My father and Alwar

Alwar Rajasthan
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Meenakshi Hooja

Meenakshi Hooja (nee Mathur) was born at Jhalawar on 26th June, 1952 and after spending early years of her childhood at Jhalawar, Bikaner and Ajmer moved to Jaipur with her parents and family.
Meenakshi taught Political Science at the University of Rajasthan before joining the Rajasthan Cadre of Indian Administrative Service in 1975.  She served on many important positions in Government of Rajasthan and Government of India.
She is widely travelled in India and abroad and was a visiting fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford in 1999-2000.  Post retirement, she was a Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal.
She has written on a number  of development and administration  related subjects  She has also so published books of poetry in Hindi and English.

Khemchand, our father or Daddy as us siblings addressed him, was born in Alwar on 10th April 1911. Our grandparents, Shri Ramchand (Babaji) and Srimati Lakshmi (Dadi) had strong roots in Alwar, though the family was originally from Delhi.  Our Babaji served the Alwar State as In-charge of Gardens and Horticulture, after having done his studies from St Stephens College, Delhi and Forestry from Dehradoon. He is credited with building the special Shimla area in the Company Bagh gardens of Alwar.

Ramchand, my grandfather. Alwar. Early 1900s.

 


Khemchand. 1997. Jaipur.

Shri Kunj Bihari Lal, Dewan in the times Maharaja Mangal Singh ji (reigned from 1874 to 1892) and guardian to his son Jey Singh (the future Maharaja) was one of our ancestors and was called Nanaji by Daddy. It is said that in view of certain conflicts in the Alwar administration, Kunj Bihari Lal was assassinated while on an evening ride on his buggy and the conspiracy is till date known in Alwar as the Kunje ko Phod do episode. Shri Ranjit Singh, holding charge of the Home Department, whom Daddy called Mamaji was also one of our close family members


Kunj Bihari Lal. Alwar. Late 1890s?

Born and brought up in Alwar, Daddy studied in the Mission School and then went to Delhi to do his BA and Masters at St Stephens College.

He often told stories about college and what he had done there including playing tennis, cricket, bridge and chess. Professor TGP Spear and Professor Monk were teachers he talked about a lot to his children and grandchildren. It was almost like we were part of his study and experience in College.

One kissa (story) that when recited still brings smiles to the faces of all those who had the fortune to hear it is the story of Marcus Pintus. A new teacher had joined college and Daddy decided to give his name as Marcus Pintus to the teacher in the introductory class as a joke. Apparently the teacher was a serious type and dutifully noted down Pintus in his attendance register and Khemchand became Marcus Pintus. But Daddy's mischief was not done yet. Apparently one day in the same teacher's class he brought three mongrel pups and hid them under various chairs. They would keep yelping and disturbing the teacher, much to the amusement of the entire class. The distraught teacher finally got one of the ‘good boys' to identify the mischief-maker. And so he marched off to complain about the insubordination of Marcus Pintus to the Principal. Obviously the Principal had no idea who Marcus Pintus was, nor was any such name enrolled in the college. Finally Khem Chand was sent to the Principal's office and maybe even the Principal saw the lighter side of the situation as the punishment was not very severe.

Khem Chand, fifth from left, top row. Possibly History Society, St Stephens College, Early 1930s

Anyway soon after completing his Masters, Daddy returned to Alwar, and with his credentials, through a competitive exam, was selected in the Services of Alwar State, standing 3rd in the seniority list. He was posted as Extra Naib Nazim at Rajgarh in March 1935. These orders were issued by none other than Sir Francis Wylie who was then Prime Minister in the His Highness Government, Alwar. Daddy was a great admirer of Sir Francis who was of the Indian Civil Service and worked in the Political department and later went on to become of Governor of Central Provinces & Berar and also United Provinces.

In those days, members of the ICS functioned mainly in three categories of departments - executive, judicial and political. Sir Francis joined the Indian Political Service whose members were sent as residents, agents/ prime ministers in the Princely States and hence Alwar was one of his charges. He was a house-hold name in our family as Daddy talked of his capabilities and mastery over administration.

Alwar State had made substantial strides in modernisation of the administrative setup, recruitment procedures, land laws, settlement of land records, collection of land revenue and required staff up to village to district level were in place. Daddy was quick to pick up, having successfully taken his training on the Punjab system of settlement and land records. As he told us, he loved his work, especially riding on a horse and camping in various villages to and inspect revenue work or dealing with some public order problems.

After his first posting in Rajgarh, Daddy had postings as Nazim in Mundawar, Tijara, Alwar, and Bansoor. He later became Hakim Punya and Muafi and then Secretary to Prime Minister Shri N B Khare and finally Collector Alwar in 1947. Apparently he discharged his duties in an effective and satisfactory manner as evident from the certificates regarding meritorious service, recruitment to the military services, grant of special increments, appointment in anti-corruption committees and being regarded as one of the best trained officers in Revenue laws and procedures

By August 1947, Alwar as a Princely State had acceded to the Indian Union at the time of Independence and the Matsya Union, that is the United State of Matsya, was in the process of being formed. The Matsya Union combined the Princely States of Alwar, Bharatpur, Karoli and Dholpur and was inaugurated in March 1948. Daddy was transferred to Bharatpur as Collector and remained there for about an year. He came back to Alwar for a second stint as Collector and continued till February 1951. Thus It is really interesting to note that Khemchand served as Collector Alwar while it was part of the Princely State, when it was part of the United State of Matsya, and also when it had become part of greater Rajasthan in May 1949.

