The Burden of Dreams

But I am not here to talk to you about the power of vision, nor do I want to pay tributes to the great man who did not even want his name to be bequeathed to the institution he wanted to build. Instead, today, I want to talk to you about the burden of dreams.
Commemoration Day, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack
November 16, 2008

Vice Chancellor, Principal, Faculty, Members of the Senate and the Syndicate, my dear Students, Ladies and Gentlemen.
My being with you this evening is historic for me. The Ravenshaw ethos is part of our family heritage. My father studied here. My uncle studied here. Three of my elder brothers studied here. The eldest topped his class throughout and was elected vice resident of the student’s union. The third brother chose activism over academics as his calling and was the president of the college union in his time.

I was the last born and lived with my parents and an immediate elder brother in far away places like Koraput and Keonjhar. As we grew up in those places, we were told stories about the great Ravenshaw College, and we aspired to one day take our place in its imposing red structure. We learnt about the great academicians who taught here, the minds who mentored young people who eventually became destiny’s children. We were also told about something mysteriously transformational in the insipid food of the Ravenshaw hostels that sent people straight to a place called Dholpur House in New Delhi.

To us, Ravenshaw was sacred ground.

Unfortunately for me, by the time I was ready to come to its hallowed precincts, my father had retired. The last two of the brood were picked up by the elder brothers – by then one was a bureaucrat in Bhubaneswar and the other had started a fledgling legal practice in Cuttack. My immediate elder brother got allocated to study at Ravenshaw under the tutelage of the lawyer brother; I was sent to live with my eldest brother in Bhubaneswar and asked to go to the BJB College there. I have to admit that I felt deprived.

So, whenever I got a chance, while studying at BJB College, I came here – I stood by the Sun Dial or peeped into the Kanika Library. Sometimes I came to debate here. On two occasions, I won the Inter-College Debate competition held at Ravenshaw College – they used to be held in the Physics Lecture Theater and on one occasion, Dr. Mayadhar Mansingh was one of the judges. To be judged by someone like him gave me a sense of high I carry even four decades after! The prizes for the debates – one in English and one in Oriya – were instituted by Dr. Mahendra Kumar Rout, then Principal, in his father’s memory.

Picture shows the then Leader of Opposition, Shri Biju Patnaik giving away the prize to Subroto Bagchi for the Inter-Collegiate Debate in Oriya instituted by Dr. Mahendra Kumar Rout

Each time, after I won the debate, Dr. Rout made it a point to tell me how he wished I were a student at this Institution! I carry that endorsement as a badge of citizenship. The thought that I was so welcome here then, makes me feel legitimate as your Chief Guest this evening. Today, when you choose me over the thousands of more well-known Ravenshawvians who have made an impact, you have taken away the last sense of banishment that I carried in my inability to make Ravenshaw my alma mater.

Ravenshaw College was born in the year 1876 because of the untiring efforts of an Englishman named Thomas Edward Ravenshaw. He called it the Cuttack College. He was a British civil servant in India. His vision for building an institution of learning has several lessons for all of us.

One, that vision was larger than life. As all visions must be. It was in fact, what we may call a “hairy, audacious goal” particularly at a time when Orissa was coming out of the great famine of 1866.
Secondly, that vision did not have anything to do with Mr. Ravenshaw’s self-interest – he was doing it for the posterity of a people that were not his own.

Thirdly, and very importantly, the vision was opposed at the time of its birth. Great vision is always invariably put to test early on and that is when many of us become frustrated. We want the world to come to our door steps because we have a dream. Only those dreams have a right to be born that can withstand opposition and cynicism.

But I am not here to talk to you about the power of vision, nor do I want to pay tributes to the great man who did not even want his name to be bequeathed to the institution he wanted to build. Instead, today, I want to talk to you about the burden of dreams.

Ravenshaw – from now on I mean the 132 year-old-institution – has not just been a place for mass-manufacture of employable graduates. On its sacred space, not just lives, but movements have been launched. We would all do well to refresh our memories on some of those without which we would not be worthy of the people who have once walked this very land before we did.

