Friday, May 04, 2007

THE MARWARIS

Neelima Dalmia Adhar is proud to be a Marwari; who would not? Belonging to a sub-community whose founding fathers came out of the arid desert wastes of Rajasthani villages, with little more than a kurta-dhoti to cover their bodies and a brass lota to carry water to wash their bottoms, to end up being among the richest of the rich in cities like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Most of them spent their youth in tumble-down havellis; they ended up in grand mansions with fleets of automobiles, private aircrafts and mistresses. They became household names all over the country: Birlas, Dalmias, Goenkas, Bangars, Rungtas, Lodhas, Jaipurias, Maheshwaris. They owned large tea estates, jute mills, manufactured armaments, automobiles, chemicals, sugar and they controlled banking, the stock markets, newspapers and more.

They also built temples, schools, colleges, planetaria and gave lavishly to charity. A few ventured into politics but soon discovered that it was more profitable to have MPs and MLAs on their pay-rolls to do their bidding than to join political parties. Some trod the straight and narrow path of rectitude; many more were ever willing to compromise their integrity by bribing ministers and officials to get their work done. Some were puritans and abstentious; a few profligate and reckless womanisers.

Neelima has a good sample in her father, Seth Ramakrishna Dalmia, who rose from nothing to dizzy heights of wealth and power, married six wives and sired a large brood of sons and daughters, and was caught in a scam and spent a few years in jail. Neelima wrote a vivid biography of her father: Father Dearest: the Life and Times of R.K. Dalmia.

She has enlarged her canvas to write about an extended Marwari millionaire family, Loya: Merchants of Death (Har Anand). One can see there are elements of her own and other Marwari families in it. She writes: “Three most powerful forces that are known to motivate human behaviour are sex, money and revenge.” So she gives you dollops of them in her novel. She does not spare her sub-community from the contempt with which others look down upon it. She writes: “The counterpart of the Jewish community of the West were the Marwaris of India who had traditionally been associated with profiteering and black marketing in essential commodities like wheat, sugar, newsprint and cement during and after the Second World War.”

Adhar writes at a breathless pace, every sentence overloaded with adjectives. She reads like a writer in a great hurry to get her book done. She now plans to write a definitive book on the Marwaris and her distinguished non-Marwari mother Dineshnandini, poet and novelist, who was awarded a Padma Bhushan shortly before she died. Neelima will have no problem finding a publisher for her future works as her mother’s charitable trust provides publishing manuscripts chosen by her. (KUSHWANT SINGH)

New definitions

WTO: Not World Trade Organisation, but the World Tour Organiser, somebody who has wheels-on-feet, is peripatetic, starts planning next trip even before the first one is over, the kind you find in Udyog Bhawan and South/North Block.

DNA: Not deoxyribonucleic acid, but Dropper of Names, is at ease only when his famous ‘contacts’ have been cited.

GE: Not General Electric Company, but somebody with a Glad Eye, even in the workplace, which is of sweeping interest.

BJ: Not Blow Job, but Bhut Jolokia, somebody whose choice of words make his tongue explosive, like the hottest chilli in the world from northeast India.

(Contributed by Awdesh Kumar, Bhopal)

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