Bhupendra Hooja – An Obituary

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Editor's note: This obituary was written by Hooja sahib's son, Rakesh, and edited at that time byt Rakesh's brother-in-law Subodh Mathur.


Bhupendra Hooja. London. Late 1940s.

Bhupendra Hooja (1922-2006) came to Rajasthan in the beginning of 1959, which, as he wrote in a 2002 article "Life at Eighty", became his "Karmbhumi" as he became "a small petty agent" in the sustained efforts for the development of the State. By the end, Jaipur and Rajasthan had adopted him as its own.

As regards the influences of his youth, he once wrote "having been born in an active and committed Arya Samaj family (I was) baptized by the mantras of social change, freedom and revolution as preached by Gandhi and Nehru and Subhash on the one side, and the revolutionary youth like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his brave and young Comrades on the other". His older brother G.B.K. Hooja, who preceded him into the IAS via the undivided Punjab Civil Service, was a major source of inspiration to him, as was Marxist Socialism until the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Both in his youth and later as an adult, he could never appreciate the growing consumerism and commercialization in society. As a student he is known to have more than once given away his woollen clothing to poorer friends, and helped many others with their studies.

Born in Dera Ismail Khan on the day of Guru Govind Singh's birthday in December 1922, he lost, at the early age of four, his father late Goverdhan Shastry, who amongst other things, had taught at Gurukul Kangri Haridwar, at Ramjas School Delhi and at schools in Taunsa Sharif and Sanghar in the first quarter of the 20th century. From then on, his maternal aunt's Gauba family household became his second home. His early years were spent in areas that were to be subsequently divided between India and Pakistan.

During the course of his student days in Lahore in the 1940s, he was a student leader with communist sympathies. Here he came to the adverse notice of the British rulers, and had to give up his place at Government College Lahore, and, after a gap, join Dayal Singh College in Lahore itself. In his college days, he edited the Hindi section of the Government College magazine Ravi.

After his studies were completed, he had a short stint as a bilingual - Hindi and English- editor at Sangam Publishers Lahore. Then, Bhupi, as many of his contemporaries called him, worked at Peshawar, New Delhi and Nagpur radio stations of All India Radio from March 1946 to January 1949 as Programme Assistant, Supervisor, Producer and Broadcaster. During this assignment, at the time of partition, he endured a dangerous and adventurous train journey from Peshawar to Lahore, when a colleague, who was a Sikh, let down his hair and lay down on an upper bunk pretending to be a lady accompanying him to avoid becoming a victim of the mindless partition violence.

In January 1949 he moved to London (U.K.), where he worked for BBC in the Eastern Services as broadcaster, newsreader and feature writer and producer in Hindi, where, among other things, he covered the UN Assembly Session at Paris (Winter 1951), commentated at the England-India cricket test matches (including one where the touring Indians had a disastrous start of being 0 for 4 wickets), and also produced and scripted radio plays.

The assignment with BBC and stay in England also enabled him to visit many western European countries. During the period he also voiced or dubbed the commentary in Hindi for some documentary films like Blue Lagoon, and British Information Service documentaries. He also helped the U. S. Information Service in editing the Hindi version of an Illustrated History of America, and contributed articles to newspapers in India.

In London he also ran a Hindi Goshti of fortnightly get-togethers for local residents, both Indian and British, and for Indians passing through. That, in addition to his earlier Lahore contacts like former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, ensured that he knew many who would become the literary, artistic, media, and even political elite of India including, for example, Krishna Menon, Khushwant Singh, Mulk Raj Anand, Ramesh Sanghvi, Maheshwari Singh Mahesh, Ramesh Thapar of Seminar, D.P. Singhal and Dev Ahuti.

While in London he met and married in 1949 Usha Rani, who was from a Christian Delhi family. She was studying sculpture at Regent Street Polytechnic and was later to become Rajasthan's leading sculptor.

Returning to India in May 1954 along with wife and young son Rakesh, who was born in London in 1950, Bhupendra Hooja started freelancing as a journalist, writing numerous articles and some documentary film scripts, including that of Gangu Teli in which actor Manoj Kumar faced the camera for the first time.

He soon joined Delhi Administration as an Information Officer, with Rural Development and Planning as his special interests. While wife Usha Rani was starting on her sculpture creation odyssey, his daughter Rima was born during this phase.

