A great manDr Thiruvenkatachari
Seva Rathna Dr.S.Thiruvenkatachari
Seva Rathna Dr.S.Thiruvenkatachari shook his head in disgust on hearing the news on the radio that negotiations were going on with sandalwood smuggler Veerappan to rescue Kannada Superstar Rajkumar. "Where are we going? I don't know what has happened to our society, " he said angrily. At 89, Dr. Thiruvenkatachari has lived most of his life in a world where ideals and values were considered important. He has interacted with eminent personalities of the 20th century, who were men of great principles and deeds. No wonder, he finds the current socio-political situation absolutely unbearable.
His list of achievements is outstanding. Let us look at some of them. Dr.Thiruvenkatachari was awarded the Outstanding College Teacher Award for two successive terms by the University Grants Commission (UGC). For 42 years, he has served in colleges and universities in India and abroad. He has written several original works on History, Archeology, Economics, Psychology, Non-clinical Counselling, Gerontology and Public Administration. He is proficient in several disciplines broadly falling under the humanities. He has 12 Masters degrees and diplomas, besides two Ph.D. degrees. He was the first student to join the Masters Degree in Education in the University of Madras.
"I have met several great men in my life," he says with pride. One of them was Mahatma Gandhi himself. He attended the Wardha Training in Basic Education, a programme personally directed by Mahatma Gandhi. He has also attended a Child Education course directly under Madame Montessori and briefly interacted with Albert Einstein at Princeton. When he worked abroad, he met eminent people like Dr. Erling Hunt, Dwight Eisenhower, Trygvi Lee, Dr Ruth Strang, Sir Cyril Burt, Dr.Cohen and Lady Wattumull of the Wattumull Foundation. In response to a call from Maharishi Vasudevacharya, the founder of the R.K.Mission Schools, Dr Thiruvenkatachari rejected a post in the Indian Police and Customs Services to opt for a career in education. Among those who encouraged him to take this step are Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Shastri, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan and Dr.S.R.Ranganathan.
Dr.Ranganathan, the pioneer in Information Sciences, was a member of Dr Thiruvenkatachari's family. Economics, History, Political Science, Philosophy of education, Psychology, Methodology. These are all areas Dr Thiruvenkatachari has taught during the various phases of his career. At Columbia University, he assisted Dr.Taraknath Das, (a contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore), at the Centre for Far Eastern Studies. Teaching at the Columbia University was an exciting experience, as during his tenure the Centre became a training school for diplomats assigned to the far-eastern nations.
Apart from these notable memories, Dr Thiruvenkatachari also has the creditable achievement of organizing from scratch a number of institutions. These include 17 R K Mission institutions and upgrading the Madura College from second grade to first grade. On an invitation from Dr Alagappa Chettiar to set up the Department of Political Science, he joined the Alagappa College and contributed to its growth to University status. Besides, he forcefully presented the case for setting up University Centres in Madurai and Tiruchirapalli. Later, these centres started to function independently and in 1967 the Madurai University was set up. He has organised more than 200 extension programmes to encourage innovative teaching programmes in schools.
Along with Dr Billows, he led a campaign to promote English as a second language. Over 10,000 primary school teachers in South India were trained under the Madras English Language Teaching (MELT) scheme. Dr A Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar appointed Dr Thiruvenkatachari convenor of several special committees for education. As a research scholar under Dr S K Iyengar and C S Srinivasachari, he discovered an old palm-leaf manuscript in Trivandrum titled 'Madhura Vijayam'. Sir C.P Ramaswamy Iyer helped him in this. Dr Thiruvenkatachari went on to provide a detailed historical introduction to the work written by Kampana's wife, Ganga Devi (the Vijaynagar Princess). It was published by the Annamalai University and was equated with Kalhana's 'Rajatrangini' by scholars as a complete historical work with no legendary anecdotes.
Mysticism too has interested Dr Thiruvenkatachari. He recalls his meeting with Ida Ansell, an American disciple of Swami Vivekananda at the Ashram in Hollywood. Rechristened Ujjvala by the R.K.Mission, the 92-year-old Ida Ansell, handed 13 unpublished lectures of Swami Vivekananda to Dr Thiruvenkatachari. These were notes she had taken in shorthand and wanted them to be handed over to the Belur Math. The lady was ecstatic as she received Dr Thiruvenkatachari and when she bade farewell after dinner, she said with tears in he eyes, "My dear son, I have not waited this long in vain. May the Swamiji's blessings be with you." Two days later, the Head of the Ashram told him that Ujjvala died the very evening. The incident continues to baffle Dr Thiruvenkatachari.
He has led a rich life. What does he consider his greatest success? He fondly remembers the day when a student of his, whom we know as Gen. Sundarji, came to meet him before taking office as the Chief of Army. Gen. Sundarji had come to meet and thank the teacher who had taught him everything. "When I was young, you encouraged me to pursue my dreams sir, " he said. Dr Thiruvenkatachari says he was a satisfied man that day. At 89, he is active. In 1991, he presented an International Charter of the Senior Citizens of the World. He is the Vice President of the All India Pensioners Association. If this piece reads more like a citation than an article, it is because Dr Thiruvenkatachari's achievements are so numerous!