An educational institution is not just about prescribed curriculum, about question papers and answer sheets: it is a place to learn about life and living by dialogue and diversity, it is the place for creating the capacity to learn, to question, to innovate, to push and be pushed back, to romance life and make life a worthy place for those who will come after us.

The report card for Ravenshaw on that score is a glowing tribute to every single brick that became a sentinel of our freedom; this remarkable red edifice chose to do more than be a witness to time-it chose to be an active participant. Tonight, I would like to take you down the memory lane to give you a glimpse of that report card.

1903. Modern Oriya consciousness began in the formation of the Utkal Sammilani by Orissa’s first graduate, first post-graduate, and first practicing lawyer, Madhusudan Das. When that Utkal Sammilani had its first session here on the Idga Ground in Cuttack, history tells us, it was attended by 335 delegates from the outlying areas; zamindars, representatives of the Gadjats, the Commissioner himself, two Christian missionaries, local intellectuals like Radhanath Roy, Madhusudan Rao, Bishwanath Kar and the Principal and students of Ravenshaw College assembled to engage in the deliberations.

1920. Students of Ravenshaw, like Harekrushna Mahatab, N.K. Chaudhury and their fellow alumni, opposed the idea of the same Madhusudan Das accepting ministership of the British created government and distributed leaflets in protest; they disturbed a progovernment felicitation meeting. Their activities were reported to Mr. Lambart, Principal of Ravenshaw College, and their parents were asked to withdraw the two from college just a week before their BA examinations. In the years that succeeded, parallel to the uprising of Oriya consciousness, was the beginning of the national freedom movement. When India made her shift from self-rule to demand for full freedom, the chants for freedom first reverberated within the four walls of this great Institution before they spread far and wide.

1930. When the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee gave a call observing January 26th as “Independence day”, history tells us that the hostellers of Ravenshaw College took the lead in organizing the celebrations and many students gave up a meal to contribute to the funds of Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das towards the national freedom movement. Then came the Salt Satyagraha and the post graduate students of Ravenshaw College actually dropped their examination in support of the struggle when a batch of protesters marched from Khurda to the sea to defy the Salt Act of the British Empire.

1937. Even as Orissa acquired statehood under the British Empire, there was no legislative assembly for people’s representatives to represent their will and legislate on their behalf. It is no small coincidence that the grounds of Ravenshaw College were chosen for the very first meeting of the Legislative Assembly of Orissa on July 28th, 1937.

1942. At the forefront of the Quit India movement were the students of Ravenshaw College. On 15 August that year, 200 of them protested. They actually set the office room on fire. Among the arsonists were Banamali Patnaik, Ashok Das, Biren Mitra, Suraj Mal Saha and Bibhudendra Mishra. The last two were detained under the Defence of India Act and sent away to the Berhampur Jail. The movement spread to all other educational institutions in the state. Born of famine, child of a foreigner’s vision, Ravenshaw College was the vortex of political, intellectual and literary movements in Orissa for the first seven decades of its existence. That is probably why it has produced countless heads of state, poets, politicians, judges and bureaucrats who spread their impact far and wide.

1947. And then came seven decades of relative silence, except for the student unrest of the 1960s that spread to the far corners of the State. As the nation got largely busy with itself, Ravenshaw College no longer buzzed with the higher call, its portals gradually settled down to a collective ambition that ran from the Cuttack railway station and terminated in New Delhi where the Union Public Service Commission had its home.

The corridors of Ravenshaw no longer reverberated with the footfalls of the revolutionary, the thinker-doer, the game changer – they only echoed gently a legitimate middle-class aspiration to become a permanent employee of the government. To the job seeker, Ravenshaw became a means to an end – a good education that guaranteed a good job.

