Event Report - Lifelong Learning : International conclave
It was a function where people came only by invitation. They were handpicked to represent a wide spectrum of background, of opinion leaders like Shri TN Chaturvedi, ex-Governor Karnataka. People from the financial and audit world like Shailesh Haribhakti; from Malaysia Rita Goh, from UAE Abdulhamied Alromaithy, from Australia Ravneet Pahwa; management experts such Anil Kaushik; Jayshree Phadnavis; SC Sharma; Mahendra Swarup; Ajit Prasad; Corporate represented by Executive Director, GAIL; Executive Director Indian Oil; Academics such Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia; Ex Vice Chancellor, SMVDU; Secretary to Government of India Raghav Chandra; IT experts such as Kiran Karnik were all there, interacting, ideating, reinforcing thoughts and pushing boundaries.
At the inaugural session, Dr. Vinayshil Gautam, as Chairman of the DK International Foundation, introduced the challenges and opportunities of 'Lifelong Learning' and welcomed the esteemed Guests of Honour and the audience in his inimitable style. "Welcome words are oft-used and stale and I shall refrain from using them. I only wish to state how happy we are that these dignitaries on the dais, and in the audience, have chosen to be with us today," he said.
The dignitaries on the dais he was referring to were H.E. The Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr. NN Vohra, a veteran among civil servants of India today; Mr S. Narayan, the former economic advisor to the Prime Minister and currently Visiting Fellow at Singapore National University; and H.E. Dr. Sanjay K. Dewan, Hony. Consul General of Cabo Verde.
The MMCF has supported the international conclave being organised under the auspices of DK International Foundation, and Dr. Gautam graciously acknowledged its support.
"Though Acharya Devendra Nath Sharma remains one the foremost litterateurs and intellectuals of the 20th century, and he is fondly remembered by generations of his students and colleagues, his entire life exemplified lifelong learning," said Dr. Gautam, referring to the autobiographical work of Harivansh Rai Bachchan - Pravaski Diary - wherein the iconic Hindi poet recounted days spent in the company of Devendra Nath Sharma in England of the early 1950s. "Being far away from home, and missing the company of their loving wives, the two litterateurs learnt how to cook in that alien land. Obviously, their quest for learning did not have boundaries," commented Dr. Gautam.
Sharing what he felt were the 'contents' of lifelong learning, Dr. Gautam said "It is a vital process of learning which enables individuals to contend with the vicissitudes of life, with the disappointments and setbacks that come at every stage of one's life. How does one overcome these hurdles in the journey of life and keep on reinventing oneself? Lifelong learners have the answers. Secondly, it is about coping with information and learning through knowledge. Our education system gives us the access to knowledge. It is through lifelong learning that such knowledge and wisdom can be internalised. Third is the challenge of bringing these learning strategies for people at work. It is the arousal of consciousness at the work-place that learning goes far beyond formal education."
Dr. Gautam recalled Acharya ji's emphasis on learning and language. "He firmly believed that learning was most effective when communicated through the mother-tongue. It was the simplicity of communication which laid the foundation for lifelong learning. Acharya Ji was aware of the limits of learning too. In the winter of his life, he wrote a story, a personal essay titled 'Khilona' (Toy) in which he likened a learner to a child who constantly needs a toy to play with; a learner in very similar ways needs a book or new ideas."
An unending journey : Dr. S Narayan, the next speaker, was introduced by Dr. Gautam as a perfect example of a lifelong learner. A civil servant who has studied at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Faculty at Singapore National University, Dr. Narayan is remembered for his tenure as the Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003-04.
Dr. Narayan began with the famous words of Lord Tennyson, "Yet all experience is an arch where through/Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades/Forever and forever whenImove. How dull it is to pause, to make an end,/To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!/As though to breathe were life!" Learning at a conceptual level, Dr. Narayan felt, was an unending journey and Tennyson's poetic lines had captured it perfectly for all times.
