“India had a good number of freedom fighters who fought to secure the country’s independence from British rule, and among the well-known personalities was Chandra Shekhar Azad. Today, July 23, marks the birth anniversary of the fearless man who chose to make the supreme sacrifice by taking his own life to escape imprisonment and torture at the hands of the British”. PM Modi

Born in Allahabad, I have a special place in my heart for Chandra Sekhar Azad. Just opposite my school, St. Joseph’s High School, is Company Bagh, in the outskirts of which he shot himself to death in February 1931, after he was ambushed. It was said that he was waiting for a secret and a crucial meeting with a colleague Virbhadra Tiwari, who turned traitor and informant.

I was born in December 1950, 29 years after he died. I moved to Delhi in 1984.

Whenever we had relatives visiting us, I would religiously take them to the place where he died and relate the whole incidence. I left Allahabad in 1984, till then the whole place was intact in its original form. I would show them the tree where he shot himself. I would take them around the moat which surrounded the area and explain how the whole battalion of armed force silently and secretly using the moat approached Azad, shooting bullets from their rifles, nonstop. Even then they could not kill him. Hundreds of bullets were fired. Azad retaliated with his gun and shot himself, when he was left with only one bullet. Even after Azad killed himself, the battalion was scared to go near him. They did so surrounding him with rifles loaded and with bayonets pointed at him.

I would describe the whole event as though I had witnessed it, with tears in my eyes and goosebumps.

Born as, Chandrasekhar Tiwari in the village Bhabhra, Madhya Pradesh on July 23, 1906, he went to Kashi Vidyapeeth, Banaras to study Sanskrit.
When Gandhiji launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in December 1921, Chandra Shekhar Azad, who was then 15 and still studying, joined the movement.

Chandra Shekhar Azad was arrested for joining Gandhiji’s movement and as punishment was lashed with a whip. It is said that when he was brought before the magistrate, he gave his name as Azad (“The Free”), his father’s name as Swatantrata (“Independence”), and place of residence as Jail.
After Gandhiji suspended the non-cooperation movement in 1922, Chandra Shekhar Azad joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organisation formed by Ram Prasad Bismil, Sachindra Nath Sanyal and others.

Chandra Shekhar Azad took charge of HRA after Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Thankur Roshan Singh were sentenced to death in the Kakori train robbery case.

As a freedom fighter, Azad was also involved in the Kakori Train Robbery of 1925, in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy of India’s train in 1926.

After the capture of the main leaders of the HRA, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh secretly reorganised the HRA as the HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republic Army) in September 1928.

When Lala Lajpat Rai died in 1928 due to the grievous injuries he suffered at the hands of superintendent of police James A Scott, members of the HSRA vowed to avenge his death. But due to a case of mistaken identity, Assistant Superintendent of Police John P Saunders was killed.

I would like my children and grandchildren to bow their heads with respect whenever they hear the name of this great Hero of India, who at the raw stage of 15 jumped into the freedom struggle. Heroes like him were instrumental in getting India’s independence.

Rani Karnavati – The Forgotten Warrior Queen

In India, the valour of many kings and queens have been buried under the sand of time, often deliberately. One such queen was Rani Karnavati from the Garhwal Kingdom, which like Mewar could never be captured by the Mughals. The queen was known for her ruthless bravery which earned her the title of ‘Nak-Kati-Rani’ which means the queen who cuts the nose.

In Himalayas, in 16th Century there used to be a Garhwal Kingdom, presently known as Tehri Garhwal of Indian State Uttarakhand. Mahipati Shah a Rajput, was the Ruler of the Kingdom. The capital was Srinagar, which got shifted from earlier capital Dewalgarh. King Mahipati Shah had ascended the throne in 1622.