During this period, he remained intimately associated with Delhi's leading theatre, media and art related personalities as well as academics and intellectuals. A reference to this period is available in the autobiography of artist Satish Gujral who mentions the role of Bhupi and Usha in his meeting and marrying his wife Kiran.

At this time, he also authored a book, A Life Dedicated (1956), which was a biography of Seth Govind Das.

He toyed with the idea of accepting an offer to join Radio Moscow in Russia but the Soviet treatment of the Hungarians in 1956 and stories of totalitarianism within the Soviet Union caused him to desist.

He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1958 after passing the 1956 special recruitment examination of the UPSC. He opted for Rajasthan cadre since his elder brother was already there, and he was given his choice. After training at Simla, Delhi and Jodhpur (some extracts of his Jodhpur training diary are still available), his first posting in Rajasthan was as Secretary to Chief Minister from 1959 to 1962, working with the late Mohan Lal Sukhadia.

In 1962 he went on deputation to Himachal Pradesh where he had his first district posting as Deputy Commissioner cum District Magistrate, Mahasu. He was to describe his experiences there 25 years later in a volume Collector's Recollect (1987), edited by Mohan Mukherjee and Ramesh Arora. By continuing to work while unwell, he strained his heart resulting in the end of his posting and deputation, and return to Rajasthan. The heart problem also contributed to his turning down a possible posting in the Delhi Government where he was offered the chance of looking after the Union Territory's industrialization.

In Rajasthan, he served as Collector and District Magistrate in two districts: Chittorgarh and Ajmer. Later, he was Commissioner and Secretary State Enterprises, Commissioner and Secretary PWD, Irrigation and Power, Commissioner Transport, and served as Secretary in various departments including Agriculture Production, Medical and Health, Education and Culture, Food and Civil Supplies. The corporations that he headed included those related to agro industries, land development and Ganganagar Sugar Mills. He also served as Chairman, Rajasthan Canal Board and as Area Development Commissioner, CAD Kota. He also worked as Special Secretary institutional finance, agriculture, animal husbandry, cooperatives, etc. and Deputy Secretary in social welfare and labour departments.

Throughout his service as an IAS officer, he continued to encourage and advise various students, academics, administrators and activists in their various endeavours. Amongst those who over the years have acknowledged that he encouraged and positively affected their lives is Dr Yogendra K. Alagh. Bhupi also kept up his interest in reading and writing, including the writing of academic articles in nationally known journals like Indian Journal of Public Administration and also writing for popular magazines like The Illustrated Weekly of India. He was also involved in many literary and cultural activities and in the organization of Jaipur's first film society - now long defunct.

His mother Lajwanti Hooja (generally referred to as Mata Hooja), who had been involved in the relief work during the partition days, and later as a social worker in Rajasthan, suffered a paralytic stroke in 1959 and continued to live with him till her death in 1974. The fact that his mother was bedridden appears to have been one of the reasons that he did not avail of a chance to go to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in Government of India at New Delhi.

During his service career itself he had the satisfaction of seeing his son Rakesh first becoming a university lecturer and then joining the IAS and marrying the civil servant daughter of a colleague, his daughter Rima proceeding to Cambridge University (UK) for higher studies, and wife Usha Rani Hooja developing as a sculptor, first in Delhi and then in Jaipur, and winning national and state level awards.

In 1975 he underwent an aorta bypass surgery at AIIMS New Delhi. The fact, that his surgeon had indicated that he had only about 5 more years to live, was not known to many. Luckily, he was to live for more than thirty more years.

Retirement from government in 1980 did not mark the end of Bhupendra Hooja's contributions. Since 1985, he was the Chief Editor of Indian Book Chronicle (IBC), a monthly journal about books, reviews and communication arts originally started in the early 1970s and continued so till his last day. In fact, many across India know him only as Chief Editor of IBC. In the last few months of his life, he often expressed the wish that, like his son and daughter, his grandson Rakshat would also associate himself with the editing of IBC.

