As Prime Minister Modi prepares to address the nation on Monday on the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, the world is commemorating a man who delivered — what BBC’s former bureau chief of India Mark Tully believes — was the greatest speech in the world ever. Yes, Chicago is silently honouring the man who poignantly delivered a speech that coincides with a date that most Americans would like to forget — September 11.
The significance of Swami’s address is certainly not lost on Dr Madhuvanti Ghosh. The curator of Indian art at Chicago’s Art Institute — which is home to Fullerton hall, where Swami Vivekananda delivered his speech — Dr Ghosh says she still gets goosebumps when she hears those words. “You think about the words that were spoken on that day, the fact it was on September 11 and we know what 9/11 stands for today, it sends chills down your spine.”
Dr Ghosh is not alone. Hundreds of Indians and some non-Indians throng to hear Vivekananda’s words. People are usually emotionally charged around this time, and when he talks about religious tolerance, many break down and cry.
“They get so emotional. It doesn’t matter if one is an ordinary person or a billionaire or a politician for that matter, they all get very emotional when they stand in this space and imagine the Swami,” she says.
Today, so many years later, it is difficult to imagine the impact that Swami Vivekananda had on the lives of people here. But a street sign bearing the name ‘Swami Vivekananda’ in downtown Chicago shows that the city still remembers and honours the first Indian to open a dialogue between the Orient and the West.
Despite all these, Dr Ghosh believes there is much that needs to be done to promote the speech. “I think we have to find new ways to make the message relevant for generations because really this is no longer an Indian story… the relevance of the speech belongs to a wider public today.”