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From The Hindu at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/i-met-bertrand-russell-over-tea-corrected-him/article6973311.ece
March 9, 2015
Updated: March 9, 2015 05:38 IST
‘I met Bertrand Russell over tea, corrected him’
He is a man who occupied as many positions of honour as the epochs of change he witnessed in his lifetime.
He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and philosopher Bertrand Russell. At 72, Siripurapu Kesava Rao, who retired from his post as Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), is disarmingly unpretentious in a chat with SWATHI V .
Your academic and career-graph is quite impressive. When and where was the foundation laid?
I owe it to my teachers. I studied up to elementary school in my village, Gogulampadu of Krishna district. For admission to higher classes, a teacher named Raja Rao coached us. He was an amazing teacher. For high school, we would walk two to three kilometres every day, and there too the teachers were excellent. During exams, we would go and study at our teachers’ homes.
Now, the education is horrible. Government schools are ghettoised, and those with a little money to spare are sending kids to private schools, which are no better. Being able to speak a few words in English is being seen as sign of education. External façade of school buses collecting children in uniforms from villages and heading for towns has somehow become the symbol of schooling.
How did Cambridge University happen?
After an MA in Economics from Andhra University, I went to Delhi School of Economics for research, but was denied admission because I was under-aged. Meanwhile, I taught at Hindu College, Delhi, from where I went to Cambridge University’s Trinity College. Incidentally, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was the chairman of the research committee, and wrote a recommendation letter for me. We even communicated when I taught at Cambridge. After a few years, I moved to Jawaharlal Nehru University with the first batch of professors.
Tell us about your time at the Commonwealth Secretariat
I entered it as an Economist and grew to the position of Director, Strategic Planning and Evaluation. I was active during the liberation of South Africa from Apartheid. Those days, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was adamantly against sanctions being imposed on South Africa, due to political expediencies. I remember that our then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi played a significant role in bringing her around. My job was to lead on and facilitate the discussions about the kind of sanctions to be imposed.
And about your meeting with Bertrand Russell..?
Russell greatly influenced me through his philosophical works. During Cambridge, I wrote to him asking to meet him. To my surprise, his secretary called my dormitory and fixed up appointment. Along with two more friends, I met him over tea. The meeting was memorable. Mr. Russell was very concerned about atomic weapons. Already very old, he struggled for the world ‘mutual annihilation’. With a mischievous smile, the mathematician quipped that India’s contribution to mathematics was ‘zero’, and I corrected that it was ‘the zero’. He was an enlightening person. They were sane, secular and intelligent people those days.
Plans after ASCII?
I wish to go back to my village and spend some time there. I will cherish my association with ASCII which I was chosen to head after a search committee proposed my name 11 years ago.
With a mischievous smile, the mathematician quipped that India’s contribution to mathematics was ‘zero’, and I corrected that it was ‘the zero’
Siripurapu Kesava Rao
Former D-G, Administrative Staff College of India
Record last modified 2015/03/10
Created/last modified by blackwk