The king was known for his fierce bravery and his stiff opposition to any invasion. When Shah Jahan was crowned on 14th February 1628 at Agra, rulers all across the Northern India went to pay a personal visit to the new emperor. The king of Garhwal decided to avoid this ceremony which enraged the new emperor. The emperor was also told about the Gold Mines in Srinagar region, which increased the determination of the new emperor to plan an invasion. The King Mahipati Shah suffered fatal injuries during the battle of Kumaon and his short reign ended in 1631.

His son Prithvipati Shah was coronated at the age of seven. Mahipati Shah’s wife, Rani Karnavati ruled the kingdom on behalf of her very young son. She ruled till the time her grown up son Prithvipati came to the throne and started ruling.

When the Delhi emperor came to know about Mahipati Shah’s demise, he ordered an attack on the Kingdom of Srinagar in 1640. His general Najabat Khan, along with thirty thousand men marched towards the Garhwal Kingdom.

The queen allowed them to enter the kingdom but held them at today’s Lakshman Jhoola. The men could neither move forward nor retreat. Unknown to the terrain and food supplies running low, the men were losing morale. Najabat Khan sensing defeat sent a peace message to the queen which was rejected.

The desperation in the Mughal army ran high and queen toyed with them like a seasoned predator. She finally came down heavily on them and captured them only to release them after cutting off their noses.

Rani Karnavati resorted to psychological warfare by sending a message to the Mughal court that if she could chop off their noses, she could also chop off their heads. The sultan was embarrassed and enraged. He ordered another attack under Areej Khan who met the same embarrassment under the hands of the brave Rani and her generals.

The drubbing scars of the lost battle were left on the face of the Mughal Empire. Later the Garhwal army regained their lost land and the anecdotage of Rani Karnavati’s victory became popular in the whole region and created a rich history of Garhwal.

The drubbing scars of the lost battle were left on the face of the Mughal Empire forever.

Walk and Talk with My Friends Elephants


Aristotle said of elephants: “The beast which passeth all others in wit and mind“.

I know elephants since I was an infant. My maternal grandparent used to live in a quaint town called Moulmien, in Burma. During summer holidays me and my siblings would to go there with our mother, spending close to couple of months every visit.

My grandfather had a large timber factory there. Since cranes were not known in those days, elephants were used for movement of large trunks. My grandfather also owned an elephant. I always believed that he could talk to elephants. He handled his elephant very aptly and treated him like a son.

My grandfather taught me about elephants, their intelligence, emotions and how to communicate with them.

Last year I shifted to Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand, a state in India. Before that, I spent two years in Parmarth Ashram in Haridwar. From Haridwar, I frequently visited Rishikesh. All these three towns are surrounded by Rajaji Forest. Rajaji Forest is extensive and is connected to Himalayas, Holy River Ganga and many small rivulets.

Rajaji Forest is a habitat of elephants and they are the original owners of the area, including Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh, which has now been encroached by humans. Present population of elephants in Rajaji Forest is about 1800.

Remembering and not forgetting what my grandfather taught me about elephants, I thought of getting in touch with them. It was not easy. Elephants do not like us human beings and prefer to keep away. They do not trust humans. Whenever the elephants and humans cross in forests, there is always a clash.

It took lot of time getting friendly with a herd of elephants. Once I did, we started meeting often. This herd was quite large with one head, five males, six females and four calves.

Most of the talking was done by the herd head. When I asked him about them in general, he said that, we are capable of a range of emotions, including joy, playfulness, grief and mourning. In addition, we are able to learn new facts and behaviours, mimic sounds that we hear, self-medicate, play with a sense of humour, perform artistic activities, use tools and display compassion and self-awareness. We have 400 words in our elephant vocabulary.

He said that, we are amongst the most intelligent creatures on earth. In fact, our intelligence rivals that of human beings. Our weakness is that we are not born with survival instincts and need to learn these during infancy and adolescence.

Our capacity for memory and emotions is remarkable. This is also the area responsible for emotional flashbacks and is the reason that elephants experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He explained that we mourn our dead. We give our deceased burial ceremony. The burial ceremony is marked by deep rumblings while the dead body is touched and caressed by the herd member’s trunks. Those who are already reduced to a skeleton are still paid respect by passing herds.

