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And so he imagined his son to ride on horseback and go among the people to dispense justice and issue orders. And finally, if I did not fulfill any of these desires then, as he used to say, I could always join him in the family business. And, in fact, at one stage, when he feared I would finally say no to business, he opened a new firm in the name of Omprakash Kejariwal & Co., and made it the main firm of the family business. But I failed there too. Actually, my one desire, from my childhood days, impractical as it was, was to become one of the wisest persons in the world, having read all that was worth reading.


Obviously, I could not fulfill any of my father’s or my own desire: but I can say now, in the evening of my life, that I did achieve something of all these. And this sums up my life, as it were.


' The difference between who we are and who we think we are is a comedy.
The difference between who we are and who we ought to be is the tragedy.'
(C. T. Vivan)



If I were to sum up my life in three words, they would be ‘Against the Tide’, the title I propose to give to my autobiography I am working upon. Indeed when I look back, I find myself going against practically every convention and established tradition. Thus, though I was born into a business family, I broke tradition and entered the civil services. Then, at the time the services (in the Allied category) which were considered choice services like the Income Tax, Customs, Railways, etc. I opted for the newly constituted Central Information Service (as it was known then), a service without power, without glamour and without money.

When it came to marriage, I again went beyond caste considerations and against all opposition from mine and even the girl’s family, married according to my choice. Imagine a boy from an orthodox Marwadi Bania family marrying into a high caste Brahmin Bengali family. The marriage became the talk of the town especially because both the families were of high standing in their own communities in the small town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar. During the time I was in service, I departed from practice and took up research in my favourite subject History. Here, too, at the time when Indian thought, especially in History, was dominated by the Left, and British historians were, by and large, considered biased, prejudiced and imperialist in their approach, I selected as the theme of my research a study of British historians who wrote on India and came to the conclusion that they were neither of these and worked as dedicated and objective historians. The book The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past was later published by the Oxford University Press with a flattering Foreword from that doyen of historians, A L Basham.
I came back to the service but did not stay there for long. I went from one post to another, all outside my cadre. Thus I became the Director General of All India Radio, then the CEO of Prasar Bharati; the Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and finally a Central Information Commissioner, when the RTI Act was implemented in 2006
My journey as a senior civil servant was never easy. The bullet point entries to show the trajectory, in what would seem to be a highly successful career, by no means reveal my internal suffering, my sleepless and lonely nights and days when I wished I did not see another sunrise.
When I retired in 2004, the Government granted me a two-year extension – something an ordinary government servant hankers for – but I wrote to the Prime Minister thanking him for the offer but saying that I would like to retire on my due date.
I then moved to Varanasi to lead a retired life of peace and academics, something which retired government servants look forward to. But unexpectedly I was pulled into the vortex of social activism, (whoever heard of a retired senior government servant taking to activism!). And this is where I stand today.

My father, Motilal Kejariwal was a humble middle class businessman. Even though he was in business, he seemed to have p ossessed no business sense. Thus during the days of the second world war when all essential commodities commanded a high premium in the black market, my father made no money although he had agencies in petroleum products, salt and cloth – each of which could make a person a that a millionaire. But my father lost money. The reason, as I recall my father saying, was that one day the British Magistrate called him and said that he expected at least my father to be honest and distribute these items to the poor at fair price. And my father used to say, how he could ask for more when the government reposed its confidence in him. So he stayed where he was when all around people were making money.
Did all this pay him? Who knows? I only know that when he lay on his deathbed, my mother heard him telling her : The Bansiwala (The flute player, that is, Lord Krishna) is calling me and with this he breathed his last.

When my father died at the young age of 53 (in 1957), my mother, Janki Devi, decided to leave home and move to Vrindaban (the home of Lord Krishna).
She spent same forty years there and came to be widely known as the ‘Meerabai of Vrindaban’.
Was it any surprise?
When asked to fill up a form for a voter’s identity card, she wrote against her father’s and her husband’s name as Bihariji (another name for Lord Krishna).
At her funeral procession, we saw same unprecedented scenes. One of these was that when the procession reached an important temple, we saw a large black bull emerge, as if from nowhere, and marched at the head of the procession’ leading it as it were. Then, when the procession reached the next big temple, the bull disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared.
To this my sister remarked that during her lifetime, my mother had fed so many cows and bulls that now they were paying their condolensces.

Debleena Banerjee, as she was known then, came into my life when both of us were seventeen. And soon after we came to know each other, we decided we would marry. Neither of us realized at the time what lay ahead. It was a long life of struggle and suffering, so much so that now, at this age of 72, I feel it must have been someone else who went through all that suffering since I do not possess the fortitude to put up with all that I did. And Debleena suffered much more than I did. We married when both of us were 28 and I’ve near had the heart to ask her how she felt during this whole period for the fear that I would not be able to bear it and break down much before she did.
She is a strange person : in our forty two years of married life, she, believe it or not, has not once raised her voice or shown that she was cross with me. I have often told her that she constantly spoilt me: there has not been one wish, whether in clothes, food or anything for that matter, that she had not said ‘yes’. And when I thought of changing roles in my career, as I often did, she never opposed me. She has been one big blessing in my life, standing by me in my darkest hours and sharing in my happiness.
And talk of sacrifice?
There was a time when she was a name in Calcutta Literary circles. Having published about fifteen books in Hindi comprising translations of works of practically every leading Bengali litterateur, she was known to the best of them like Bimal Mitra, Ashapurna Debi, Shankar, Sunil Gangopadhyaya, Satyajeet Ray and others. Yet another of her books, Chhanachhara Mahaprana , a Bengali translation of the Hindi classic, Aawara Masiha, got her practically every literary award associated with the great novelist Sarat Chandre Chatterjee.
Then one day she stopped writing. After a lot of persuasion as to why she gave up when she was at the top, she replied, ‘You see I translate light novels, short stories, etc. and command such a high reputation; whereas you, a serious research scholar are unknown. I do not want to be in the limelight while you are a serious researcher.’
All my attempts to persuade her not to give up her writing career proved futile. Today I have a modest standing as a historian. But time has passed by Debleena: only because she considered me more important in her life than her own career. Who indeed could be so fortunate as I to have Debleena as his wife!

The Present and the Future -


‘Had I been nature’, says the French Nobel Laureate, Anatole France, ‘I should have set youth at the end of the human span’. ‘What a lovely but an impossible thought’, I would say to myself when I neared my age of retirement. For the rest, I would like to extend a message that I myself have received from Robert Browning thorough his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra: Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which
The first was made…
So take and use thy work,
Amend what flaws may lurk
……….
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth,
And death complete the same!

And Finally :

One of my favorite books is the Jaico edition of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Here is a leaf from that book to mark the end.

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© O.P. Kejariwal 2015