(From our archives)
PROLOGUE: On Sunday October 12, 2014 Julius B. Nathoo and his wife, Celina attended the Graduating Ceremonies of Saraswattie Vidya Niketan, a private secondary school on the West Coast of Demerara. This was pursuant to an invitation extended to Mr. Nathoo to receive a plaque in commemoration of his outstanding contribution to education in Guyana. Among the many dignitaries present for the occasion were former High Court Judge, Nandram Kissoon, the Registrar of the Deeds Registry, Azeena Baksh, Attorney-at-Law, Eva Rawana-Scott, and her husband, Dr. Graham Scott, Mary (Rawana) Nippak from Canada and her husband, Tom Nippak who flew from Toronto for the occasion, former students Dr Dhanpaul Narine from New York and Chandika Persaud, who now teaches at Saraswattie Vidya Niketan. The President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar, presented the plaque after which Mr. Nathoo was asked to address the gathering of nearly a thousand people. Here is his address:
SPEECH BY MR. JULIUS B. NATHOO
Let us bow our heads and ask a blessing of the great Lord of the Universe
A prayer: O God creator and Source of all life, ruler of the universe through whose goodness we have our being, to you we dedicate all that we do and say here today.
Aum bhur bhuwah swaha, Tat saviture varenyam /Bharago dewasya dimahi/Dhiyo yo na/ prachodayat. (Sanksrit)
SwamiJi, Your Excellency President Ramoutar, Honoured guests, Parents and students, and most important of all, distinguished graduands. Today is your day. Nothing should take away from that . And certainly not the speech of an old man, however outstanding some say he is. Therefore I apologise for usurping some of your time. I should only be allowed to speak if what I have to say is relevant to you and your journey. I hope when I am done that you may extract from it some relevance. .Oherwise my speech would have been utterly useless.
There is another apology I need to make. Before I do that I must tell you a funny little story. A few months ago I received a phone call from London, England. A lady by the name of Gangadai Tiwari was on the phone and she asked if I remembered her. Of course, I said how can I forget that sweet, good looking teenager in my Form 2 class She chuckled and said, “ Well, thank you sir but I am not young or good looking anymore. I am 65 years of age and a grandmother. But I do remember my handsome young principal. At which point I was convinced that she had the wrong number. But I did not hang up the phone. The truth is I was beginning to enjoy the conversation.
Had I the gift of song, I would have preferred to be singing to you today instead of talking. Singing often echoes the soul more eloquently than speaking and is more delightful to the senses. I would have enjoyed singing the melodies of Mohamed Rafi or Mukesh who delighted our generation or better yet, Pradeep singing Pinjre ke panchi re , the song of the caged bird that never fails to evoke the deepest emotions in me. Or on a more sublime note the divine strains of the Gayatri Mantra. Many of my students like Winston Narine and Ramdular Singh had the gift of song and entertained us at Saraswat with it. I can still hear their beautiful melodious voices. It seems it was only a little while ago. It is hard to believe that it it is really over fifty years. But though the Lord did not give me the gift of song, He Lord blessed me in a zillion other ways.
The high honour of this award
Take this award that is being presented to me today by Swami Aksharananda. I can think of several others more deserving of this award but he chose me and all of my students living here and abroad said, Sir you must go for the sake of our old high school. And here am I to receive this honour on their behalf. It is God’s blessed time and I am blessed to be chosen to be the recipient. What an honour. What a glorious, unmitigated honour. Right now I am feeling prouder than Malala. And you know what. I am not sharing my prize with anyone.
Only one thing I am sure of
So what message do I have for you? After a life time of searching for knowledge, you would think I know something. But here is the paradox: the more I learn the more the frontiers of knowledge recede. In my youth I used to be sure about everything. Today I am absolutely sure of only one thing. And that is this: without God’s Grace we can achieve nothing.And the corollary of that is also true: with God’s help we can achieve anything even the seemingly impossible.
We need God’s blessing from the moment of our conception and according to the wisdom of our fathers even before that. And that is why I carry the opening prayer of Tagore’s Gitanjali in my heart at all times:
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales and breathed into it melodies eternally new.
When thou commandest me to sing my heart loses its limits in joy
And gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Ages pass and still thou pourest
And still there is room to fill.”
In one stanza, Tagore captures the mystical magic of human existence.
Awareness of God’s blessings- a meditation
My dear graduates, today I share my secret with you. Here it is. if we could dwell in Gods presence twenty four hours a day, aware of all the blessings he bestows on us, I think we will find that happiness which eludes us here on earth. Meanwhile I spend my life in gratitude which I think is a step towards God realization. Therefore my speech to you today is really a song of praise and thanks for all His innumerable blessings to me. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this meditation with you.