Self awareness is yet another indication of the vast capacity for thinking and intellect that exists in us, said the elephant. We can, in fact, recognise ourselves in a mirror, something that is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.

I read about elephants getting killed by fast moving trains at night, when they are crossing railway tracks. Though there is a defined speed limit for train drivers when they pass Rajaji Forest during night or in early morning, they seldom adhere to it.

Poachers kill elephants for tusks. We humans have encroached on to their habitat and kill them by accident or on purpose.


We fail to realize that there is a purpose for which Nature created elephants.

Elephants are among the most intelligent of the creatures with which we share the planet. Elephants with complex consciousnesses are capable of strong emotions. They are also keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live.

During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water. This not only allows the elephants to survive in dry environments and when droughts strike, but also provides water to other animals, that share harsh habitats.

When forest elephants eat, they create gaps in the vegetation. These gaps allow new plants to grow and create pathways for other smaller animals to use.

They are also one of the major ways in which trees disperse their seeds; some species rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal. Wherever they live, elephants leave dung that is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. When this dung is deposited the seeds are sown and grow into new grasses, bushes and trees, boosting the health of the ecosystem.

In the Jungle Book movie, when elephants are passing, Baloo says to Mowgli “Bow down and show respect to the elephants. They are the one who have created forests. It is because of them the animals live, mountains and rivers are there”.

In the areas where the elephants live, humans need to learn to avoid conflict with them. Obstructions should not be created on the paths in which they move.

After all, to survive, we need them more than they need us. We exist if elephants exist.


Tea with Monkeys


Every day early morning, after coming from walk, I have a set ritual to follow, on the balcony of our house in Dehradun. Mornings of Dehradun, due to proximity to Himalayas are pleasantly cool, when it is warm and hot in Plains.

On the balcony I go thru a sequence of yoga regime, followed with a cup of hot detox tea, which is a concoction of Green Tea, Lemon Grass, Hibiscus, Ginger, Tulsi, Lemon and Honey. Sipping this tea and reading a newspaper on the balcony is heavenly. Whenever I am away from Dehradun, I miss this morning ritual.

Every day as a routine, a troop of monkeys, come jumping on the massive tree, which we have right in front of our house. After monkeying on it for some time, they take a round of the neighborhood, obviously hunting for food. Their routine is as fixed as mine. Number of monkeys in the troop are 9, five adults and four kids. Kids are as naughty as they could be. Running and jumping playfully. Adult are a serious lot.

Since they are regular visitors, as a general courtesy, I thought of inviting them over for tea, which the head of the troop readily agreed to. Date and time were mutually agreed upon.


The family of nine came over on the date and time as agreed. Nobody from my family participated and chose to abstain from the event. The family though, helped me in laying the food on the table of the balcony.  Choicest of bananas, peanuts and biscuits were spread. Main door of the house was shut. This is as far as the Indian hospitality goes.

Guests seated and helped themselves with the food. Obviously they did not believe in rituals and formalities. Once the supper was over, we started talking.

I asked the troop leader why they venture so far away from their habitat and what is their story.

Troop leader gave me a very sad and also an annoying look. He said that the onus is on your race. You do not know how to contain yourself and are greedy. You keep on destroying forests, rivers and fountains and keep on constructing. There is no end to it.

You do not realize that you are destroying and compromising on future of your race as well, along with that of ours and our fellow animals. With destruction of forests, rivers are drying up. Mountains are going barren, which is causing more and more landslides and earthquakes. The whole cycle is getting disturbed. Glaciers are melting. With the melting of glaciers, flow of water in rivers is weakening day by day. You will have no water to grow your own food or to drink. Forest fires have become a frequent thing.

With reduction in forests, we are losing our homes, so also our friends like leopards, tigers and elephants. They have no choice but to come to your habitat to look for food. Here, as you now say: man and animal conflict begins.

