It was a special day for Delhi University when two of its alumni were awarded honorary Doctor of Letters (D Lit) degrees at a special convocation held on Saturday. Amitabh Bachchan, whom many call the face of popular Hindi cinema, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit were awarded the honorary degrees, along with cartoonist RK Laxman, the creator of the Common Man. Scientist CNR Rao was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) degree on Saturday.
Right from the outset the flavour of the morning had been set by the presence of the Bachchan family — Jaya, Abhishek, Shweta Nanda — that had turned up to watch Amitabh be felicitated. Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party also accompanied the family. Crowds had gathered outside the Viceregal Lodge that houses the office of the DU vice-chancellor and eager students and onlookers waited outside to catch a glimpse of the actor or his son, Abhishek. Security, however, was tight and only invitees were let in.
Bachchan had graduated from Kirori Mal College (KMC) in 1962 with a BSc General degree. Every mention of KMC brought students from the college to its feet, clapping and cheering for Bachchan. "I express my unlimited gratitude. Who would think that a simple student and later a graduate, not extraordinary by any stretch, would get such an award. I instinctively thought, do I deserve such an honour?" said Bachchan while addressing the gathering after receiving his honorary degree.
Remembering his days spent in the university, Bachchan spoke of the time when he would spend "hours at the bus stop outside Miranda House and the coffee house" to cheers from Mirandians present in the crowd. "Yes, it was always outside Miranda," he said, responding to the cheer. Acting for Player's, the KMC theatre group, Frank Thakur Dass — Bachchan recollected it all.
"My dramatic grounding would not have been complete without Prof Frank Thakur Dass who cast me in his play Winter Set which was staged in Miranda House," recollected Bachchan. If Bachchan was nostalgic, Sheila Dikshit, who was a student of History at Miranda House, confessed to feeling extremely nervous. "I did not wear the scholar's cap as I was very nervous," she said soon after receiving the honour for innovative governance. Dikshit had studied in the university from 1954 to 1959.
Dikshit said she was receiving the degree on behalf of the people of Delhi. "People in my field of work rarely achieve anything. But this is an honour for their spirit," she said.
But as glamour and politics occupied centre stage, a cartoonist and a scientist who still spends his whole day at the library were almost forgotten. Laxman, who has not been keeping good health, could barely express his gratitude before excusing himself. Scientist CNR Rao, however, brought home the importance of improving science education in the country. "I am 73 years old, but I still spend all my time in the laboratory," said the scietist who has 1,400 research papers on solid state and materials chemistry to his credit.
Soon after the convocation it was pandemonium as mediapersons and the audience surged forward to catch a glimpse of Amitabh and Abhishek. The convocation procession of the all the university deans and faculty could not be carried out properly. The Bachchan family, however, was quickly whisked away to the lounge adjoining the V-C's office.