He has been a founder member of the board of directors of Institute of Development Studies Jaipur (and in the early 1980s wrote reports, articles and notes for IDS on rural development, rural credit, desert development, livestock management, and the effect of reservations on Rajasthan), member of Syndicate of Rajasthan University and was actively associated with bodies like Hindustani March, Citizens Forum, Rajasthan Paryavaran Manch, Rajasthan Regional Branch of IIPA (he was its Vice Chairman from 1980 to 1986), Local Committee of DAV Centenary School, Maulana Azad Memorial Society, Society for Legal Awareness, Research and Training, the Jaipur chapter of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan (where he taught papers on Mass Communications and the Role of Various Media Tools in PR, and on Public Relations in the Corporate Sector), Indian Institute of Rural Management, Rajasthan State Unit of All India Council of Science Reporters and Promoters, Shodhak journal, etc, and was associated both formally and informally with many of the centres and departments of University of Rajasthan.

The State Government nominated him to various five-year-plan working groups related to more than one five-year-plan period and pertaining to many different development sectors. He was also involved in the preparation of a strategic plan for Rajasthan Agriculture University, Bikaner; in reviewing a number of activities of the Canadian CIDA funded Rajasthan Agriculture Drainage Project at Chambal Kota; and in the writing of a history of the Indira Gandhi Canal Project.

He edited and published, with intensive annotations, the diary of jottings that Shaheed Bhagat Singh had kept in jail before his execution, under the title A Martyr's Notebook (1993). This book has undergone more then one Hindi translation as well as translation into a couple of South Indian languages and has also been reprinted once in English.

A keen pamphleteer, he kept penning booklets and pamphlets on diverse subjects and also contributed liberally to numerous books, journals, magazines and seminars/workshops/conferences as well as to Souvenirs. Over the years, he also published on behalf of Sanghar Vidya Sabha, IBC, Hindustani Manch and some other NGO institutions a large number of booklets, pamphlets, leaflets, and supplements. In 2001, he published the English book Shahadatnama, which was an account of the Indian martyrs of the freedom struggle from 1857 to 1947. The original version of A Martyr's Notebook had also been published by him.

He also participated in discussions on T.V. and Radio and delivered many radio talks.

In the last couple of years of his life, he took over the management of Sanghar Vidya Sabha Trust, following the death of his older brother G. B. K. Hooja, and had also made it his mission to get published the various writings that his brother had left behind.

At the time of his death he was completing Safarnama, a book in Hindi on the life and times and related places of his, and associated, families linked to Sangar Vidya Sabha (having links to Sanghar district and the river Indus in present day Pakistan) and their journeys into the modern era. He had just completed and published pamphlets /booklets on the R(oyal) I(ndian) N(avy) Mutiny of 1946, on the legacy and heritage of the martyrs of India's national movement, on Bhagat Singh, and on India's language policy; and has left behind numerous unfinished essays, articles, notes, and an edited but unpublished volume of material on Jaipur and its history including that of Amber.

His special interests included matters of citizen concerns, administrative reforms, higher education, environment, rural development and panchayati raj, desert development, agriculture, consumer movement, land and water management, management of state enterprises (a post retirement unpublished study on this subject is hopefully available in the hordes of papers that he has left behind), tribal development, history and culture, social movements, the origin of civilizations, political trends the world over, the arts and the media .

He was inquisitive and ever thirsty for new knowledge and information. He devoured more than 6 newspapers each day, flicked serious and news channels on TV for long hours, and subjected serious magazines to intense scrutiny: but not for him any light reading, or films and film music, or the TV sitcom. The family house in Jaipur, constructed in 1967-68, where he lived for almost 40 years, was full and overflowing with books and related papers.

While his IAS career enabled foreign travel to the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and Washington, retired life saw him visiting England, Europe and Pakistan. He particularly relished visiting the places he used to frequent during his youth in England and present day Pakistan. Wherever he went, he collected brochures, booklets, pamphlets, newspaper cuttings and other reading material regardless of the weight that had to be carted at airports.

In the last years of his life he was in touch with numerous persons in Jaipur, throughout Rajasthan and even outside the State. Face to face, on the telephone, and through the post, he encouraged and advised them, offering new ideas and motivating them, suggesting activities for them to carry out. The receipt of post cards from him was looked forward to by many. (However, the internet and computers left him bewildered and thus he never used e-mails.)