Today we just look for food outside your house and in the neighborhood. In future who knows, more monkey troops will join us and we will start attacking you and forcefully enter your house. After all, we must have food for us and our family. If it is not available in forests naturally, we will seek from you. So will the elephants, tigers and leopards. Already it has begun.

As one of your famous writer once said ‘You stole our homes; we steal your pastries’.

Being a representative of the human race, I kept my head down, accepting as truth, what was said, and ashamed.


For my grand children: Manya, Vrinda, Unnati and Sarthak, expecting them to be good human beings.

India – Glory that was!

India - Glory that was

Mark Twain, an American author, said that “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

Another Yorkshire-born American Unitarian Minister, J. T. Sunderland, said that nearly every kind of manufacture known in the civilized world, nearly every kind of creation of man’s brain and hand, existing anywhere and prized either for its utility or beauty, had long being produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or any other in Asia. Her textile goods – the fine products of her looms, in cotton, wool, linen and silk were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewellery and her precious stones cut in every lovely forms; so were her pottery, porcelains, ceramics of every kind, quality, colour and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal – iron, steel, silver and gold.

He further said that India had great architecture – equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works. She had great merchants, great businessmen, great bankers and financers. Not only was she the greatest shipbuilding nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea which extended to all known civilized countries. She was the India the British found when they came.

Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon, was a connoisseur of Indian shawls and textile. Similarly, royalties the world over used to patronize Indian textiles because of its high quality. Indian spices found its way into the royal kitchens. The list was endless. Traders from down South and West used to navigate international waters on India-made ships.

Singapore was discovered by Vijaynagar Empire, which also helped set up modern administration system, in now called Malaysia.

Empire of Ashok was the world’s largest and he was instrumental in exporting Buddhism, now the world’s third largest followed religion.

Despite weakening of Empires and their getting fragmented; despite continuous attacks of looters from Middle East and beyond; despite Moslem and Mughal Rulers becoming more powerful, wealth and skill of India was such that, it remained a global leader in trade. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the British economic historian Angus Maddison has demonstrated, India’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 per cent.

It is quite visible, as quoted by Shashi Tharoor, the Politician and Author of ‘An Era of Darkness’ that, the reason was simple: India was governed for the benefits of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.
In present times, in last few decades you could see further deterioration in form of growing outsourcing, erosion of entrepreneurship in India’s Business Community. Sadly, the new generation prefers working in BPOs, IPOs, Call Centres, again serving the West. You see large factories getting shut down. Even India’s greatest and historical brands of textiles, ceramics, etc. are being outsourced from other countries.
My forefathers used to say, that if you are serving as an employee, you are feeding your family. If you are an entrepreneur you are feeding 200 families.
I look forward for the old glory of India to come back, in form of rise in entrepreneurship, growth in M&SME. Pre-British era, India was a global leader in trade because of traders and small entrepreneurs.
I would like to end with a statement made by Albert Einstein, American scientist: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”



In the medieval era, Rajasthan stood divided into five large and several smaller principalities. The big 5 were Amber (Jaipur), Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur (Marwar) and Udaipur (Mewar).

The founder of Shekhawati region was Maha Rao Shekhaji, a descendent of the Kachhawaha Rajput Clan which held Amber-Jaipur for centuries. The chieftains of Shekhawati were the descendants of Baloji, the third son of Raja Udaikaran of Amber, who succeeded to the throne in 1389. Shekhawati, named after its founder, meant ‘Garden of Shekha’.

As the Mughal Empire fell into decline after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the descendants of Maha Rao Shekhaji, who had already spread themselves in the east of the Aravalli, began to encroach the west and north through the Udaipurwati and Sikar gaps in the hills. Shekhavat Rajputs wrested land from the ruling Muslim Nawabs (governors) to expand their fiefdom. By 1730, the Shekhavats grew very powerful and Shekhawati was flourishing.

