Professor Ram Prakash
Professor Ram Prakash, a well-known and respected figure in this country, passed away recently in New Delhi, India, where he had retired after he completed his active career in Mauritius many years ago. He is known to and has trained several generations of Mauritian teachers of Indian languages and Indian culture, as well as imparted knowledge about their millennial culture to hundreds of Mauritian students in various state secondary schools across the island. Inspired by him, many of trainees and students went to India for their further studies in all fields imaginable, and it would be no exaggeration to say that they all remember him with gratitude and affection.
Prof Ram Prakash came to Mauritius with his family on 16 June 1949 at the age of thirty-one. He was sent here by the Government of India at the request of the United Kingdom Government to organize the teaching of Indian Languages, Indian Culture and Indology. He was attached to the Department of Education and based at the Teachers’ Training College but he was a regular visiting lecturer at the Royal College Curepipe, the Royal College Port- Louis and John Kennedy College.
He was continuously solicited for presiding over functions arranged all over Mauritius by the different socio-cultural organizations, including youth associations and educational “pathshalas”, or for being their keynote speaker during weekend and other festive occasions. He was also a regular speaker at the Bhagavad-Gita Study Circle, the Société des Arts et des Lettres, the British Council, Union Catholique, Iqbal Circle, the Triveni, etc., and on the radio. He contributed, whenever requested, to the daily Advance, and to the literary journals and magazines of that time: the Indian Cultural Review (edited by Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and ors), Aryoday, Navjeevan and Prakash to name just a few.
Instrumental in the organisation of the Tagore Centenary Celebrations over a period of one whole year in 1961, he, in his capacity as Secretary of the organising committee of those celebrations, used the Nobel Laureate’s prolific creation of plays, dance-drama, painting, songs, short stories, poems and novels to foster an awareness for India’s literature, culture and philosophy and to encourage young people to participate actively in similar creative expressions. The resounding success of those activities inspired the Indo-Mauritian Catholic Association and others to organize Orient/Occident Meets towards mutual understanding.
The successful organization of the Second World Hindi Convention in August 1976 in Mauritius was another landmark activity for which he was responsible. This and its sequel in 1983 in India, contributed to Mauritius creating its niche within the Indian diaspora countries.
Prof Ram Prakash was a charismatic intellectual and a mellifluous and powerful speaker. He was extremely learned and knowledgeable about literature in several languages. He was fluent in Sanskrit, English, French, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi. He had a good grasp of Pali, Tamil, Telugu, German and Oriya and was familiar with Japanese, Swahili and Latin.
Before coming to Mauritius, he had been Professor and Head of the Department of Sanskrit and Hindi at the S D College in Lahore (before the Partition of India) and S D College Ambala (after Partition). He had been an outstandingly brilliant scholar winning several of the University of Punjab’s gold medals and had a double first both for his BA Hons and his MA in Sanskrit. He also had MAs in English, in Hindi and a BA in French. His thesis had been on the prenatal ceremonies in the Vedic Grihasutras and he had worked as Research Fellow with the celebrated Prof. Raghuvira, founder of the International Academy of Indian Culture (now SaraswatiVihar) in studying the extent of the archaeological, historical and linguistic evidence for the extent of India’s influence in the region of Asia between Turkey and Japan right up to Bali. Among his own most illustrious students in India were Shri Balram Jhakar, Former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and former Governor of Madhya Pradesh who stayed a close friend throughout his life up to the very last.
Prof Ram Prakash had a profound influence on the leading Mauritian personalities of the 1950s and the 1960s. His personal correspondence with Malcolm de Chazal, Andre Masson, Jean Erenne, Swami Dhruvanand, France Boyer de la Giroday is now found at the Mauritius National Library along with letters from his students, including those from Kher Jagatsingh and Abhimanyu Unuth. Photographs, books, letters linked to his lasting friendship with Robert Edward Hart were also given to the library at his request.
Prof Ram Prakash’s mission was to organize and formalize the learning and teaching of Indian Languages in the Colony. As from 1949, he familiarized himself thoroughly with the condition of the people, the families, the schools and the prevailing teaching environment in order to achieve this purpose. His vision imprinted his mission and despite the numerous hurdles that he met, he had the strength of purpose and the patience to keep on working untiringly. He obtained the constant support of Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, then Liaison Officer for Education, in tackling the challenges that had to be overcome.
After his initial proposals were submitted, the first intake of trainee teachers for Hindi took place in 1950. From then on Prof Ram Prakash became responsible for the teaching of language, educational methods, child psychology and pedagogy to the future teachers of Hindi.
He initiated the development of curriculum materials suited to the Mauritian child learning Hindi and as time went on, devised textbooks for the six primary grades to meet their needs. He believed that no child ever failed. On the contrary, it was the teacher who failed the child. Over the years, trainees for teaching Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi were recruited as the demand snowballed and Prof Ram Prakash was able to steer through the inclusion of Hindi in the Secondary schools.
Prof Ram Prakash left Mauritius on his retirement in1978 with his wife Roop Sudha who had been his constant companion during his sojourn in Mauritius. He came back to Mauritius briefly a few times in connections with various functions: in 1995, when invited to be the Chief Guest for their Diamond Jubilee Celebration by the Hindi Pracharini Sabha, in 1998 when his name was given to the Plaine des Papayes Government School and finally in 2001 at the request of the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation to be their Chief Guest for the 500th anniversary celebrations of Shri Goswami Tulsidas.
Prof Ram Prakash was awarded the Feroze Gandhi award for services to Indian Culture in 2002 and in 2008, Jabalpur University awarded him an honorary doctorate for his work in promoting Indian Culture.
Prof Ram Prakash and his wife had settled at Aravali in New Delhi on their return. He is survived by his eldest daughter Sarita J Das, a former Director of the State Trading Corporation of India, later to become Secretary of the National Capital Region Planning Board, now retired from that position, and Meenakshi Seetulsingh, the recently retired Director of the Mauritius College of the Air.