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K. R. Narayanan – A Curriculum for the Younger Generation


Our esteemed former President K. R. Narayanan is no more today. Leaving a trail of glorious achievements he breathed his last on Wednesday, November 9, 2005. Vindicating the worth of his life, K. R. Narayanan disapproved Thomas Gray that he was like ‘ a flower blown to blush unseen’. Through the toil and moil of his life, like Abraham Lincoln’s journey from log cabin to the White House, K. R. Narayanan made a journey from his small cottage at Uzhavoor in Kottayam district to Rashtrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi with jubilant landings at different destinations.Kocheril Raman Narayanan was born in a Dalit family in 1921 as the fourth of the seven children. Grueling poverty , penury , deprivation and social discrimination haunted him all the way. But KRN undertook a sagacious journey braving all odds to pass his B.A and M.A with distinction to go on a scholarship to the London school of Economics where he earned B.Sc. (Economics) Honours degree in the First Division. Narayanan joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1949. As a young diplomat, Narayanan’s first posting was in Rangoon where he met a Burmese girl Tint Tint who later became his wife in 1950 with the name Usha for which Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru granted special permission for an IFS officer to marry a foreign national.

After postings in Tokyo, London and Hanoi, Narayanan became the Ambassador to Thailand (1967 – 69), Turkey (1973 – 75) and China (1976 – 78). In 1978, Narayanan retired from IFS to become the Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. In 1980, the then Prime Minister made him the Ambassador to the United States, where he helped arrange Ms. Gandhi’s landmark 1982 visit to Washington. On returning from the U.S., he plunged into Politics to be elected from Ottapalam Parliamentary constituency in 1984and two more times subsequently. Narayanan became the Minister of State for Planning in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet and later became the Minister of State of External Affairs and then in the Ministry of Science and Technology Then on a unanimous choice he was made the Vice-President in 1992 and in 1997 Mr. Narayanan was elevated to the post of 10th President of India, from Uzhavoor to New Delhi, completing the wheel of fortune.

I K.R. Narayanan is a big Chapter for the youngsters to learn and the teachers to teach. Kerala is so proud that we could offer such a great man to India and to the World.

The younger generation shall learn from K. R. Narayanan the skill of being a good student. Both at home and abroad he was so. Even from his answer sheets, the teachers could discern in him a promising student. As in India, he was always admired by foreign teachers like Lionel Robbins, Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek and others. No wonder, he was very much admired by Professor Harold J. Laski, who wrote a letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru about the precociousness of his student K. R. Narayanan.

Being a good student , K. R. Narayanan suffered humiliation with dignity and patiently waited for his turn to come. When the Travancore University refused to give him permanent teaching job on caste considerations , he simply pocketed the insult by boycotting the convocation ceremony and refused to accept the degree certificate. But it was providence that fifty years later, when he became the President of India, this certificate was handed over to him at a special function.

K. R. Narayanan was a soft spoken and matter of fact President. Without hurting anybody, he could put his ideas through to others. His statements often carried weight. Because he always valued humanity and democracy. At the height of the debate on the proposed Constitution Review, he threw a big challenge for others by asking the Indian polity ‘ to introspect whether the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution’. Similarly on the eve of Republic Day in 2000, the President K. R. Narayanan made a memorable speech many lines of which even today have the ringing tones like, ‘Our giant factories rise from squalor, our satellites shoot up from the midst of the hovels of the poor….’ Again in the same speech he said, ‘….our greatest national drawback is the status of our women, and our greatest national shame , the condition of the dalits….’ And how many more!

K. R. Narayanan was such a good Teacher that he never cherished any ill will against his students , however troublesome they were. While being the Vice – Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he had the worst stint of student indiscipline. With good sense of humour once he said, ‘It was easier dealing with the Gang of Four, you fellows are really troublesome’. Certainly he always loved his students in spite of their failings and the great teacher won the respect of all.

K. R. Narayanan’s life was a big lesson on humility. He never held his head high egoistically, nor did he cast aspersions at anybody. When the President joined other citizens of India at a polling booth on Feb.16,1998 to cast his vote, it was unprecedented. To all his detractors , he had a big message that he was the President of a democratic nation and in his own words , he was not ‘an executive President, but a working President’.

K. R. Narayanan taught the world not to underestimate a person, as it is foulsome to overestimate a person based on his appearance. It is the grit, the will, the conscience that matter. Narayanan had all these in plenty. Truly, in his long journey from rags to riches, he never knocked at any door for any position , but positions came him searching. What a big lesson for us to learn and others to teach !.

As H.W. Long fellow wrote,

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by a sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

Such was the life and message of K. R. Narayanan. Let the pyre and the flames that consumed him disseminate that curriculum for us.