An `invisible hand’ guided my destiny, says Lord Bhikhu Parekh
29 August 2020, Kolkata: Leading political theorist, academic and life peer, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, shared his life experiences and views from London at a lively online session of Ek Mulakat organized by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Lord Parekh responded to questions pertaining to women empowerment, Sanskrit, the English education system in India, immigration, parental love, and so on in conversation with Lady Mohini Kent Noon at the session attended by a global audience.
Lord Bhikhu Chotalal Parekh had an illustrious career as an academician and thinker. He got his PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE) and pioneered the concept of multiculturalism and harmony in Britain. He is the recipient of Padma Bhushan and also won the Global Thinker Award – Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize among many others.
Born in Amalsad, Gujarat, in 1935, Bhikhu was expected to join his family profession as a goldsmith. “My school head master influenced me to join college. At St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, I met a fascinating professor who encouraged me to do my Master’s and I joined the University of Bombay. There I met Prof Usha Mehta who guided me to go to the UK and I ended up at the London School of Economics. Again, an invisible hand in the shape of Prof Michael Oakeshott, one of the greatest philosophers of 20thCentury, who, for some reason, took an interest in me, helped me and the rest is history,” Lord Bhikhu Parekh said.
“There are four important turning points in my life and at each of these some individuals came along and helped me. True to my past, I have dedicated my life to help young people navigate their lives in a way I have navigated mine,” he said.
“Prabha Khaitan Foundation’s initiatives have brought together great minds and talents. Lord Bhikhu Parekh is an erudite personality, whose life and works inspire all our viewers. We have many more such enlightening sessions lined up for the future,” Manisha Jain, Branding & Communication Chief, Prabha Khaitan Foundation.
Referring to the topic of gender equality in India, Lord Parekh said, “We must remember that the woman as a mother has rights which woman as a daughter and wife don’t have. Mahatma Gandhi was first to bring the largest number of women in public life by appealing to their motherly nursing instinct. Equality of women, in all spheres of life, is slowly happening in India.”
As a youth he had an inner impulse to make some sense of the world around him and refused to be a conformist, challenging some of the traditions and customs. Recounting his childhood memories, Lord Parekh said, “Once a so-called `untouchable’ woman touched me and my mother screamed at me to go an have a shower. I could not understand – Why should my mother’s touch be OK and this woman’s touch required a shower? I could gather courage to stand up against such questions because I could count on my parents’ love. Love gave me the courage to stand up.”
Lord Parekh shared another childhood anecdote that had a deep impact on him. “Once a woman came to my father and handed over her bangle and asked for Rs 400. My father said it was worth Rs 200. The woman insisted she be given at least Rs 300. My father threw the bangle at her and went inside for his afternoon siesta. The woman said to me, I have a son like you who is ill and I cannot pay the doctor’s fee without the money. I went and woke up my father. As she got the money she held my hand and said `May God bless and you have a good future’. Since then, my life’s work has been on equality. The ideas of equality and inequality were planted in me.”
Referring to the overwhelming influence of English among the Indian elites, Lord Parekh said, “The relation between India and Bharat is a very complex one. Even today, when you talk about Bharat, you are talking about a 3000-year-old land. Our consciousness is out of pace with the language. My feeling is that I would have loved India to go for a single language like the Israelis did with Hebrew.”