If we make a roll call of the chief secretaries to the government that independent Orissa ever had, we will find that an overwhelming majority of them come from this single institution. That principle applies equally to the coveted Indian Police Service, the Allied Services and their less coveted state counterparts.
In the six decades after independence, Orissa progressed in some sense and regressed in others, but Ravenshaw, despite its innate capability, gently withdrew from its task of producing thought leadership. The same person who ran towards the safe harbor of a government job could have aimed for the Nobel Prize, the Booker and the Magsaysay Award. But the burden of dreams had been lowered for the time.
The time has come to change that.

Today’s Orissa, like today’s India, is in deeper strife than she was a hundred years ago. We need to address this.

I believe that the idea of the Indian State, of elected government, of a judicial system and of the protection of law and order, is ceasing to be relevant to an increasing number of people. A record number of Indian territories are ungovernable by public admission. It is no longer Jammu and Kashmir and the far flung border areas in the North East; the fact is that deep inside states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and many others, an increasing number of districts find themselves unable to guarantee anyone the right to life, property and equality of justice.

Here is our own state where policemen are mowed down in districts like Koraput. In Nayagarh, barely two hours from the state capital, hundreds raid the armory of the state as if it were a college picnic and vanish as easily as they came. In Kandhamal, someone is burnt alive, someone is raped and twenty thousand people become homeless, as if we live in the backyards of Somalia or Rwanda. All over India, government is retreating to the metros. The rich and the worrying are building “gated communities”-they do not realize that shrunken freedom is no freedom. Their gates are gates of fear and not freedom.

At the core of the problem is the issue of widespread corruption. The reason our police, our bureaucrats, our judges and our politicians are afraid is that we have become a collectively corrupt society. When you become corrupt, you lose the moral authority to govern. All forms of authority are finally about the moral right. Only the moral right gives us the power to stare down an opponent, as has been proven time and again in human history, from the days of Moses to those of the Mahatma.

When the Oriya language and identity was in question, Ravenshaw College had a view point; when the Salt Act was passed, the students and the teachers at the Ravenshaw College had a position; when the British oppression became intolerable, right here in the fields of Ravenshaw, the Union Jack was trampled. Ravenshaw’s students wrote love poems and secessionist literature with the same ease.

So, how is it that our middle-class, poverty of the mind is not on its priority?

How is it that when Kandhamal burns, Ravenshaw’s conscience does not agitate?

While the scourge of corruption has touched the marrow of the civil society, why are we are not dialoguing here for a more sustainable future?

The burden of dreams must return once again so that the hallowed grounds of this great institution can show the path to a people at crossroads with themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are three kinds of freedom. Each one is more difficult to win than the other; each is more intense, fuller of churning, more demanding of loyalty than the one before.

In the first six decades of Ravenshaw College, India and, within that, the people of Orissa struggled for political freedom. Contrary to popular myth, we are not midnight’s children; in reality it was a night of decades, and our freedom took many generations of working, many lives had to embrace the cause without fear of the consequence.

That was our first freedom. Between 1947 and today, we have been battling for our second freedom: economic freedom for our people. In these intervening six decades, we have not had a famine of the 1866 variety. Although floods and droughts have been the bane of Orissa, they have not quite been like the great famines that once wiped off generations in a single go. Our people have starved to death during this period, but it was nothing compared to the specter of the past. With effort we have come this far and the battle for economic freedom is largely won.

But now, we have to embark a more crucial journey for a more difficult freedom to win – it is the freedom of the intellect. Unlike political freedom, and in some sense, economic freedom, this one is not about unshackling from an external opponent. Rather, it is about unshackling the mind from within. More than ever before, we live in times of widespread corruption, visionless politics, non-inclusive development and a near-total disregard for the environment. These are oppressors in our own minds and the potent destruction they may cause is larger than anything a foreign hand ever could.

To strive for freedom of the intellect, you have to develop a sense of destiny. You must know that you have a purpose larger than your own self.

You must develop the true desire to learn, beyond the mundane need to equip yourself with a qualification.

You need to develop the capacity to deeply question the state of things. You have to put your stake on the ground.

You have to build substance and the power to serve others in many valuable ways.

You must believe in your own self, follow your heart and not seek approval from a society that expects you to change it.

You must speak your mind and be accountable for your words and actions.