Growing up in Port Mourant
The Lord blessed me when he enabled me to be born in a tiny sugar estate in Berbice known as Port Mourant. He blessed me when he gave me life, when he gave me loving parents who, though quite poor, knew of the transformative power of education. The Lord gave me great friends, when he enabled me to grow up with wonderful human beings. To the west of me lived the legendary educator, R.N. Persaud, at whose bottom house was educated such famous people as Joseph Butchey, Basil Beharry and Cheddi Jagan. A stones throw from me lived that raging genius of many test centuries. His name was Rohan Kanhai. The older ones among us remember him with pride.When he went crazy on the cricket pitch,said Sir Learie Constantine, he was more deadly than Sir Don Bradman. Even closer to me and right behind our house lived a young man a few years older than I was. He was unquestionably one of the greatest Guyanese who ever lived. His name was Cheddi Bharat Jagan. As my student Pandit Ramdular Singh wrote to me recently from New York, “sir, the effects of these geniuses rubbed off on you. I saw Kanhai in your spectaacular batting. I saw the glint of compassion inyour eyes for the poor reminiscent of the compassion of Cheddi Jagan.”
God bless Ramdular
The gratitude of a child is music to the ears of an old parent or old teacher.. Ramdular’s hyperbole , and a poetic exaggeration it is, is factually untrue and still so wonderfully beautiful, reflecting the soul of a grateful child, definitely one of natures greatest marvels. The fact is there is no way my batting came even close to that of Kanhai. I had the good fortune to play with him. I tell you his hand eye coordination was impeccable. He used to beat all of us with one hand behind his back. And as for Cheddi Jagan, the latchet of his shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He has no equal- The nobility of his purpose is written in the stars and as history will show, he was greatly wronged. Cheddie is Port Mourants greatest son. But Ramdular’s subjective truth is pleasing to the heart of his old teacher . He is probably right when he said that subliminally they must have inspired me. I knew that all of us including Rohan and Cheddi must have eaten from the same fruit trees , mostly when as little rascals we stole from our neighbours trees. As I said, the Lord has blessed me in a a zillion ways. Which included thousands of mangoes, guavas and genips.
Caring and compassionate teachers- Pollard
My dear graduates, never forget that it is a great blessing to have caring teachers. Honour them. When we are young, we do not really know what is good for us. It is most important that we are guided in the right direction by those who love us. The Lord blessed me when he exposed me to caring teachers who worked their hearts out to make me realize the importance of what I was learning and who urged me again and again to excellence. Certain names stand out in my memory, Basil Beharry, Henry Buchan and D.W. Hamilton Pollard my principal at Berbice High. I still remember Pollard scolding me one day after I had failed to do my homework, a lesson I will never forget and which I now pass on to you. I was studying for the advanced level and I had failed to prepare a passage in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As luck would have it he called upon me to translate it in class next day and I could not. The Old English looked like gibberish to me. Wagging his finger at me he said: Nathoo, always remember:Wan wan dutty does build dam. Wan wan dutty my dear children, does build dam. Today you see only the dutty but mark you me, some day the dam will emerge in all its splendor.
Splendour emerged for me at Corentyne High school in the county of Berbice where I was given the opportunity to have a positive influence on many lives. I was senior master there teaching English and Latin to the senior classes. But it was at Rose Hall high that I had the most significant experiences. What I am about to tell you I have shared with only my immediate family. Now you are my family and I really must share this experience with you because I may never speak to you again. At Rose Hall High the Lord put in my path the most remarkable human being I have ever met, the principal of the school. His name was Rudra Nath, one of the most distinguished educators this country has ever produced.
Rudra Nath’s influence
Rudra was from your part of the world. He was from Vergenoegen. Rudra stands preeminent in my memory not only because he introduced me to the philosophy and literature of my ancestors, and not only because through him I came to know Rabindranath Tagore , Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Parahamsa yogananda and Sri Aurobindo,
Rudra impressed me most because of the genuine human being that he was. Whenever he greeted me every day it was as if he was seeing me for the first time or after a long absence. With a face wreathed in smiles and his arms outstretched he greeted me in the same way that Ramakrishna must have greeted Vivekananda. I am sure we have all heard about that unforgettable occasion when Vivekananda was about to make his momentous evangelical mission to the United States and sought a blessing from the master. So he journeyed to the Temple in Dakshineshwar to meet Ramakrishna and as he neared the temple, he saw Ramakrishna. Running out of his temple Ramakrishna who had never seen Vivekanand before embraced him and with tears streaming down his face he said, “Where have you been so long? I have waited so long for your coming.” Rudra made me feel significant as a human being. That was his greatest gift. He used it with every human being he encountered. It was Gods Grace that brought me into contact with him. But that is not all I want to share.
