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Tuesday, Mar 26, 2002

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Honour for two Indologists

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI MARCH 25. Among the awardees at the Civil Investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan last Saturday were two foreigners who had made India their area of study long before the world had developed an interest in the country.

When the President, K.R. Narayanan, awarded the Padma Bhushan to the Russian Indologist, Yevgeni Petrovich Chelyshev, he, in effect, put yet another Indian feather in the academic's cap. For, Dr. Chelyshev's research in Indian literature had been recognised with the Jawaharlal Nehru Prize in 1967 and the Swami Vivekananda Prize in 1989.

Dr. Chelyshev's tryst with India began with his post-graduation in Oriental Studies which he followed up with a Ph.D. on "Hindi lexicology". For over a decade, he was the head of the Indian Philology Department and the Oriental Literature Department at the USSR Academy of Science. Simultaneously, he was also the head of the Indian Languages Department at the International Relations Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, USSR, where he taught Hindi and delivered lectures on Indian literature. The first Russian Indologist to participate in the International Sanskrit Conference in Delhi in 1972, Dr. Chelyshev has two fundamental research works on the history of Indian literature to his name.

Unlike Dr. Chelyshev, Phillips Talbot was steered towards India when he was assigned the task of studying Indian life in depth as a young journalist in 1938. Since no American university offered studies on modern India then, Mr. Talbot had to join the year-long Indian Civil Service probationers' course in England.

Subsequently, Mr. Talbot — who was awarded the Padma Shri on Saturday — lived in India for two years; studying at various universities and living in several ashrams including Gandhi's Sevagram. In the 1950s, he helped create and directed the American Universities Field Staff — an inter-university programme designed to increase U.S. academic resources on non-Western societies — and became its scholar on South Asia. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and South Asia from 1961 to 1965.

For a decade, beginning 1970, he was president of the Asia Society. During his stint with the society — a decade in which Indo-American relations were particularly cold — and afterwards, he pursued a broad variety of non-governmental activities related to Indo-American relations for which he was awarded by the Association of Indians in America, the Indo-American Society of Bombay and the Taraknath Das Foundation. With the Padma Shri, the Indian Government crowned him for his efforts to bring about a thaw in Indo-American relations.

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