Dear Senior and Junior Members and Alumni of the College worldwide,
Deepak Mukarji, grandson of the legendary Principal of the College,
S. N. Mukarji, addressed the morning assembly on 1 September, 2011.
His words evoked delirious enthusiasm from the audience. Deepak
embodies that quintessential Stephanian flair for communication
which most of you share with him and the likes of Mani Shankar Iyer,
Salman Khurshid, Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibal and so on. Deepak has
very kindly sent me, subsequently, the text of his speech. I am
posting it on the website for the benefit of the members of the
dispersed family of St. Stephen’s.
As you know, the Thursday assemblies are earmarked for the alumni to
address the present first year students. I invite the alumni
interested in this to get in touch.
Ad Dei Gloriam!
College Assembly September 1, 2011
Good morning ladies and
I am deeply honoured by the College to be invited to address
Assembly. It has however left me with a slight problem. What can I
say new and fresh to a group that if its anything like I was,
probably thinks this is a waste of time ... get on with it ...life
is waiting for me outside.
True. Yet pause a moment. Before you roll your
eyes and groan that this is another one of those lectures about how
to live your life let me put this conversation in perspective.
You already heard that I am the grandson of S N
Mukarji the sixth principal. It is so easy for me to stand here and
regale you with stories about my grandfather and all the senior
members of College will believe I have done my duty. I must confess
I am tempted. I could of course stand here and tell you all about
the PJ weeks I was part of and I think I would have done my duty by
junior members of College by cheering up a dreary assembly session
with an old ... or should I say a rapidly aging young man. But I
wouldn’t be doing my duty by myself.
So let me start with a confession ... I was not
the best student College produced. I was arguably the luckiest
student in all its 125 years because I sincerely doubt anyone had
more fun than I did. Let me explain. I joined College with slightly
different ambitions than most of my class mates. I had cracked IIT
but with such a rotten rank that I got MSc Chem at Delhi instead of
my first love – Mechanical Engineering. My father gently suggested
that instead of being a bad chemist I might as well join St.
Stephen’s “where you are part of a club for the rest of your life”.
My advice to you is: listen to your parents. If I had followed my
dream I would have got into some other engineering college and
probably ended up in consulting on Wall Street or a bank instead of
being where I am. Trouble was I listened only to my father not also
to my mother who wanted me to be a doctor. I could have been a
cardiologist or some such dramatic professional. So don’t just
listen to your father ... listen to both your parents. It may be too
late by the time you realise they make more sense than you think.
Having joined College, I proceeded to try out
for DebSoc. All I wanted was to win the Mukarji Memorials. After all
I had led St. Columba’s debating team to victory over most other
schools. My Principal, the late Revd Rajpal got wind of my ambitions
and deflated my ambitions swiftly with a fairly pithy diktat that
went as follows: NO. I was young and brave and so asked why? He
replied, “If you win the Muk Mems no one will believe it was fair
... and if you lose it, the College won’t live down the ignominy”.
Rather crushed, I half heartedly tried out for ShakeSoc. And so
began a love affair with the stage that saw me do some 350 stage
performances 2 TV serials and one TV film. But it took me 18 years
to figure out I was never going to be ShahRukh Khan ... with whom I
have had the pleasure of acting on stage. And now find my picture in
his biography!!! Here’s what is important: don’t be fixated on a
track in your early years. Explore. Wander between various societies
at College. Give each society all you have to give with all your
heart. You never know what fun you will have and the lessons you
will learn. Theatre taught me the invaluable lesson that no matter
what you do, you will end up making an ass of yourself if you can’t
learn to enjoy what you are doing. An actor needs to be loose on
stage. To connect with his audience in order to serve their prime
motive which is to be entertained. And most of all it teaches you
that while the lights may be on you there is a team behind you that
makes you look good. It taught me to spare a thought for the silent
ones on my team. They are the real heroes.
All through this early journey I had nursed an
ambition to be a talk show host. Larry King? Karan Thapar? In my
time there was only Doordarshan and being a newsreader was the
closest one got to this ambition. It was the preserve of Stephania
and in due course I was invited for a test. It was a gruellingly hot
summer day when I was told I had a face perfect for radio. So
quietly I went to AIR where in due course I was told my voice was
perfect for the internet which hadn’t yet been invented. And thus I
stumbled via an incomplete law degree into public relations which
over a chequered career across companies like DuPont AT&T the UN
plus travel across the world saw me end up in Shell where I am
Country Head of Corporate Affairs. The year I joined College in 1980
John Lennon wrote shortly before he died that
Life is what happens
while you are busy making other plans.
