Friday, September 5, 2014

The teacher's place

This stately bungalow sits away from the road, being both aloof and in the middle of the bustle at the same time. Much like its most famous occupant, who entered politics rather late in life, and was not too closely associated with any particular political movement. And yet, he was a significant enough politician to be made the first Vice-President of the Republic of India.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher, teacher, statesman and the first Vice-President of the Republic of India rose from humble origins to become the first citizen of India. He is one of the two Presidents of the country who did not come through a political party or through the political system. Radhakrishnan's stature as a scholar of philosophy propelled him to several awards and appointments, including the Bharat Ratna. His birthday, September 5, is celebrated as Teacher's Day.

Dr. Radhakrishnan bought this property in Madras during his tenure as the Vice Chancellor of the Benares Hindu University, in the early 1940s. When his term ended, Dr. Radhakrishnan came back to this house, where he finished his masterful commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, which was published in 1948. But he didn't stay here long. With India becoming a Republic on January 26, 1950, Dr. Radhakrishnan was chosen to be the first Vice President and then went on to become the second President of the country. He returned here in 1967, and lived here until he passed away in 1975. The road - until then called Edward-Elliots Road - was renamed Radhakrishnan Salai in his honour. And yet, there are several Chennaiites who are surprised to learn that this was where the man lived!

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