific, it must become empirical and find itself on religious experience.”
Stalin was not disturbed by my remark. He smiled and replied– “Yes, miracles do happen sometimes. I was in a theological seminary for five years!”
After the completion of my tenure as an ambassador, I was asked to see Stalin. When I saw him, I was taken aback. His face had ballooned and he really looked very unwell. I immediately felt sad for the scandalous communist and gently stroked his back. With that touch, Stalin became so emotional that he held my hand and said– "You are the first person to treat me as a human being and not as a monster. You are leaving us and I am sad. I want you to live long. I have not long to live." He died six months later. My little act of compassion went a long way to establish a lasting friendship with USSR.
Interviewer: Sir, you are a great exponent of education. You are an epitome of modesty; but your entire career is illuminated by innumerable illustrious milestones. You have received numerous awards in recognition of your services and immense knowledge. Just to name a few…
You were appointed as a Knight Bachelor in 1931.
You were chosen as Fellow of the British Academy in 1938.
You also received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1961.
You have been the ambassador to UNESCO in 1946 and later on as ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1949.
As Chair to the Union Education Commission in 1948, you hammered your way and brought about reforms in India’s education system.
You were conferred the highest civilian award of India, Bharat Ratna.
In 1961, you won the Peace Prize for the German Book Trade.
In 1963, you were awarded the British order of Merit.
You were the first person to have been honoured with the Sahitya Akademi fellowship.
You have also been a professor in many deemed colleges and varsities.
You are the recipient of the Templeton Prize in 1975, for promoting the notion of “a universal reality of God that embraced love and wisdom for all people”.
Sir, according to you, what is the goal of true education?
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I believe that through education we are born the second time. It is instrumental in bringing out the inherent potential hidden in us. The meaning of education is to emancipate the individual and we need the education of the whole man– physical, vital, mental, intellectual, and spiritual. I am of the firm belief that education alone can establish a classless and an egalitarian society, foster universal brotherhood, and draw us closer to God and to an ethereal world beyond space and time.
Interviewer: Unquestionably, the teacher is the fulcrum of the education system. Perhaps this was the precise reason of conceiving of the Teacher’s Day?
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: Yes, definitely. On becoming the President of India, some of my students wanted to celebrate my birthday. I suggested that instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5th September is observed as Teachers’ Day.
Interviewer: Sir, how has your disposition towards God and religion been helpful in your political career?
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I was elected as the Vice President of India in 1952. During the heated Rajya Sabha sessions, I interceded with shlokas (verses) from the Sanskrit classics to placate the agitated members of the parliament. On this Nehru once remarked, “By the way in which Radhakrishnan conducted the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha, he had made the meetings of the House look like family gatherings!”
Interviewer: Sir, you have been a committed teacher. Please share any of your fond remembrances.
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I was the Professor of Philosophy at Maharaja’s College, Mysore. When I accepted the Professorship at the Calcutta University, the students collected at my residence to bid farewell. When they were unable to meet me, they thought of a unique idea. One group took permission from the Station Master to embellish the compartment in which I had to travel with flowers. They took minute care to cover every seat, cushion, door and window with garlands. On the railway platform, it was a sea of students converging from everywhere. Another group of students took up the job of decorating my coach with flowers. Even the horses of my coach were released and were replaced by the students themselves. They were pulling the coach in turns to drive their Guru. They were shouting slogans like “Radhakrishnan ji ki jai” (hail to our teacher). This incident left the Railway Staff and the commoners dumbfounded. Till date I remember each and every detail of that day and even the students very vividly.
Interviewer: Sir, please share your memories with your colleagues and staff.
Dr. S Radhakrishnan: I had appointed Ludwig Wolff, a German Jew refugee as the Principal of the University College of Science. He was inarticulate in English. His first lecture was attended by me– the Vice Chancellor, registrar, Principal of the Arts College, teachers as well as students. He wanted to apologise to me for something but inadvertently said, “I hope the Vice Chancellor will apologise to me.” After the lecture, I spoke in good jest to him, “I apologise to Dr. Wolff for our laboratories as they may not be up to his standards.”
I have consciously never let formalities like appointments or permissions come in the way of letting my teachers meet me. I have been never disrespectful to my teachers and workers. For me, it was the faith and confidence in the efforts of my teachers which was of paramount importance because skillful and efficient, well qualified and genuine teachers would ultimately produce good result.
And, I think, my teachers also believed in my belief and never disappointed me. B. Sundra Rama Rao, who was one of the teachers at the university, shared his response of the teachers, “We automatically felt that our destinies were in excellent hands and we revelled in the majesty and grandeur of his eloquence.” There were no pro or anti vice chancellor groups in the Andhra University in my time.
Interviewer: Your love and devotion for the Motherland is well known…
It is the intense spirituality of India, and not any great political structure or social organisation that it has developed, which has enabled it to resist the ravages of time and the accidents of history. My ambition is to unfold the sources of India in the profound plane of human nature.