Along with encouraging all and sundry, he liked to discuss the writing and contents of the many books and articles that his son Rakesh authored and edited, and that his daughter Rima wrote, often debating points and issues that were proposed to be included in the writings. He always had encouraging words of comment for the poetry (and cooking) of his daughter-in-law Meenakshi Hooja nee Mathur, and was ever happy to discuss the M. Phil and PhD related works and articles of his grandson Rakshat, as also to compare the official work related experiences of his son and daughter-in-law with those of his earlier IAS days. While often involved in debates with his older grandson, Rajat, he however did not fully comprehend nor appreciate the new world of business, multinational companies, the stock market, IT etc. that interested Rajat.

In his youth, B. Hooja had run away to Bombay to join films, but soon returned home. Filmdom's loss was Rajasthan's and the country's gain.

Reproduced below are two small pieces written by B. Hooja on his life.

1.         From Sampark, the magazine of the All India Services Rajasthan Pensioners Association, writing in December 2002 on ‘Life at Eighty'.

"Life at Eighty is as charming and full of challenges as it was at eighteen, when one was young and hopeful with golden dreams in the mind and bright horizons in the distance. However, old age has sobered me quite a lot and I have no need for dreams or ambitions. The inevitable can happen any day when the invisible bonds with life will snap. The dice is loaded, and one knows the odds are all against.

But beyond eighty - one has   to live with dignity and die with dignity; if possible. A paltry pension to manage life with, heavy dosage of medicines and careful dieting, with movements outside the home rather restricted due to several handicaps- one can be as content as possible with the turn of fate. Content yes, but not smug!

Already the golden and sand castles of ones youthful dreams lie shattered and scattered; all around the land is burning with fires of hate and mistrust, social and economic inequalities have increased and multiplied and exploitation including corruption which is also a form of "exploitation", continues unchecked rather intensified. The queues of hungry, helpless, desperate down-trodden millions below the poverty line bear testimony to the hard and tragic fact that all our dreams, our visions, five year plans and nation building activities have failed, may be gone of the track because their force was lost. Yet what can one do; one lone, ailing and old man?

However I have the complacent satisfaction that I tried to face my challenges in life from the early awakening of childhood, all through the youthful student days and years of growing up to maturity in the best possible manner keeping intact my commitments in life towards family, towards the fraternity of friends and towards society at large. And it has been a wonderful, many splendoured eventful life, under the rainbow colours of some small personal achievements and contributions to the march of humanity towards a better and more harmonious future.

I have been fortunate to serve as a small petty agent of development in the State of Rajasthan as it was emerging from under the dark heavy shadows of a static social order, a feudal system supported by foreign colonial masters. Having been born in an active and committed Arya Samaj family, baptized by the mantras of social change, freedom and revolution as preached by Gandhi and Nehru and Subhash on the one side, and the revolutionary youth like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his brave and young Comrades on the other. I did not have to find a new mission in my life or go in search of my own battlefield, my "Karmbhumi". There was the state and society of Rajasthan calling for stupendous and sustained efforts to emerge from darkness into the new bright sunshine of democracy and progress once the latent and inherent power of the people was unshackled. That metamorphosis took shape right under my eyes, in my presence as an active witness.

As I look back, I consider that modern and contemporary Rajasthan has been an active theatre of a series of man made miracles, miracles of change. The accession of state Rulers to the newly made Dominion of India and the subsequent Integration of various States into one composite unit, Rajasthan, for the first time in history was the first such miracle.

Then come to the introduction of democracy, and all its infra structure, votes for all, elected Assembly and local bodies, changes in the political system and the emergence of political representatives as the new rulers. A whole series of new laws, rules of conduct and government policies- a virtual transformation of the old society through land reforms, economic development, industrialization, improved communication system, irrigation network and expansion in the education, health and social services including social security and so on. The list is long and endless, but at the end of the day one has the satisfaction of not only being a witness but a small participant in this crusade of social emancipation and welfare.

Of late the direction seems to have been lost or confused, the thrust is no longer bold and determined, and other new goals/targets or directions have superseded the old masterly comprehensive vision of our pioneers. Yet not everything is lost. There are still hopes and the lost directions or the thrusts forward for the unfinished political, social and economic revolution will yet be reclaimed and resumed.

