T 535 - My acceptance speech at the Brisbane Doctorate ceremony :
Honorable dignitaries, distinguished and honored members of the Queensland University of Technology, ladies and gentlemen ..
There is something quite unsettling about speaking solemnly about an honor – an honor accorded, I am certain, after much grave deliberation & debate.
The very first sentiment therefore, is to express my limitless gratitude. Who would have thought a student and then a graduate – not extraordinary by any stretch of the word – would some day be accorded such an overwhelming recognition and that too by a University in a country, not of my citizenry.
When I was informed that I would be awarded an honorary doctorate by the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, the instinctive response was – do I deserve it? Do I deserve an honor of such magnitude? Perhaps not. But I shall today respect the sentiments with which this honor is being bestowed and shall always regard this as one of the most precious accolades that I have received.
Education, of course, engenders myriad opportunities in the spheres of technology as well as the humanities. Without a doubt, it is the amalgamation of diverse disciplines that inspires every form of creative activity. For instance, where would writers be without a printing press, stage thespians without a proscenium and lights, painters without pigments and canvas…and if I may strike a personal note, film actors without a camera?
Quite clearly, I view the honorary doctorate as an acknowledgement of the rapid strides made by Indian Cinema. During my own lifetime our popular cinema has auspiciously grown from strength to strength. Not only in terms of producing the highest number of films in any part of the world…but as importantly as a distinctive expression of a nation’s ethos and culture.
I am but a miniscule part of the revolution happening in global communication and infotainment. All it needs is a quick punch of a button to keep abreast of one’s national progress, of the dynamics of our culture, of our cinema and our people, which are all inextricably linked with one another.
Yet there was a time, not so long ago, when our popular culture..stroke cinema…was a butt of ridicule and cynicism. Today, this very culture has become the subject of serious analyses, re-appraisal and celebration. My very presence today on this podium, is a proud moment not only for me but for the Indian film fraternity in its entirety and indeed my country India. The doctorate signifies that our cinema and its artistes as well as technicians matter.
Chances are very strong that I could not have been in cinema or in any creative aspect of life without a grounding in education - education which is in consonance with the belief that –
“What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the human soul”.
Before leaving the hallowed portals of the University we sculpt our identity, we strengthen and fortify our convictions in a manner that we do not fall into a trap – the trap of being swayed by prejudices of caste and creed, race, religion and color.
I went to a boarding school, called Sherwood College in Nainital, a mountain resort up in the Kumaon Hills in the North of India.
The true impact that Sherwood College had on my life resided in its ethos. It formed the core of continuity between my generation and the present one.
The education of the greatest value that I received there was how to be a human being of what we call, in shorthand, Character. And I don’t mean the ones I play in films. Admittedly I had the benefit of inspirational parentage, but Sherwood taught me how to live in dignity with my peers, live in a community, and live well with myself in the world at large in consequence. Living together, working together, learning together, fighting and loving each other, competing fairly in noble rivalry and cooperating supportively, I learnt a sense of fellowship and comraderie. I learnt the true virtue of friendship as an individual, and the virtue of community as a collective.
Character must firstly be valued by giving it dignity. Dignity is gained through understanding that a human being is an integrated whole: the intellect, the body, the spirit, are equally important and interrelated.
Dignity is gained by understanding that this integrity of a human being, regardless of differences between one and another, has an ultimate value in itself. It has merit beyond any particular achievement, success or even failure. Giving a human being dignity is understanding that each one of us has our own distinct merits, talents, and value in the world.
My school’s moto in Latin was so well put -
Mereat quisque palmam. : let each one merit their own prize. This is dignity.
Secondly, one must harness the power of dignity through training, the training of the mind, the body, and the spirit. Another word for this training is discipline.
I didn’t always like or agree with the routine of boarding school and the rules. But afterwards, I really appreciated the fact that had it not been for its initially imposed regimen, I could not have learned to harness the power of my own dignity for myself.
And this transition is the third element of building the character, which is truly a life-long enterprise, and despite support and encouragement, it is one that ultimately can only be conducted alone. Self-discipline gives measured thought and the patient judgment of maturity. It gives self-reliance. At its best and most noble, it is self-government. It brings true freedom.
The greatest prize in life is not the recognition of worldly success. The prize that best crowns the human being is that of the possession of good character. It is a strenuous prize: daily it must be re-won. It is also a certainty of mine that there is many a day where I fail that prize myself, not for want of trying. But it is the most worthy prize of all, and without its effort, all material success and fame is sheer emptiness.
To discover the value of one’s own dignity is also a discovery of the value in the dignity of others, and through that, the dignity of a community.
‘Fair play’ might be considered a British tradition – a tradition most famous of course in their inconsistency in applying it – but such historical mythologies underpin a truth that really counts. It is the ideal of fairness – the true spirit of Justice, not its letter.
A good education is the most valuable thing that a human being can possess. It is our greatest wealth, individually and collectively. In the world beyond these walls, fortune comes and goes, money comes and goes, but a good education can never be taken away once it has been possessed.
Academic achievement is not enough. The kind of knowledge gained through a good education is more than just the acquisition of information. Knowledge is learning what to do with all that information - that is the role of good character. And learning what to do with knowledge is the path to wisdom.
I am profoundly grateful to the men and women of eminence and erudition who have considered me to be worthy of this honor today. Ladies and gentlemen, I am beholden to your generosity.
Since all good things must end, so must this moment of pride for me.
I end then with two of the best, meaningful and yet succinct words the English language created for all of us and for such occasions.