“Of words and action”, an article by Pascal Chazot

“When there is a gap between the two, there is hypocrisy and incoherence”

I was deeply saddened to read a letter to the editor in this paper that mourned the loss of Dr Bihari Kanhaiyalal. It is true that I did not come across tributes to this stalwart in the press. But perhaps, this was part of his self-effacing personality.

Though I did not know him very well, I recall meeting him on one occasion when I was asked to start the Mahatma Gandhi International School. Even before the project could actually start, his trust wrote a letter to the AMC threatening legal action as this building was originally donated by his family.

I went to meet him with my wife. He received us immediately and though he was not feeling well, he gave us a patient hearing. We did not need to delve very deep into issues. He heard us for a few minutes and then motioned us to stop so that he could speak. I can never forget what he said next. He actually said that he realised he had made a mistake in being party to this protest letter. He went on to say that if he were to stop this project that he felt to be in the interests of the city, it would be ‘criminal’.

With great alacrity, he said, “Take me to the municipal commissioner so that I can apologise in person and withdraw my protest in writing.” A mixture of relief and gratitude swept us. Kanhaiyalal was a man in a hurry. He wanted an appointment with the then municipal commissioner as soon as possible. We obtained one the next day and went to pick him up in our little Maruti car. Despite failing health, he came with us and fulfilled his promise.

Later, he also told us that there was a concerted lobby of ‘protestors’ who had tried to stop the British Library from installing itself in the city. At that time too, he had put his weight behind the project to support it for the city.

Kanhaiyalal had this rare quality that Gandhiji himself had. He showed that he was ready to admit a mistake and take corrective action. Man can’t be judged by words alone. Mere lip service is not enough. The ability to admit that one could be wrong shows the humility that accomplished souls have. But one must then suit the ‘word to the action and the action to the word’ as says my wife quoting from her favourite play Hamlet. When there is a gap between the two, there is hypocrisy and incoherence. Harmony consists of maintaining coherence between the thought, word and the deed. We can understand the thought only by action because action is concrete and leaves traces.

Kanhaiyalal was no doubt from that breed of industrialists from Gujarat for whom philanthropy was the other face of business. Building institutions was a natural outcome for people like him. This is before Corporate Social Responsibility became a slogan and charitable action by corporate houses came to be measured by the amount of page 3 space dedicated through photo ops and media events.

Kanhaiyalal belonged to a world of constructive action, not a culture of protests. Over the years, he would himself give an occasional phone call to enquire how the school was faring. As his health failed further, I could not ask him to come to our school and show him the progress. I regret it deeply. Thank you sir, for standing by a cause and permitting two individuals to contribute towards making children happy. May the courage that you demonstrated in your convictions be an inspiration to the young.