Shekhawati comprised of towns like Jhunjhunu, Bikaner, Sikar, Ramgarh, Fatehpur, Sujangarh and Sardarsahar. It also had within its fold many large and small villages.

From the turn of the 19th Century till about 1822, a vast amount of trade was diverted through Shekhawati and more and more merchants got attracted into this region. This was a meeting point of the camel caravans from the Middle East, China and India.

Trade in opium, cotton and spices flourished. The merchant community that grew then were called ‘Marwaris’. These Marwaris built palatial havelis (villas). They also financed and built temples, baolis (step wells), schools and Dharamshalas (inns) in their home towns and villages.


The flourishing cross desert commerce wilted away as the British political set-up grew stronger. More and more stress was being laid on the ports of Bombay and Calcutta instead, to establish monopolies for the East India Trading Company. By the 1820s and 30s, it became obvious that the future of trading did not lie in the sands of Rajasthan.

The Marwaris of Shekhawati would not be so easily put down. Leaving their native land, the menfolk migrated all the way to Calcutta, the colonial capital. They also migrated to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Assam, Burma, Bombay, Surat, Hyderabad, Chennai, etc. Here too they flourished and inspired their brethren to join them.

When Shekhawati started flourishing, words went around and my forefathers also decided to move into that region. They chose Sardarsahar as the place to settle down. They moved from Hissar, which now is part of present day Haryana. A rough estimate is that it happened in late 1700. I am the ninth generation.

Chowdhary’s of Rajasthan was a highly respected name in Sardarsahar as apart from being rich, they had done a lot for the society. They had built a school, a baoli and a Dharamshala. School and Dharamshala were later converted to a Guest House. Baoli still continues and provides sweet water to about 100,000 citizens, in old part of the town. A family trust operating from Calcutta looks after the maintenance of these facilities. There used to be a street which had haveli’s of Chowdharys lined up and was named after my great grandfather, Surajmull Chowdhary Street.

When trade started wilting away from Sardarsahar also, my great grandfather decided to set up a base in Calcutta. Elder brother of my grandfather was mandated to move their and set up a base.

My grandfather was directed to a place called Barisal, in Bhola of East Bengal, which in present times is Bangladesh. This place was chosen as it had vast cultivation of Areca Nuts (Supari). From what I had heard, this was inhabitable, full of mosquitoes and flooded during monsoons. Hardly any food was available, except coarse rice, lentils and some vegetables. Malaria was rampart. Business was to buy areca nuts, process, grade, pack them and ship to Calcutta by steamers. There was no banking system. Money used to come in gunny bags.

Travel time one way to Barisal from Sardarsahar was about six months, using modes like camel, camel carts, bullock carts, trains, bus, steamers etc. Minimum stay time was 8 years for all male adults.

As infrastructure improved a base was set up at Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) where Areca Nuts were transported. Couple of Munims (accountants) were stationed there to trade and collect money. Munims as per the Marwari traditions were considered members of the family.

My father, after completing his graduation from St. Xavier’s, Calcutta also moved to Barisal to assist my grandfather. He was later joined by his younger brother.

The story does not end here. Post partition East Bengal became East Pakistan and my family decided to shift to Allahabad, where they already had a small trading post. In this migration, my grandfather boarded the last train out of East Bengal and was nearly killed. When the train reached India, it was full of copses. My grandfather’s life was saved by a Bengali Muslim who knew him. He was also in the line of migrants whose heads were being cut off. Luckily one of the killers knew my grandfather as he had received some help from him. He placed my grandfather along with the corpses and covered him with a bloodied cloth.

Taking into account my grandson, we are eleven generation connected to this history, which saw the best and worst of times.

In Sardarsahar, I have stayed in the beautiful haveli couple of times, which my forefathers built. It was like a small fortress, with Rajasthani Murals painted all over and carved doors and windows. Sadly, just a decade back it had to be sold off, as most of the family members were not interested in holding it. It was destroyed and a mall was build there. Members of our extended family still have their Havelis on that Surajmull Chowdhary Street. Baoli still provides water to residents of the old city. Guest house is available for marriages at a nominal token amount.

