By Rajiv Krishnamurthy
I was quietly browsing the Internet when suddenly my son popped up on Facebook Messenger and informed that T.M. Krishna had been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award! It was a great surprise and I was quite keen to know under what category he had been honoured. Luckily, the citation was immediately out and it said Krishna was receiving the award under the ‘Emergent Leadership’ category. I had known T.M. Krishna and his projects for around a decade, and knew it was well deserved. I immediately called another ardent fan of T.M. Krishna and asked him, "Shall we go to Manila for the award function?"
Hariharan Sankaran, the popular `photographer uncle' of the Carnatic music circuit, was equally spontaneous in agreeing to my proposal. I have this bad habit of booking my tickets the moment I decide on travelling and this is precisely what happened. Even before we could review our intentions, both of us were neck-deep into the trip; the main reason was that no visa was required for Philippines if we had certain other visas!
Hari and I decided that we would land in Manila the day before the award function and stay for three nights there including a day for sightseeing. We met in Singapore and landed in Manila on 30 August 2016 and were booked in the same hotel as our awardee and his family. The travel from the airport to Diamond Hotel took us two hours for 8 kilometres and our conversation with the driver made us realise that we were in for some torrid weather in Manila.
Sangeetha and Krishna, flanked by their family comprising his mother Prema Rangachari, his brother Srikanth, and Krishna's children Arya and Anantha plus the charming young student Madhav Iyengar made the reception committee very lively. God only knows who spoke what and the cacophony was quite tough to manage. On Day 1, Krishna had arranged for a lovely dinner in Intramurous, the Spanish quarter of Manila at Illustrado for his near and dear. The dinner set the pace for the things to unfurl in the next two days.
On D-day, 31 August 2016 we had some insight into the kind of work the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation does. Its secretariat was an impressive tower on Roxas Boulevard, a prestigious address in Manila and bang opposite our hotel. We learnt that all it does is give away the prestigious award, often called the Nobel Prize of Asia. The Foundation led by the dynamic Ms. Carmecita Abella receives nominations, evaluates them, sends researchers to the nominees arenas, evaluates the reports of the researchers, further sifts the nominations. Then evaluations by various committees takes place and then a short-list is given to the Trustees for the final selection. It takes around 15-18 months for this work to be completed, and I am sure this must put to rest all unwarranted speculation.
Each of the awardees was provided a chaperon! His or her job was to maintain the schedules of the awards function and this starts at 8 am in the morning. Seminars are presented by each of the awardees to students and the public. They are so open that it gives enough opportunity for the students to know about the work done by each of the awardees.
The awards ceremony was scheduled at the Philippines Cultural Centre on Roxas Boulevard for between 4.30 and 6.30 pm. Belonging to the awardee’s camp we had seats in the fourth row, which gave us a vantage view of the proceedings and of course, a lovely spot to place our cameras. The ceremony was already rehearsed on the previous day and Krishna was full of praise for the way it was done. The speeches of all the awardees were already submitted to the Award Foundation.
I went into the market in the morning with Hari and Krishna and bought myself a barong, the traditional dress of Philippines, to try to be one of the locals! So, when we all arrived at the venue, almost all the men were attired in a barong and above all the festive atmosphere was overwhelming. Here we were joined by R.K. Shriramkumar and K. Arun Prakash, too. They had the fortune of staying with an Indian family and enjoying sambar, rasam, and more kuzhambu. The lobby at the cultural centre was amazing—each awardee had a kiosk set up for him. Details of the Awardee were contained in the stall and hence, the ‘CV’ of each awardee was open to all. It was very heartening to watch youngsters in large numbers thronging these stalls and getting to know about each awardee.
The ceremony commenced with the trustees, awardees, and others marching on to the stage through the audience on both aisles. It was a great sight! Once the stage was set with these persons then we had the Vice President of Philippines marching through the audience and all in the hall paying their respects to her. It was business straight away.
There were no unnecessary speeches. Each of the trustees introduced the awardees and they did it to perfection. Their expression was flawless, no one fumbled even a word! Similarly, the acceptance speeches made by the awardees were equally succinct.
About 70 minutes into the ceremony, when all of us wanted to call it a day, came the speech by the Guest of Honour and Vice President of Philippines, Ms. Maria Leonor Robredo. This was worth every penny we spent. Maybe it was a prepared speech and she had a tele-prompter to aid her, but the manner in which she delivered her speech left us speechless. Ms. Robredo was not only eloquent but had taken the trouble to follow every awardee’s speech. She made it a point to include a few issues expressed in every one of these speeches. Her involvement and passion won over every one present in the hall.
Next was meeting the awardees in the lobby and at individual stalls. This was so informal that we could meet almost any of the awardees freely and take photographs with them. Krishna was, of course, overwhelmed by the occasion and the affection poured on him by the crowd that included many past awardees, too.
The following day, 1 September 2016, there was a concert for the Indian fraternity and others at the Hall of the Stock Exchange of Philippines. The audience was basically from the Asian Development Bank. The Embassy of India led by the charming Ambassador Lalduhthlana Ralte had arranged this concert by T.M. Krishna, R.K. Shriramkumar and K. Arunprakash. It was an amazing concert which kept the audience from diverse language regions spellbound. After conclusion the audience asked for some more music and Krishna readily obliged with two more songs. The concert was followed by a lovely dinner at Mr. Ramesh and Ms. Radha’s residence. Thus ended a very interesting visit to Manila which gave us an insight into what the Magsaysay Award is all about and the hard work that goes into the process.