"The challenge lies in the communication of knowledge; it is language which puts limitations on what can be communicated," he said, referring to the pioneering works of Ludwig Wittgenstein who had stated "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". For teachers and learners, these limitations pose a huge challenge to the proposition of what is reality and how do we picture it.
“Through our scriptures, we learn that true reality cannot be communicated; you have to learn it yourself through tapas or penance," he said, narrating the anecdote from the Taittiriya Upanishad's Bhrigu-Valli when Bhrigu, the son of Varuna, approached his father, time and again, wanting to be taught what is Brahman or the ultimate reality. The lesson from Bhrigu's story is that real learning comes from inner understanding; it is not through communication or the world around us. "Therefore," Dr. Narayan said, "we have to internalize this process of learning."
He had words of caution when referring to the fast-paced changes in our globalising world. "Our changing world is posing several challenges as we are not being governed by knowledge. Technology, issues of development are overtaking this quest for knowledge," he said, adding "No one is questioning the economics of development. Development is not being defined; no one is asking for whom is this development?"
Dr. Narayan left the audience with another Sanskrit Shloka in which a Guru states: In you there is adharma, in you there is jigyasa. "The constant quest for learning and knowledge is the path of dharma or righteousness," he said.
A doyen among civil servants : Inviting H.E The Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr. NN Vohra, to deliver the keynote address, Dr. Vinayshil Gautam described him as a doyen among civil servants who had witnessed far-reaching changes in modern India. "Many of us who have gathered here have been grateful recipients of the sage counsel that can come only from the experience of a rare personality like Vohra Saheb," he said, adding that, over the years on innumerable occasions, he had benefitted immensely from the wisdom of Mr. Vohra.
Mr. NN Vohra, the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir since 2008, has had an illustrious career as a civil servant, becoming Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Mr. IK Gujral in 1997-98. In his keynote address, he paid his tribute to Acharya Devendra Nath Sharma whom he had never met but whose admirers he had interacted with across India and overseas. "Acharya Ji's work as an eminent litterateur, poet, linguist, educationist, playwright and translator has stood the test of time. He is a towering figure whose influence can be felt beyond India."
On the subject of formal education and learning, Mr. Vohra voiced his concerns. He said, "Our education system, especially for higher education, is deficient. Its performance is not satisfactory. Formal education is not total learning. There is need at every stage to update knowledge through lifelong learning. This is the challenge for the youth in our world."
"Students are acquiring information and knowledge, they are being examined for what they have learnt. But we need to ask: what have they gained as human beings?" he said, posing this question to an audience where Vice-Chancellors, directors of educational institutes and professors were present in large numbers.
"There is enormous pressure on all age-groups to catch up with modern technology, especially the information technology. We are witnessing an age when public servants can be seen going through their office files, interacting with subordinates and issuing orders through their mobile phones! Such technological change poses several challenges. I must confess, sometimes I do find it daunting and even frightening," he said, referring to the widespread development of Artificial Intelligence and its potential to impact human beings now and in the future.
"It is a philosophical challenge, at one level, but my first experience with robotics and Artificial Intelligence has left me rather impressed," he said sharing the interaction he had with young doctors performing robotic surgeries procedures at a modern hospital in Jammu. "The young highly-educated doctors are confident of handling complex technologies. For people of my generation, we have a lot to learn from them if we want to lead useful lives and make productive contributions to society," he said.
Dr. Vinayshil Gautam thanked Mr. Vohra for sharing his time and wisdom, both of which are as precious as those from a "rishi or a seer who can see into the future."
Lauding the international conclave as a rare event for Delhi, H.E Dr. SK Dewan, Hony. Consul General of Cabo Verde, termed it as "a serious exploratory exercise, an opportunity to be inspired by the dedication and learnings from personalities like Mr. Vohra and Dr. Narayan". He likened Dr. Gautam to a human dynamo with a huge reservoir of energy making possible the successful line-up of events marking the centenary celebrations of Acharya Devendra Nath Sharma through 2017 and 2018.