Graded awards like our National Awards -- Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan -- necessarily involve some judgement about the relative worth of awardees' contributions in their respective domains. This evaluation of relative worth can lead to strong disagreements.
The post on this year's National Day Awards drew a sharp comment from Renu, who decided to follow it up with an e-mail. My own take on awards is one of utter indifference; who gets what is not a matter that's worth spending too much time over, particularly when politicians are involved in the selection process. Renu's letter, reproduced below with permission, has some strong arguments (that you may strongly disagree with!). But, as I said, I maintain my indifference.
Here, then, is Renu's letter (after some minor editiing):
I am still puzzled over this year's honours list. Little in it makes sense. After my rant on your blog here is one more email to tell you how upset I am with our warped sense of appreciation.
Sachin Tendulkar has done what exactly to merit the Padma Vibhushan? I am certain, deluded as we are, and Ajit Wadekar is, we will never find the nerve to award him the Bharat Ratna. Even then has he done more than Mihir Sen (who for many years was the only man to have swum five high seas straits in one year) or Rajyavardhan Rathore who narrowly missed a shoting gold at Athens, or Bula Chowdhury and Bhaichung Bhutia? Is cricket such a profound field of endeavour?
But there seems to be some sense of proportion among our netas and babus. I was outraged that Dr. Varadhan, this year, merited only a Padma Bhushan compared to Sachin's Padma Vibhushan, till I looked up Dr. CNR Rao's bio and found that the great chemist too has only gone the distance to the Padma Bhushan [Note: this is incorrect; A Padma Vibhushan went to Prof. Rao in 1985].
It was bad enough of Vajpayee to award his surgeon a Padma Shri for a routine knee replacement, and Lata Mangeshkar, a mediocre gramaphone on a string, the Bharat Ratna. But the MMS/Sonia dispensation has decided to steal a march over the previous government by honouring Asha Bhonsle with the Padma Vibhushan and Ustad Fahimuddin Rahimuddin Dagar the Padma Bhushan. The good Ustad should deliver a thappad in the face of the government, and like the late great Hemant Kumar, decline this measly token of recognition. The Ustad is one of the guardians of a dying art, Dhrupad, that dates back millennia. Legend has it that the Ustad's ancestors learnt it by meditating on the primeval Aum of Paramasivan himself. Dhrupad predates today's the popular variants of today's Hindustani sangeet - its khayals and thumris. Dhrupad's practitioners will tell you that their art was already a hoary one by the time of Amir Khusro and Tansen.
So if we lack the head to appreciate the sciences, we lack a heart to appreciate our arts as well.
And surely we have no soul either. Neither does Vidyakar or Udavm Karangal, nor Dr. Bundeshwari Pathak of Sulabh Sauchalaya, nor Baba Amte, that peerless pioneer of rehabilitation services find any mention in this year's honours list. It is said that Gandhi lost nothing for having been looked over for the Nobel Peace Prize. Similarly in ignoring Baba Amte for the Bharat Ratna and the Nobel, it is these systems of recognition that are poorer and mired in mediocrity.