Vivekananda College : a Glorious Vision

C.V. Narasimhan

           Vivekananda College was founded in 1946: a year of great expectation for the renascent citizens of Bharat who were then on the threshold of Independence after long years of suppression.  National leaders in the vanguard of  Freedom movement were men of high moral calibre and value-oriented in their outlook.  The free India they visualised was a vibrant nation fully geared to the modern technique of progress through science and technology but at the  same time firmly rooted in its tradition of spirituality and dharmic culture.

           In the context of those times Jawaharlal Nehru had referred to Swami Vivekananda in the following terms:  “Rooted in the past and full of pride in India ’s prestige, Vivekananda was yet modern in his approach to life’s problems  and was a kind of bridge between the past of India and her present.  He came as a tonic to the depressed and demoralised  Hindu mind and gave it self-reliance and some roots in the past”.  The founders of Vivekananda College would have doubtless been inspired by this approach in starting the college at that time. 

           I had grown up as a ‘Mylapore boy’ at the P.S.High school  in the 1930s, moved over to Loyola College in 1940s for University course and graduated in 1945,  a year before Vivekananda College was started.  Loyola, Presidency and Madras Christian were the premier colleges in the metropolis in those days.  They provided first class education in different disciplines but it was in an ambience that wholly reflected the western life style in all its facets.  The faculty, with very few exceptions, were immaculately dressed in suit and tie.  In fact, students who joined Presidency College were strictly expected to come dressed formally with a coat !  Those who did not wear coats were subject to a derisive you-do-not-belong-here look by those who were ‘coated’!  Entry into the University level courses induced among the students a value system linked with western habits and customs with an implied suppression of our own native responses to situations. 

           It was in this context that Vivekananda College , founded in 1946, provided fresh air and a venue for University level education for the youth in the metropolis savouring our own traditional and cultural  practices while pursuing higher level studies in science and technology.  It was this blending of the  past and present to identify a path of meaningful progress towards a glorious future  that was most welcome to the youth  and the parents in those times.  Administration of the College was closely guided by M.Subbaraya Iyer, the legendary legal luminary of Mylapore,  while the ideological motivation for all academic work was provided by the first Principal Prof. D.S.Sharma, a renowned English teacher and a respected exponent of  Hindu philosophy.  He was ably  assisted by a galaxy of eminent Professors including K.Subramaniam, T.R.Raghava Sastri, Narayanamoorthy, Jagannathachari and the like.  Several brilliant young men have passed out from this prestigious institution since then, and gone up further to occupy leading positions in administration and public life. 

           While the College has vastly expanded to cover more courses of study with a much larger intake of students including an Evening College as an adjunct, a critical look back now will make one wonder whether the initial objective of developing rootedness in our spiritual heritage and culture alongside proficiency in science and technology has been successfully pursued.  In the last 60 years the College Management would, doubtless, have experienced a variety of situations within the constraints of the educational frame work statutorily designed by the State government.  The College is presently seen to be functioning and trudging along the groove set by the bureaucracy in administration.  In this work environment it is a question mark whether successive batches of students would have really been impacted by the special programmes and inputs linked with the Ramakrishna Mission arranged year after year.

            Swami Vivekananda had once observed: ‘That society is the greatest, where the highest truths become practical’.  He underlined the need to integrate philosophical concepts and perceptions with practical situations in the lives of the general people.  That brings us to the question of ethics in community life.  Having regard to the fast changing times and globalisation of trade, commerce, manufacturing processes and services, the College would do well now to devise appropriate inputs for all its students in some basic and fundamental principles of values and ethics which should govern their interaction among themselves and others who are part of their College life. A small group of the alumni of the College, who are now practicing experts in the Management field, may sit together and evolve these inputs carefully so that they may dovetail into a more structured syllabus of a regular Degree course in Management which the students could take later, after completing a course in some regular branch of study.  Business ethics is now recognised as an important integral part of successful business across the world.  This is being repeatedly stressed by our own Management icons like Ratan Tata, Azim Premji and Infosys Narayanamoorthy.  It would be most appropriate now for the College Management to break new ground and start a new School of Management which would offer Diploma and Degree courses in Management science, supplemented by  special inputs focused on the value system embedded in our own tradition and culture, interpreted in the context of the changing times.

              The importance of our cultural moorings is tersely brought out in the following observation of  Rajaji:  “If  there is any honesty in India today, any hospitality, any chastity, any philanthropy, any tenderness to the dumb creatures, any aversion to evil, any love to do good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”.  In a memorable speech delivered at Bangalore in October 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru had observed: “We must maintain our roots in our soil and our country. We have also to learn much.  The problem today for all of  us is how to keep this great experience, this great culture of India , this great thought of India , how to maintain it, preserve it, nourish it, and how to plant on to it the dynamism and science and technology and thought of the west.  We have to build up this great country into a mighty nation, mighty not in the ordinary sense of the word, that is, having great armies and all that, but mighty in thought, mighty in action, mighty in culture and mighty in its peaceful service of humanity”.

                The quality of community life in the coming years would be determined by the value-orientation  of the vast population of young Managers who would be entering the fast growing corporate world year after year.  Vivekananda College Management should deem it as its duty now to step into this scenario quickly and establish a new School of Management to be guided by a working philosophy flowing from the perspicacious observations of Swami Vivekananda, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji which would root it in our culture and value system.  This would be a fitting homage to the respectful memory of the founding fathers of the College, and would carry forward their vision and mission in a meaningful manner in the globalising world.