The story of the epileptic
Graduates, I have a story for you which you will find most enthralling.Allow me to tell you about a little incident which had a profound influence on me and which I know will touch you too. Here it is..
It was a very hot day in April 1961. Rudra and I were driving from school to home for a little lunch. We were in Rudra’s car. As we neared his home there was a little boy in the middle of the road , arms flailing. He was actually dancing in the middle of the road. We all knew that boy. He was about twelve; he was mute; he was an epileptic. We all knew him by that cruel word which we have abandoned in Canada, “the retard” or more cruelly still, the idiot. Rudra stopped the car and stepped out and for a moment I thought he was going to admonish the boy.Then he stretched out his arms and embraced him for a long time and all the while the boy continued to utter loud screams of joy as his oozing saliva saturated Rudra’s lily white shirt and his impeccable new tie.
I sat there in the car transfixed thinking that I was witnessing a scene from another world. Then Rudra released him and said, Stay right here by the roadside. I am coming back. Then we drove to the market nearby and Rudra bought a bunch of mangoes, the loveliest Buxton spice you ever did see. And he brought it back to the boy. Again his screams resounded to the high heavens as he sank his teeth in ambrosia. He was in Paradise. Yes the Lord blessed me to have seen what I saw and heard what I heard. Rudra must have sensed my emotion when he said, Jules he is our brother. The tears welled up in my eyes as all choked up, I quietly replied, Yes he is.
O door a ke Musaphir, hum ko besaat a le le, hum gayhe rahe akele
My DEAR friend, Rudra, when I was leaving to start Saraswat he sang a song at the farewell function It was a song from the movie Uran Katola sung by Mohamed Rafi. It was a heart throb of our generation : O door a ke musaphir, ham ko besaat a lele, Hum rahe gaye akele. O traveler to a distant place take me with you/ you have left me all alone in this dreary place. I could not hold back the tears. My friend died in Florida a few years ago and the song came back to me supercharged with super power. O door a ke musaphir, hum ko besaat a le le, hum rahe gaye akele.
I have carried those events in my memory all of my life. They deeply influenced my leadership style both at Saraswat and later in Canada. They affected the way I related to all my students and indeed, to everyone the Lord sent in my path. That I believe was the true source of the compassion which Ramdular saw in my eyes.
Saraswat High was the brainchild of Richard Benjamin, my mother’s brother who w as headmaster of Saraswat Undenominational school at De Kinderen. I did not know it at the time but Benjamin was associated with a group of visionaries who were determined to abolish Church control of public education in Guyana and to extend secondary education to the rural areas.. The group included the renowned Pitambar Doobay and even ministers of the Government including the Minister of Community Development and the Minister of Education, founder of the University of Guyana. Benjamin pleaded with me to leave my job at Rose Hall High in 1961 and become part of history by establishing Saraswat High. Honestly, children, it was not an easy decision for me. My father had died and left me to take care of my mom and three sisters. But I trusted Benjamin. In fact I loved him and I threw caution to the winds. The enterprise had the blessing of a Divine Providence. Benjamin was an outstanding headmaster on the west coast of demerara and the school drew upon his fame and reputation. In four short years, aided by dazzling successes at the College of Preceptors and GCE exams, and by my own success at the the B.A. exams of the university of London, England, and the presence of the principals wife on the staff, the school grew to large numbers. New buildings had to be acquired and here again Divne Providence stepped in in the form of A.D. Falconer , the administrative manager at Uitvlugt n. He donated their Clubhouse at De Kinderen and also six acres of land at Meten Meer Zorg for the new high school. Because of its location at De Kinderen the school attracted students from as far away as Vreedenhoop to Wakenaam. Leonora and Cornelia Ida sent many stalwarts and by Gods grace, Some of them are here today.
The spiritual dimension
More important than our academic successes was the spiritual dimension of our school. Every morning at morning devotions, after the school prayer taken from Tagores Gitanjali, I made long orations to the student body reminding them of their responsibilities, of the huge sacrifices of their parents and exhorting them to excellence. I told them the story of wan wan dutty We prayed for divine guidance in our efforts. It paid off in spades. The Lord of the universe blessed our school and blessed our students. We struggled through a devastating general strike, crippling strikes in the sugar industry and severe racial disturbances but the Lord delivered us through them all. Many of our students have become world leaders and are making their mark in different parts of the world. They have all expressed their gratitude to Saraswat.
