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Into the sunset

Prof. K.S.S. Seshan, Head, Department of History, who lays down office today, wore his knowledge like a pocket watch, only to be taken out when someone wanted to know the time. Despite the command over his subject he never made a show of his learning, writes A. JOSEPH ANTONY.



HIS STORY: Prof. Seshan at Golden Threshold, University of Hyderabad.

THE 1789 revolution took place in faraway France, more than two centuries ago. Its reconstruction nearer home had the class spellbound. Holding court at the University of Hyderabad's history department was Professor K.S.S. Seshan.

Tyrannical taxation had broken the back of the commoner. The royalty's indifference to the peasantry's penury, the denial of justice and human rights, had snowballed into widespread resentment.

Then came the quote made famous by the French Revolution: Oppression begets revolt. The description that followed was graphic. The storming of the Bastille, the apathy of Queen Marie Antoinette, the execution of Louis XVI, the flight of the royalty, had listeners in a trance, more than even a movie in cinemascope could.

None could have gripped the attention of a bustling bunch of varsity students better. After all, it was an audience quick to reject mediocrity. This was Prof. Seshan's day and he held absolute sway, the monarch of all he surveyed.

When the lecture was over, no doubts were raised. The thirst for knowledge had been slaked. Only that the air was rent with a wistfulness that all good things must come to an end.

Those fortunate to be present were, perhaps, as awestruck as the gazing rustics in Oliver Goldsmith's poem, The Village Schoolmaster: And their wonder grew, how one head could contain all he knew. Those who had their fill at that fount of wisdom shared their privilege with pride, while those who missed could only seek refuge in regret.

As the man leaves a mark many can only aspire for, it would well be worth the while to take a look at the traits that set him apart. Prof. Seshan strongly subscribes to Lord Chesterfield's credo that knowledge should be worn like a pocket watch, only to be taken out when someone wants to know the time. Despite the command over his subject, which ranges from facts to apocrypha, he never makes a show of his learning.

Never has he been known to chide anyone. Even the worst offender would be disarmed by his ever-placid countenance. No censure was known to escape his lips nor did his temper ever fail him. The quality that however made this pedagogue most popular with his pupils was his easy accessibility, rooted in reality rather than the ivory towers, inhabited by others.

Unadulterated by the airs academics are prone to, he was always available to his students.

As the proverbial prophet not honoured in his own land, Prof. Seshan did not pound the table to make a point.

Sadly, it took Prof. Frykenberg, the University of Wisconsin stalwart, separated by the seven seas, to see the scholarship of this quiet historian.

But these are signs of the times, when powers-that-be care little for the past, packing their pockets for the present and covetously eyeing what can be theirs in future.

Governments find little use for `his story,' as several seats of learning slam their doors on its teaching.

What's even more painful is parental pressure on children and their sustained cultivation of an obsession for professional courses.

Lack of pride in the past could well translate to those very wards scorning their forefathers, if not their parents.

It would be wise to remember the Red Indian adage: Forget your forebears and be sure posterity will ignore you.

What is heritage without history? Of what use half-baked guides, unravelling a glorious past to awed foreign tourists?

As much as those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, its neglect may make man more myopic to his mistakes, if not his true self.

For pride in the past can regenerate the present, as much as hope can fuel a future.

As he lays down office as Head, Department of History today (June 30), students will continue to look up to him with a regard a miniscule minority of teachers will enjoy.

The simplicity of the man and his unassuming self, traceable perhaps to his Rayalseema roots, will endear him always to his flock of admirers.

The University of Hyderabad will certainly be a lesser place when he leaves its portals to set off into the sunset.

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