General Semantics in India – 2007

BK Parekh and Andrea Johnson Andrea Johnson and Steve Stockdale

(Published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Volume 65 No. 1, January 2008.)

Thanks to underwriting from Mr. Balvant K. Parekh, Chairman of Pidilite Industries Ltd, IGS Board President Andrea Johnson and I spent more than two weeks in India to introduce General Semantics. We gave seminars and workshops at seven different venues in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Anand, and Vadodara, to a total audience of about 350 individuals.

Mr. Parekh speaking at the Centre for Contemporary Theory in Baroda, November 2007

The following are some key points regarding our host in India, Mr. Parekh, and the circumstances of his invitation to us.

His motivation to organize this trip to “bring general semantics to India” came from reading the 2006 General Semantics Bulletin and noting that he was the only IGS member in India.

His initial invitation asked for one person. He agreed to our counter-proposal to send two persons, with me traveling at my own expense.

He came to general semantics about 25 years through reading ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Much of his extensive knowledge and understanding of GS, which he demonstrated privately and during his remarks at each of the venues, came from reading articles in ETC.

A native of Gujarat, Mr. Parekh has long lived according to the Gujarati tradition: “If you get what you like; do not keep it, rather share it.” So inspired, in 2003 he began compiling and publishing his own aperiodic “journal” similar to ETC in which he collected interesting articles, stories, quotations, etc. To date he’s published seven issues and sent approximately 1200 copies of each issue to a distribution list of friends, family, colleagues, and anyone who requests a copy. Every issue has a section dedicated to General Semantics in which he’s reprinted 4-5 articles from ETC. Perhaps a dozen people who attended the 3-day workshop in Baroda mentioned to us that they learned of GS for the first time through Mr. Parekh’s free journal.

The company he founded, Pidilite Industries, Ltd, is ranked by the Economic Times of India as the 131st largest public company in India, with annual sales of over $350M. Their core business is adhesives, developing the “Elmer’s glue” of India, as well as an entire line of industrial bonding materials. His daughter Kalpana proudly related that, although he didn’t have a chemical background, he mixed the first batch of Fevicol (their brand name) in their home bathtub. He then saw to it that his one younger brother and one son earned graduate degrees in Chemical Engineering (from the U. of Wisconsin in Madison). They and most of the family’s sons continue to manage and direct the affairs of the diversified company.

Mr. Parekh developed Parkinson’s seven years ago. He’s done a lot of personal research about the disease and has access to the very best medical attention, so he and his family are optimistic about his condition and prognosis. Andrea and I had little trouble understanding his bright, enthusiastic English.

He was treated as something like a “revered godfather” everywhere we went. Several people went to lengths to explain what a wonderful, caring, and benevolent “philanthropist” he was. Among them:

  • The youngest daughter of his nephew and niece (now 10) was born deaf. Diagnosed early, she underwent a successful cochlear implant when she was 18 months old in the U.S. Mr. Narendra Parekh (and the family) not only paid for the surgery and almost a year’s stay in the U.S., but he also has funded a private hearing institute in Mumbai for research, study, and investigation into making implants more affordable for Indian citizens.
  • He donated funds to build an entire 3-4 floor academic building in Ahmedabad at the Gujurati Sahitya Parishad, and insisted that his name not be used.
  • He funded the establishment of a Center for the Popularization of Science named Indian planetary Society at Mumbai.
  • He funded the Center for Contemporary Theory in Baroda, which hosted our 3-day workshop.
  • Pidilite is one of the leading-edge companies in terms of valuing employees. It was pointed out by several people that few companies provided the benefits that Pidilite offered, including onsite swimming pool and fitness facilities for all employees.

He and his staff arranged for us to speak at seven different venues to a total audience of about 350 people. At each venue, Mr. Parekh (presumably) arranged for tea, snacks, and either lunch or dinner to be served to all attendees, including a very nice buffet dinner at a fine hotel in Baroda on the second night of the workshop. The venues included:

  • Mumbai University, faculty and students from departments of History, Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy, Literature, Linguistics.
  • Pidilite Industries, directors, mangers, employees, and family members.
  • Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai), faculty and students.
  • Bhavans Culture Center (Mumbai), local authors, poets, artists, and cultural leaders.
  • Gujarati Sahitya Parishad (Ahmedabad), faculty and students.
  • H.M. Patel Institute of English, SardarPatelUniversity (Anand), faculty and students.
  • Center for Contemporary Theory (Baroda), Twelfth National Workshop (3 days); 68 registered, 59 attended from as far away as New Delhi, Chennai, and Kashmir (over a 20-hour train ride) with participants paying their own expenses.

Mr. Parekh, with my permission, arranged to make copies of Ken Johnson’s General Semantics: An Outline Survey and provided a copy to everyone at each of the venues. Additionally, for the Baroda workshop, Prof. Prafulla Kar (workshop organizer) published bound volumes of the eleven articles I suggested as pre-reading for the participants and distributed it to all registrants about six weeks before the workshop.

One young philosophy student at the Baroda workshop cornered me at the first break, almost breathless with questions. He brought his copy of the Outline Survey and showed me page after page of highlighted text, pencil markings in the margins. He had clearly studied it extensively, and he ‘got it.’ On the third day, he gave a 15-20 minute presentation that’s probably the best explication I’ve ever heard (including from Pula, et al) regarding the implications and consequences of AK’s non-A orientation from a logical and philosophical standpoint.

Through the Pidilite Marketing/Communications manager, Mr. Parekh arranged extended interviews for us with reporters from four newspapers: The Hindustan Times (me, Andrea was sick); the local Gujarati-language newspaper (Andrea and me); The Times of India (Andrea, I was sick); and The Economic Times of India (Andrea, I was sick). The reporter for the Hindustan Times attended the entire presentation I gave at the Bhavans Culture Center and even asked questions before the group.

Mr. Parekh is obviously passionate about a lot of things, and general semantics is just one. He is also quite familiar with Dr. Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and was very pleased to receive the October issue of ETC while we were there. At each of the venues we spoke (for either 2- or 4-hour programs), we found the audiences prepared, engaged, genuinely interested, and in some cases almost ‘absorbent’ like sponges. Those who confessed knowing something about GS knew so only through the efforts of Mr. Parekh. They obviously put a lot of credence in the fact that this was something that he thought was important.

Mr. Parekh has a broader vision for general semantics in India. I committed to him that I would do everything I can to assist him, and to the limited degree I could speak on behalf of the Institute, that the Institute would support him. He and Professor Kar have already held follow-up meetings to plan the next steps for GS in India. Professor Kar and his Centre for Contemporary Theory will serve as the focal point for coordinating general semantics activities with universities throughout India and the U.S.