Strangely enough, much beyond my expectations, I have survived the prescribed age of superannuation by more than two decades, which means that I have been a pensioner, perhaps as long as I was on active service duty in the state from 1959 to the end of 1980. These last 20 and odd years have also been fortunate for me, in spite of my health problems and other handicaps. I have been often called upon to share my experiences in several working groups for successive plans and other official committees in the fields of agriculture, rural development, water management, education, etc. Among other things I have been active in some social commitments of the day in the fields of environmental and consumer's protection, in maintaining social peace and harmony during sudden crisis and keeping worthwhile intellectual dialogues and open through frequent and repeated interactions with the University faculty and scholars and with other knowledge seekers, media persons, book-lovers, and Artists and art lovers, through their various forms. Life has indeed been rich and colourful and rewarding.

Active on the varied development, social and literary fronts, I have been fortunate enough to serve since 1985 as chief editor of the 27 year old Indian Book Chronicle, English monthly devoted to the culture of books and communication arts. I have also had the privilege to edit and publish A Martyrs Notebook based on the notes kept by Shaheed Bhagat Singh during his last days in prison, when he never ceased in his passion for books and took copious notes from the books that he could read.

Also I have been able to contribute scores of papers and articles on various topics related to development etc. and actively participated in scores of seminars. I have also had the fortune to belong to the first batch of founding Directors of the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur. Active in the fields of public administration, rural development and Panchayati Raj, South Asian Studies, Centres for Gandhian and Women's Studies and other wings of Social Sciences in the University of Rajasthan, and other similar institutions, I have not only enriched my mind and enlarged my mental horizons, but have also contributed my best in a small, humble way. There are about a dozen voluntary social platforms (NGOs) like Hindustani Manch, Citizen's Forum, Paryavaran Manch and upbhokta sangathans and literary or cultural societies with which I have been involved. And the involvement continues, uninterrupted by physical handicaps or financial limitations, or restricted movements outside my little castle- my humble abode.

I take this opportunity to thank and bless all my companions and comrades in action, including fellow pensioners and others, who have kept me company or/and guided or supported me on my journey of life through its several phases. I am beholden to my generation walas here in town or in Rajasthan or elsewhere for their love and affection and understanding. Every small step taken in common with them has been worthwhile and memorable. I thank them all for this rare privilege."

2.         From a symposium on Perceptions of Administration published in RIPA Academica April-June 1986, where he replied to a question related to work done which had given him greatest satisfaction in his service period.

"I have had a chequered career right from my student days when I was politically active and had my grooming in some of my future commitments. Then, radio and writing gave me welcome opportunities to reflect upon and communicate my ideas on socio-economic, political and cultural issues.

As an administrator, with all too frequent transfers (almost two dozen in that many years) I found that in spite of personal inconvenience and some loss in status( as well as emoluments), my postings in the district (as a trainee and SDO in Jodhpur from January to October 1959, and as Collector and DM in Mahasu H.P. from June 1962 to December 1963, Chittorgarh from February 1966 to July 1967 and Ajmer from July to October 1967) were perhaps the most rewarding, because of the opportunities I had for direct contacts with the people and for helping in the process of their awakening or securing their just and prescribed rights, or facilities

A similar feeling of satisfaction was there when I worked as Commissioner Chambal Command Area Kota (1973-74) or earlier as Director in charge of Ganganagar Sugar Mill and Commissioner State Enterprises (1967-69).

My postings as Commissioner -Secretary respectively for Medical & Health & Family Welfare (1969-71), Education (1975), Agriculture Production (1977), Irrigation, Power and PWD (1976) also afforded me different types of opportunities to participate in the process of people striving for their educational, physical or economic betterment.

I have also been closely connected with the management of cooperatives, or the public sector, or expanding the role of nationalized banks, and of departmental undertakings, or with command area and land development programmes during which there have been periods of challenge and need for managerial skills or fulfilling targets and, though I could claim with some satisfaction of being "an active unit" in the process of change and development, the satisfaction of doing something concrete and real came to me mostly during my field postings, even though sometimes the ignorance (or innocence) of the average people and the complexity of government rules and procedures, or the indifference and callousness of some colleagues and subordinates did appear to be exasperating and frustrating.

But as I look back in this evening of my active life, I feel privileged to have been born and alive at a time when the people of India (Rajasthan) have been on the move."



© Rakshat Hooja 2019

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