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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!

 

Principal

 

College Assembly September 1, 2011

Deepak Mukarji

 Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

 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.

 

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