During the transition of the Princely State of Alwar into the District of Alwar there are two episodes that Daddy used to narrate that many of us children considered exaggerated stories to entertain us. But later documents and communications have proven them to be true.

Neemrana, a small chiefdom under the erstwhile Kingdom of Alwar and now better known as a famous heritage castle hotel, had decided to be an independent unit when India became Independent. Daddy said that one day he decided to walk the Alwar Police into Neemrana town and Castle, and without a single shot being fired Neemrana became a part of India.

We now have copies of some of his letters, taken from the State Archives in Bikaner, written to the then Administrator of Matsya Union Shri KBL Mathur. They mention how Khemchand ensured that Neemrana joined the United State of Matsya as part of Alwar, and not treat itself as a separate unit as it tried to do.

The second story is about a very young L K Advani, later India's Deputy Prime Minister, turning up at his door steps in 1948 in Alwar and requesting his help. Daddy told us that irrespective of his political inclination, Advani was a very capable person and if he ever went to meet Advani, he was sure to be received with a lot of respect. This story was told during the years when Advani was leading the BJP to from the first NDA government and subsequently becoming the Home Minister so we assumed that Daddy was over reading some minor meeting that happened over 50 years ago. But subsequent events would prove his opinion to be true.

In view of his abilities and successful administration Daddy was selected into the IAS when this service was opened to the very senior officers of the Princely states and was allocated the seniority of 1944. After Alwar, he served as collector in several districts of Rajasthan including Udaipur, Jhalawar, Bikaner, Ajmer. Then, he became Secretary Agriculture, Commissioner Public State Enterprises, and retired as Secretary Irrigation, PWD and Power in 1969. However, he always regarded Alwar as his pride area of posting. Strangely this gets reflected in the Board of Collectorate Alwar District where his name is on top but has no dates, perhaps expressing his perennial attachment to Alwar.

Left: Khemchand. Field Camp, Bikaner District. Mid-1950s.

Actually even the name on the board has an anecdote attached to it that Daddy used to tell with much glee. Almost 25 years after he had retired he decided to call up the current Collector of Alwar to make a shifarish (request) for a friend. Quite honestly and politely, the Collector told Daddy that he had no idea who he was talking to. Very sternly and forcefully Daddy ordered the Collector to stand up, turn around and read the name Khemchand at the top of the board listing the names of the Collectors. That is the person he was talking to. Legend has it that the collector followed the instructions exactly and immediately gave the meeting appointment to the friend.


Board at Collector's Office. Alwar. Khemchand name at the top

When Daddy had joined the Alwar State service, he got a proposal, from Rai Bahadur Shri Naunihal Singh who had also worked in Alwar and Bikaner states, for his granddaughter Dayawanti. We believe that he immediately accepted it and our parents' wedding took place in 1936. It was a civil marriage under the Special Marriage Act followed by reception for all at Rajgarh where Daddy was posted at that time. Of eight of us siblings, Prakash (Titi) Kailash (Chanda), Manmohini (Dolly), Subhash and Subodh were born in Alwar. Ashok (Shammi) was born in Bharatpur when Daddy was Collector there and later my younger brother and I were born in Ajmer and Jhalawar respectively.


Dayawanti. wife of Khemchand. Marriage proposal photo. Agra 1930s.

Many of our family members from Babaji's side of the family as well as from Dadi's side live in Alwar, and we continue to maintain close connections. My eldest brother Prakash, better known as Professor P C Mathur did a lot of research in and on Alwar and has several writings/ articles to his credit. As a family we visited many places in Alwar together in the year 2005 including our house in Munshi Bazaar and Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri.


Moosi Mahrani ki Chatri. Alwar.

The Chatri is a monument built by Maharaja Vinay Singh in honour of the favourite wife of Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh ji. Located near the Sagar lake and circled by the Aravallis, adjoining the Alwar collectorate (part of city palace). It was Daddy's favourite retreat as and when he took a break from his work.

Company Bagh, Alwar, photographed in 2019.

Khemchand's soul belonged to Alwar but physically also parts of Alwar continued to stay with him all his life. When he built his house, B-87, Ganesh Marg, in Jaipur in 1965, HH Shri Tej Singh of Alwar sent a truck load of furniture saying how will this fakir (poor chap) ever have enough money to furnish his house! Part of that furniture is still with his children and grandchildren and the legacy of Alwar continues to fill up our houses and hearts across India and the world.


Part of furniture sent by Alwar ruler. Jaipur, mid-1960s.

Epilogue:

Khemchand passed away on 14th February 2004. The entire family had gathered at B-87. There was a phone call and someone informed that L K Advani, the current Deputy Prime Minister of India was on the line and wanted to talk to a family member of Khemchand. On getting the sad news, he had called to express his condolence and pay his respects. And he spoke at length about how Khemchand had helped him in 1948 in Alwar.


© Meenkashi Hooja 2019

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