You must not be content with the measure of the times, for you are here to build a scale for the future. You must create your own path and not be path-dependent.

For this, the burden of dreams must return again.

Not everyone can carry a burden of dreams.

A burden is, after all, a burden, and when it is a burden of dreams, it is a life-altering experience.
The burden of dreams is not in what the eyes see; the burden of dreams is what you and I must affectionately carry in our bodies and on our chests so that we can live a worthy life.

Only blessed ones born on a sacred space can bear that burden of dreams.

Ravenshaw is the sacred space. The question is: are you willing to be the blessed one?
Thank you once again for inviting me this evening. As you take on the burden of dreams, I pray that Ravenshaw gives Orissa her first Nobel Laureate, her first winner of the Booker Prize and her first to claim the Magsaysay Award.

Go Kiss The World.

L Says
Tuesday December 9th 2008

Dear Gardener,
I was waiting eagerly for your next post and this post as always is beautiful. (Thank you RSS feeds!).
Perhaps I am being cynical. Maybe they don’t make educational institutions like Ravenshaw anymore or perhaps they don’t make students like you anymore.
I am old and grey, and Penguin cannot categorise me as ‘Young India’ yet even I do not recollect having a reverence for my college. True we had some great professors, but we learnt about competition not about life.
Education , even then was too commercialised, it appears to be more so today. NSS was an option, can you guess for what? To garner the ten extra marks that would perhaps help you get an edge over your competitor and a better rank in the University of Bombay. There was no feeling of giving back to the society it was all about the ‘self’. I have to confess that I opted for NSS for this very reason. Little solace it is to note that I later felt so ashamed of myself that I did not claim these ten marks, for social work, that was done half heartedly. Yes it was all about question papers and cut throat competition. I survived it, securing a first rank at my colleage, but am I proud of what I did at University? The answer today, more than ten years later, when I reflect upon it, is probably no. I have nothing more to show that a great marksheet.
Each and every student who heard you speak today is so fortunate. They must have walked out of the auditorium with the urge to be better citizens and better human beings and I am sure they will strive to do so.
I guess I am equally lucky to be able to read your blog. Thank you so much for always sharing your views. Wish we had someone like you speak to us, when we were students.
Wishing you safe travels.
Best regards,

RM Says
Tuesday December 9th 2008

1. Once again a great graduation speech.

2. Is the last word – “Word” – a typo? You cannot modify a great tag line!

Satya Says
Tuesday December 9th 2008

Thats a great picture.

Biju Patnaik was perhaps one of the few persons from Orissa who made us Oriyas very proud. Above all, I respect what he stood for – country first, state next, you last. All of us have a lot to learn.

Also, nostalgically I can relate and remember a very similar one from another chief minister of Orissa.

Manoj Singh Says
Thursday December 11th 2008

Hi Mr Bagchi,

It’s a nice and heart opening speech. Since I do not have much idea about the old schooling system after reading this blog I am quite sure it was really able to inspire the people who were part of this. I would like to share my own opinion about the current educational system we have in place.

I won’t compare it with old educational system but what i truly believe is, we are not lacking quality in our great institution but that fact is now the perception of people towards education is something which really bothers me. It’s merely boiled down to making grades, structured thinking stuffed by preachers(teachers) and most importantly money. Times are changing. Now it’s not about the merely making money and satisfy basic needs, it’s about bringing change, producing leaders who not only make their dream come true but teach people to dream. I myself being from one of the top institutions in India, the thought provoking methodology of teaching following some set of rules not making students think, inspire and create the things beyond the imagination, it really hurts.

In these times, in contrary to carry the burden of dreams of these great institutions (which is always put in way even by great educator at these great places that it looses its shine, that’s why i call it contrary), the role of a college should be like playground, where students learn to dream and discover what they really want to do in their life. It should give freedom to innovate not preach them like a saint. I am not saying it’s not important, what my thought is don’t push things for them, let them grow in an environment intellectually so strong that they themselves define their dreams.

It’s time when we produce independent thinkers, leader.


