'I don't believe I fall into the category of eminent personalities': Amitabh Bachchan

'I don't believe I fall into the category of eminent personalities': Amitabh Bachchan
When the Honourable Shri Hardeep S. Puri wrote to me about his plans to publish an anthology to celebrate the centenary of Delhi University and invited me as a celebrated alumnus to write a few words on this magnificent occasion, I wrote back and told him that I was the wrong person to be asked to do this.

I did not believe that I fell into the category of 'eminent personalities' he had given reference to, as my years at the university (1958-61) were an academic embarrassment to me. If I were to write something, it would all be rather frivolous and not in keeping with the grace and intent of the anthology, I told him. But he persisted, and I relented.

The DU (North Campus) where I sought admission and studied was, perhaps, patterned along the lines of the Cambridge and Oxford universities in the United Kingdom (UK), where several colleges stood side by side at one prominent location, many sharing common boundaries - not just of the physical built environment but also of a deeper educative ethos of imparting the requisite attitudes, values and knowledge to build generations of leaders.

This is shared situatedness imbued immense camaraderie among the students. We would stroll into each other's colleges, mix with fellow students, relax at each other's canteens, travel in the same university bus to our home locations, become bitter rivals at intercollegiate competitions, and immediately forget all that animosity to join our voices in cheering for the university when it played against another.

This was 1958, and I was at Kirori Mal College pursuing the BSc General course, from which I just about graduated in my final year. Academically, it was the wrong decision to take up Science, but the years spent there were an education in many other spheres, which has proved to be invaluable in my life. Looking back at the influence of my education on my career, I realize that it is the amalgamation of diverse disciplines that inspires every form of creative activity. For instance, where would writers be without a printing press, stage thespians without a proscenium and lights, painters without pigments and canvas, and, in my case, film actors without a camera? Education engenders myriad symbiotic opportunities in the spheres of technology and humanities.


Chances are very high that I would not have been in cinema or in any other creative aspect of life without a grounding in education-education which is in consonance with the belief that 'what sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the human soul'. Before leaving the hallowed grounds of university, we sculpt our identity; we strengthen and fortify our convictions in a manner that we do not fall into a trap-the trap of being swayed by the prejudices of caste and creed, and race and religion.

During my days at the university, classes were held at the main university building, while the subsidiaries and practicals were conducted at the various individual colleges. It goes without saying that there is a palpable nostalgia as I think back on the hours spent at the Coffee House, or at the bus stop outside Miranda House (yes, always outside Miranda House), or on the sports field that would host intercollegiate and inter-university cricket matches, and, of course, in the classroom where regular attendance paid its dividends when it came to term-end examinations.

If I may be permitted to stroll down memory lane a little more, it was at DU that I received my first serious encouragement as an actor. The tall and imposing Mr Frank Thakurdas of the dramatics club paid me my first compliment when I performed in a stage production of Maxwell Anderson's "Winterset". He recommended me to the USIS drama company to play the part of Abraham Lincoln, and chose me for the part of Zeus in Benn Levy's "The Rape of the Belt", staged at Miranda House.

Mr Thakurdas remains a part of me. So does Dr Swaroop Singh, a messianic educationist who was the principal of Kirori Mal when I was studying there and later became the university's vice chancellor. Without saying it in so many words, he made us realize that we needn't aspire towards a graduation degree merely because of peer or parental pressure. He reminded us that we should aspire to become graduates because we feel the desire to be complete with the advantage of formal education.

For argument's sake, some may opine today that education isn't mandatory any more, with the proliferation of what some may call 'unconventional' jobs and vocations. Some may wonder about the relevance of a degree if one cannot apply it later in one's profession. To my mind, these arguments are superfluous. To be sure, it is a bonus if we can use our education directly in our everyday work-in fact, that would be ideal. However, even if that weren't to be the case, the years spent on campus serve a much more vital purpose-they broaden our knowledge about the world around us, besides aiding personality development.

Clearly, initiative in reading at the library, participating in cultural events, and asking more of ourselves and of our educationists, add up to making us aware and concerned citizens. As the proverb goes: Whatever is good to know is difficult to learn.

Moreover, no one can argue against the fact that campus life is the formative stage in every individual's life; that is when we 'remove the shackles', as it were. Suddenly, from a regimented life, we are free to make our decisions and heuristically zero in on the subject we want to study or the vocation we want to take up. It is a key period in any young person's life - one of choice. My father taught English and poetry, and he expected me to opt for Arts in college. When I didn't, he was accommodative and understanding.

Certainly, the youth of today - in fact, of any day and age - does not want to be preached at. As time goes by, they become more clued-up and more aware of their needs and aspirations. They can see which route to take on the highway of the future. But, believe me, that is not enough. They must also know their speed limits, when to turn and when to apply the brakes. The University of Delhi was absolutely essential in that regard.

Time sped its way along, and then one fine day, almost 50 years after I joined Kirori Mal, I was informed that Delhi University was decorating me with an honorary doctorate. The first sentiment was to express my limitless gratitude. Who would have thought that an ordinary student graduate would someday be accorded such an overwhelming homecoming?

My immediate response after that was to ask myself if I deserved an honour of such magnitude. Was I worthy to be honoured by my university, my very own family, which gave me some of the most wonderful years of my life? This was the same institution that inculcated in me the values and principles of life that I cherish deeply and will abide by to my dying day. Among all the accolades that I have been extremely fortunate to have received, it is, perhaps ironically, being bestowed with this honorary doctorate that I regard as one of the highest honours.

A lifelong debt is owed to the University of Delhi. I feel it is only fair that I reciprocate the tremendous faith and honour the university has shown me. This anthology, edited by Shri Hardeep S. Puri ji and including some fascinating entries by other more deserving alumni of the DU family, allows me to pay my respects. Indeed, it was a privilege to be at the nation's premier seat of learning-one which has always championed the cause of education since its inception a hundred years ago.

My best wishes to the University of Delhi.
In gratitude, Amitabh Bachchan

(This is the Foreword by Amitabh Bachchan to the book titled "Delhi University - Celebrating 100 Glorious Years" edited by Hardeep S. Puri. Reproduced with permission from the publisher, Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd)
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