Don’t forget to enjoy the moment while you furiously plan for the
future. Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do. Learn how to
disguise them as learnings and not as stumbling blocks.
Theatre did me only one disservice. It kept me
from doing what is most important. Getting married and starting a
family. There were too many pretty girls and another heart throb
was always just around the corner. I am glad my wife Anu decided our
future for us. But for her we would not have had little Aditya who I
can now enthral with my war stories. In reality I did only one play
with Shah Rukh Khan. Aditya thinks I did 20. I met Sylvester
Stallone once in Gstaad in Switzerland over a snowy weekend break
while I was doing my senior management course at IMD in Lausanne. My
son thinks I acted in Rambo. I am actually glad I had Aditya late in
life. I was beginning ... just starting ... to take myself too
seriously. Don’t let the child within you die. Ever. You must always
retain the youthfulness to genuinely believe that chocolate cake is
a complete food because it has flour, eggs, sugar, butter, milk and
of course chocolate in the right proportions. Don’t ever become so
old that you begin to believe that honesty and telling the truth is
fuddy duddy and old fashioned. Don’t age before your time and
believe that respecting institutions is a waste of time.
Institutions like democracy and law and order. I am glad Aditya
asked me what I do for a living. No one starts out wanting to be
executive vice president of change management or some such
vainglorious title. We want to be policemen and firemen and
engine-drivers and doctors and racing car drivers. Somewhere along
the line we lose the plot. Keep remembering that what you do must
help people if it has to have impact. Bankers manage money. Really
successful bankers help people get rich // Bureaucrats run
countries. Government servants help resolve people’s difficulties
// Good lawyers win cases. Legal luminaries help people get justice.
The top of the mountain is reserved for those who help others.
I said I wouldn’t tell you about PJ week in my
time. So I won’t. But I didn’t say I wouldn’t tell you about it at
all. So let me tell you about the time a wedding invitation was sent
out purportedly by Rev Rajpal to celebrate the wedding of Dr Miss
Sheila Uttam Singh, Principal of Indraprastha College and the
Principal of Madras Christian College who was also a bachelor. Over
100 guests couldn’t ignore the invite. And poor Rev Rajpal was woken
by a doorbell at 4PM and was pushed to serving tea in a big hurry to
people who all laughed at his discomfiture at PJ week being
announced. There are many others in the same or funnier vein. And
the moral I wish to leave you with is never lose your sense of
humour. It will be the only thing that will stand you in good stead
throughout life. Life is never a steady upward surge. I pray it is
for each one of you but reality dictates that each of you will have
some ups and some downs. It’s easy to be cheerful when the going is
good. It’s essential for your sanity to have a sense of humour when
the chips are down. All of you fought hard to come to this College.
You are starting out with an unfair advantage over many others.
But why is it so with St. Stephen’s College?
When you come down to it, it’s only a red brick and stone building.
Yes it has a history. A distinguished one at that. But only because
of the people that have passed through its portals ... men and women
who went out and took courageous decisions in the face of adversity.
An example I love sharing concerns my father’s older brother, my
Uncle Nirmal ... India’s last ICS officer. He never stood second in
any examination and was a pain to me in my growing up years held up
as he was to me a shining example of what I should be striving to
emulate. That apart, he stood up to an administration that wanted
him as Home Secretary to impose a state of emergency in 1977. He
could easily have gone along with the powers that were. He preferred
the option of being asked to demit office. He was resurrected as
Cabinet Secretary when the government changed but he didn’t know
that when he stood up to tyranny. I could bore you with such stories
all day about others merely to prove that the College does have a
very distinguished history.
What you want to think about more is the future
of College. The future ... lies in your hands!!! Enjoy the next
three years. Take everything you can out of College. This
distinguished old lady loves to give of herself. And when the time
is right come back and give her a hug. That’s all the College really
asks of you. Make a difference to the world you live in. Do it with
dignity and inclusively.
Go forth and conquer this wonderful world. God
Bless each one of you.