Here is a typical example
Here is a typical example.. Several years ago I received a letter from London England at my home in London, Ontario. It was from a former student of Saraswat. Here is what the letter said: My dear principal, I have just finished post doctoral studies at the London School of Economics. My only desire now is to see you so that I can thank you for all you have done for me. Signed Dhanpaul Narine.
I replied to Dhanpaul. I told him that the seeds planted by Saraswat and by his illustrious parents, deeply religious people, have borne fruit and that I was pleased that they flowered in such a prestigious world famous institution as the London School of Economics. I told him that I would be happy to see him on behalf of his parents who were the ones he should really thank for everything.
Well, Dr. Narine is here today. He introduced me. I note that he is still insisting on how much I have done. I know that he knows that I was merely an instrument of a Divine Providence as he is in the United States of America. Dhanpaul is one of the most outstanding leaders in the United States of America today. I am proud of him. He is the stuff of which Presidents are made.
My message to you in my 76th year and on the 53rd anniversary of Saraswat High.
My children when I started Saraswat High in 1961 I was only twenty three years old. That was 53 years ago. I am over 76 now so I would like to think I have grown a little bit in wisdom. It is my bounden duty to leave with you something valuable. I am blessed to have the opportunity to give you this message. It is the message of an old man made weak by time and fate but even as I give it I remember the words of Tennyson, poet laureate of England at the time,
, “Though much is taken, much still abides./ And though we are not now that strength/ which in our youth moved heaven and earth/ That which we are we are/ One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong in will/ To strive to seek to find and not to yield.”
Your examination results and counseling for the future
Your academic success and your examination results are very impressive. You have established a DAZZLING RECORD in this area. Your record surpasses that of Saraswat High in its heyday and I most happy to see that you are challenging the premier institutions of Queens College and Bishops High School. This is unprecedented. . Continue to Work very diligently and maintain the highest grades in all that you do. With Gods help Your hard work will open doors as they did for the students and their families of the old Saraswat High. Don’t be afraid to consult your counsellors when you encounter stumbling blocks whether these stumbling blocks are academic, emotional or psychological. Teachers, parents and counselors, get your students over the stumbling blocks and they will do well. you will overcome all difficulties. Be like Mahatma Gandhi: Do not ask to see the distant scene. One step at a time and the rest is in Gods hands.
Looking back: A paradigm shift
, You are living at a most exciting time in the evolution of knowledge. We are poised for new ways of looking at reality. In philosophy we call it a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift takes place when we arrive an an entirely new way of looking at reality. I think you will find the insights of Professor Suresh Narine intriguing. The time has come to put more emphasis on the wisdom of our ancestors: the importance of spiritual intuition in understanding ultimate reality.
Cherish your parents. One of my favourite bhajans
My children, your parents are the most valuable possession you have. Cherish them. In one of my favourite bhajans which I listen to every morning, the devotee asks why should I go to Ganga to find my Lord when my Krishna is right here in the form of my mother and father. Cherish your mother and your father. You will not have them for long. I still speak to my mother quite often pleading with her to intercede for me with the Divine especially when I encounter stumbling blocks.
Tribute to my wife
Finally my dear children, please allow me to pay tribute to my wife of fifty two years.. Her inspiration guided me not only In Guyana but also in Canada. I have already told you how important she was to Saraswat High. In Canada she was the energy that drove my engine With her by my side I was able to experience the awesome power and prestige that comes with higher education. She was the wind beneath my wings.
This plaque is a thing of beauty: It makes me remember the words of John Keats:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever
It will never pass into nothingness/ but still will keep
A bower quiet for us/ and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams/ and health/ and quiet breathing.
This plaque will fill my last days with memories of a glory that once flourished on the sacred soil of De kinderen and is now resurrected in this beautiful city of Cornelia Ida.Swamiji I thank you with all my heart for making me and my wife, my relatives and friends and staff and former students of Saraswat High, a part of this divine energy.
Call Celina to the stage
With Swami’s permission and with your permission, Mr. Chair, I would like to invite my wife celina to come to the stage to take this plaque. She deserves it more than I do. Celina, on behalf of the principal and staff and students of Saraswat High and all those wonderful parents who supported us in days gone by in good times and bad I present you this plaque for being a mother to all our children at Saraswat and for being my guiding star throughout my life.
God bless you all.
Julius B. Nathoo