Prof Ram Praskash
A Belated Tribute to a Revered Guru
I was deeply saddened to read in a recent issue of Mauritius Times about the demise in New Delhi of Prof Ram Prakash, the well-known educator, who spent many years in Mauritius as an Instructor at the Teachers’ Training College and who, with his unassuming personality and humility touched the lives of many students during the many years he spent in the island. I know for sure he did because he did touch mine.Prof Ram Prakash was an intellectual of rare erudition and a distinguished human being of great culture. His passing away must have certainly left a great void among all his friends and loved ones.Prof Ram Prakash, who hailed from New Delhi, professed Urdu as his mother tongue, was equally at home in Hindi, Sanskrit, English and French – not to mention several other languages of India. He was a linguist and a scholar par excellence. As a matter of fact, Prof Ram Prakash reflected best what it meant being a son of India – the land of many cultures, languages and religions and a very ancient civilization. He was very open-minded in his thinking, and tolerant, and very respectful of other’s views and cultures and customs
I well recall his answer to a question of mine in which I expressed my surprise at his calling Urdu his mother tongue when everybody knew in Mauritius then that Urdu was a Muslim language and only Muslims learned and spoke Urdu. His answer surprised me and illuminated my eyes and mind to a whole new horizon that made me think and reflect. We, Mauritians, erroneously tended to look at the world around us in terms of clans, communities when we should always focus on the B-I-G picture. Mauritius has a multicultural society and so does India, he made me realize.
“The Urdu language,” he said, “is a language born in India. It is a blend of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Hindi. It came about during the time of Muslim rule of India. It is definitely one of the most beautiful languages of India and is part and parcel of India’s culture. It is spoken by millions in India – and not by Indian Muslims only. In my home all my folks spoke Urdu – still do. As a matter of fact, Urdu belongs to all Indians irrespective of their faith. Besides, do you know that some of the best-known writers in Urdu are Indians who are not Muslims? A good example is Munshi Premchand.”
I came to know Prof Ram Prakash in the year 1955 at the Teachers’ Training College where I was a teacher-trainee. I have till today the fondest memories of my classes with him. He taught Hindi, Urdu and the Cultures of India to the Indo-Mauritian students. I particularly loved his classes in Indian Culture. I got hooked on his learned presentations on the age-old Indian arts, culture and literature. He literally opened to me a whole new door to a rich ancient civilization. Not only did I come to know and appreciate the perennial glories of such Indian epics, like the Mahabarata, Bhagawad Gita and Ramayana, but I also came to know, among many others, about such giants of Indian literature like Valmiki, Tulsidas, Kabir, Mirza Ghalib, Munshi Premchand, Rabindranath Tagore and Mohammed Iqbal.
Prof Ram Prakash was a fount of knowledge and learning. As students, we learned a lot from him not only in terms of Indian civilization per se but also about savoir-vivre. I well recall how he would welcome his students with his benevolent smile and greet them, as far as possible, in the traditional greeting of their professed culture and faith. Thus he would greet the Hindu students with “Namasté,” the Tamils with “Vanakam! and the Muslim students with “Assalamu’alaikum!” As a matter of fact, I learned from him that “it was a mark of great courtesy and respect to one’s culture and religion to greet a person in his/her own cultural greeting.” It was a lesson I have always followed as far as possible. Prof Ram Prakash, who was by faith a devout Hindu, would always greet his Muslim students with “Assalamu’alaikum!” (May Peace be with you!”)
Prof Ram Prakash showed great interest in the talents of his students whether it was intellectual, cultural or and literary. He would always support and encourage them to forge ahead. Little wonder that of the Class of 1956 of which I was a part, several graduates would go on to achieve higher laurels and fame in their respective fields not only as educators but also as writers, poets, historians… A few names from my group that readily come to my mind are: Khalil-ul Rahman Ahmadi, Anand Sawant Mulloo, Mooneshwar Chintamanee.
Prof Ram Prakash never limited his interest to teaching in the classroom only. He was also very much active as a cultural field as an active ambassador of Indian culture. Indeed, his contribution to the cultural development of the Indo-Mauritian community can never be under-estimated. He was a giant of a man who was more a citizen of the world than a Hindu or just an Indian. Mauritius, he told us, was a gem of place blessed with a rainbow population. Mauritians are multiculturalists par excellence and, as such, offer a great example of tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence to the world. And, he would often parody and quote to us, Mauritians, the following verses from a famous poem in Urdu of Mohammed Iqbal:
“Mazhab nahin sikhata aapass mein bhair rakhna
(Religion does not teach us to despise one another)
We are Mauritians and Mauritius is our motherland”