Ravi Says
Thursday December 11th 2008

good article, really inspiring

Santosujit Mohanty Says
Sunday December 14th 2008

Dear Subroto Bagchi
After Go Kiss the World I read your speeches regularly.You talk about values,now on history of orissa.I have heard your speech in NASSCOM Leadership Forun in You Tube.All of your speeches carry nationalism and inspire millions.
I will urge you to deliver speech on Dhirubhai Ambani,Sunil Mittal,Subash Chandra,Narayan Murthy and you.All of your positive and negative qualities.Whom do you admire.So that people can get a realistic view of Life.

pratichi Says
Sunday December 14th 2008

hello mr.bagchi,
the day you came to ravenshaw for your inspiring lecture was one of the most memorable days of our university. i am a student of ravenshaw university and i am really proud for i was present on that day to listen to your beautiful speech. i remember very well that i even got a chance to sit and talk to you personally and that was a very special moment for me. i have always had an inclination towards entrepreneurship and i believe that listening to and interacting with great personalities like you would help me as well as all the young people of our generation to realise and achieve our dreams. i really thank you that you were able to find some time for us and gave us such a valuable time. thank you so very much.

with loads of regards

Brahmjyot Says
Monday December 15th 2008

The indian education system encourages “marks only” mentality with absolute disregard for critical thinking, creativity, problem solving. Scoring good grades is fine but grades should be inclusive of the above mentioned areas.

Sakti Prasad Sahoo Says
Wednesday December 17th 2008

Dear Subroto,
It has been always a great pleasure for me to read your articles. This one is really very much inspiring.
There are a very few among us who are willing to come out of their comfort zone and carry the burden of dreams. This is not just the problem of Orissa, but whole India. But at the same time, I feel time is changing…and along with that the attitude of GenX India is also changing….But inclusive growth and development is essential for the vision INDIA 2020 to come true…
No doubt, your articles are key ingredients in the successs story of GenX India…adding fuel to the fire in their belly….Thanks for playing such an important role…Waiting to see you and listen to you someday…

Satyabrata Says
Wednesday December 17th 2008

Dear Mr Bagchi,

First of all thanks for such a thought-provoking and imaginative speech. Only what is awatied till now is a macrolevel vision like “Go and Kiss the World” to be implemented at the microlevel. It requires a big conversion of all sayers to thinkers and doers . You have made a big change not only because you have dreamt but you had converted your urge to a fulfillment. One Big Bang movement should be started to have a draconian change. Gradual process will create more naysayers. Concepts like “Reverse Brain-Drain (to Orissa)”,”Social entrepreneurship” should move the movement to save poverty-baned Orissa. Education now should be called “Awareness” in Orissa. Its time now to Repair Orissa with proper Education to All.

I salute such visionaries like you who have nurtured such passion to save their mother Orissa.


illiyaz Says
Friday December 19th 2008

” An educational institution is not just about prescribed curriculum, about question papers and answer sheets: it is a place to learn about life and living by dialogue and diversity, it is the place for creating the capacity to learn, to question, to innovate, to push and be pushed back, to romance life and make life a worthy place for those who will come after us ” …reading these lines made me nostalgic about my Alma mater NIT Silchar…You ve summed up everything Mr.Bagchi…Bless you…

M. patel Says
Saturday April 4th 2009

Dear Mr Bagchi
That was really an inspiring lecture. Without a vision and a capacity to dream we will again become prisoners of some other oppression. And unless we place the society before us we cannot sustain ourselves.And for that we need the freedom of the intellect as u have rightly said. Thanks for showing the way

Chittaranjan Dash Says
Sunday November 20th 2011

Dear Sir,

I must say your speech was very motivating and inspirational and all the topics you covered is relevant for country like us which has the youngest population.

Your words initiated a spark in my mind and there was indeed a deep honor established for my country and its citizen.

I am currently doing my MBA in energy management and I felt your words are very much necessary for budding managers and I hope this should help me and enable me in delivering my service towards my country and the society.

Best Regards

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