March 5, 2009

Bharat Ratna (Gem of India)

It was in 1954 that civilian honours were first instituted in India. Since then only 41 eminent Indians have been bestowed India’s top hounour “The Bharat Ratna” (lit. The Gem of India). These awards have been in the following categories:

1 Academecian
1 Economist
1 Film maker
1 Industrialist
3 Scientists
4 Social Workers
5 Musicians
25 Persons in Public Life

It is indeed amazing that a country of such immensly talented people, many of whom have contributed so significantly to improving the quality of life of the populace has found only 41 people, of which a majority were politicians, worthy of it’s top civilian honour in almost 55 years. It works out to less than one per year and one per 60 million Indian people who have claimed Indian citizenship since independence.

Of these 41, 21 were awarded in the first 34 years of the institution of awards while 20 got the honour in the last 20 years. Of 25 from Public Life, a euphemism for politicians, 14 won the honour in their lifetime and 11 received it posthumously. Surprisingly in the last 20 years only 2 people managed the honour while alive and 9 were awarded posthumously. Obviously hectic political lobbying has been responsible for the posthumous awards. Imagine a person of the eminence of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad getting the award 34 years after he died, Sardar Patel being recognised 41 years after passing away and the famous Assamese leader lokpriya Gopi Nath Bordoloi being conferred the award nearly five decades after his death.

The amazement is further compounded when one considers the situation amongst non-politicians. Of the total of 16 awards in this group, 14 were given in the awardees lifetime and only two were posthumous awards viz; Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Satyajit Ray. Obviously the non-politician class who have very little lobbying skills while alive have no one to canvass support for them when they are no more. In nearly six decades since independence only one Industrialist, J R D Tata has been conferred the award. This in a country where large industry was seen as ‘Temples of modern India’.

It is indeed a pity that we can not find enough talented people to confer the nation’s awards outside of the political class. Are we as a nation bereft of talent ? I believe nothing could be further from the truth. What we lack is the ability to applaud, cherish and honour those who contribute to enhancing human life in any manner be it through their espousal of Social causes, by making good Films, pleasing our senses with their Art & Craft, Music, contributing to advancement of Science and Technology, creating Industry that makes affordable products and provides large scale employment or any other field of human endeavour.

This trait is visble in every walk of life. We are so poor at applauding our winners that even when someone wins a lifetime achievement award the applause dies down in a little while. In the western world that most of us tend to cite as a point of reference, the applause would last a great deal longer and get manifest in myriad other ways in day-to-day living. The awardees would be recognized on sight and accorded simple courtesies by the ordinary people while they go about their life and work. I donot know why in public places we shy away from acknowledging great personalities and reaching out to shake their hand and greet them to let them know that we care.

Many extremely popular and eminent personalities do not figure amongst the list of winners, notable amongst them Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Lokmanya Tilak and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. In the area of non-politicians the ommissions include people like the eminent environmentalist Sunder Lal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar, the world reknowned doctors like Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, Naresh Trehan, P K Sethi, Devi Shetty, R K Jain, S Ranawat and K K Venugopal, Scientists like J C Bose, spiritual gurus like Sadhu Vaswani and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Industrilaists like Ratan Tata, Narayan Moorthy, Ghanshyam Das Birla, Aditya Vikram Birla, Rahul Bajaj, Dhirubhai Ambani and Baba Kalyani, Media barons like Pranoy Roy and Khushwant Singh, Film personalities like Ashok Kumar, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Gulzar.

Sampooran Singh Kalra or Gulzar as he is better known is a multi talented personality. From humble beginnings he has scaled dizzying heights that others can barely dream of. In a career spanning over four decades as writer, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, short story writer, lyricist, director of both film and television he has provided soulful lyrics to 96 feature films including evergreen hits like Mora gora ang laile, Do deewane shahr mein, Yaara silli silli, Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi and Aanewala pal jaanewala hai, directed 21 skillfully crafted masterpiece films like Machis, Mere Apne, Mausam, Meera, Aandhi, Khushboo, Koshish, Parichay and Lekin, produced such wonderful TV series like Jungle Book and Potli baba ki, partnered with stalwarts to produce music albums like Marasim with Jagjit Singh, Main aur mera saaya with Bhupen Hazarika, Vaada with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Visaal with Ghulam Ali and Dil padosi hai with R D Burman and Asha Bhosle. This wordsmith beyond compare is going strong at 72 and I am sure has many more aces up his sleeve.

Gulzar has already bagged all the honours that this nation had to offer any creative genius in films : 20 Fimfare Awards including Best Lyricist(11), Best director(1), Best dialogue(4) Best story(1),Best documentary(1), Critics award for best film(1) and a Lifetime achievement award in 2002, 5 National Awards for Best Lyrics(2), Best screenplay(1), Best Direction(1) and Best popular film providing wholesome entertainment(1), The Sahitya Academy Award and The Padma Bhushan besides hundreds of honours bestowed by a nation of grateful moviegoers. The one honour that had continuosly been denied to the Mumbai film world, The Oscar by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was brought home by Gulzar in collaboration with A R Rehman for the song “Jai Ho” which has become a kind of anthem for the achievers from humble origins.

Why the government does not consider Gulzar for the award of Bharat Ratna baffles all his admirers.

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