Property in present Bangladesh is lost. In Calcutta, part of our family continues using the original Gaddi (office) we have in Burra Bazar.

Memories remain and will remain till my generation.

Allahabad side of family, except few, have migrated to Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, USA, UK, UAE and Luxemburg. Most members of the Chowdhary family reside in now called Kolkata. A family tree in print is maintained which has all the names of male members of ten generations.

Princess of Ayodhya, who Became a Queen in Korea


In my last visit to South Korea in 2009, my old time friend Ian Lee took me for dinner to a newly opened upmarket Indian Restaurant. Chatting over drinks and food, I happened to mention about an Indian Princess, who traveled all the way to South Korea to get married to a King. I asked him if he knew about this story. He simply jumped up from his seat and remarked “How do you know about this? You are talking about my great, great, great grandmother.”

Next day he narrated this incidence to all his staff in his office and took me to the grave of this Queen located at Kimhae. He said that all her descendants gather here on a particular day to pay respect to her. He said that most of the Kim and Heo and a few of Lee are descendants of this Great Queen.


King Suro and Heo had 10 sons together, 8 of them were given King Suro’s last name – Kim of Kimhae, but 2 of them were given their mother’s last name to honor her – Heo of Kimhae. Kimhae is the name of the region where Gaya was located. About thousand years later, one of Heo of Kimhae branch became Lee of Incheon. So, Kim of Kimhae, Heo of Kimhae, and Lee of Incheon are all related – in the old days, they couldn’t intermarry.

The holy city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India plays host to hundreds of South Koreans every year – who come to pay their tribute to their legendary Queen Heo Huang Ok. The Queen, also known as Princess Suiratna, was the Princess of Ayodhya before she went to Korea and married King Kim Suro of Karak Clan in 48 AD.

It is because of the presence of her monument in Ayodhya that around 6 million people of Karak Clan consider the city as their maternal home. The memorial was inaugurated in 2001 in Ayodhya. Six million Koreans representing the Kimhae Kim Clan, Heo Clan and Incheon Lee Clan, trace their ancestry to the Royal Union.

An analysis of DNA samples taken from the site of two Royal Gaya tombs in 2004 in Kimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, confirms that there is a genetic link between the Korean ethnic group and certain ethnic groups in India.

Back in 42 AD in South of Korean Peninsula, there was a kingdom called Gaya. The founder of the kingdom was King Suro.

In Ayodhya, parents of Princess Suiratna had a dream, in which the Heavenly Lord told them to send the Princess to King Suro in Korea who had been chosen as the King of Gaya. The dream showed that the King had not yet found a Queen. Princess’ father told her to go to King Suro.

The journey took two years by sea. It is said that the Princess, during the sea journey, carried a stone tower which allowed the Princess to safely travel the perilous sea voyage from India to Southern Korea. It’s named “Calm Wave Sutra” and is now part of the Queen’s tomb.

According to the legend, the courtiers of King Suro requested him to select a wife from among the maidens they would bring to the Court. However King Suro stated that the selection of a wife would be commanded by the Heavens.

He commanded his senior courtiers to take horses and a boat to Mangsan-Do, an island in the South. In the island, one of the courtiers saw a vessel with a red sail and a red flag. He sailed to the vessel and escorted it to the shores of Gaya (present day Kimhae or Gimhae). Another courtier went to the palace and informed the King of the vessel’s arrival. The King sent nine clan Chiefs, asking them to escort the ship’s passengers to the royal palace.

Princess refused to accompany the strangers. On King’s orders a camp was pitched on the slopes of the hills near the Palace. The Princess then arrived at the tent with her courtiers and slaves.

The twenty slaves carried gold, silver, jewels, silk brocade and tableware. Before marrying the King, the Princess took off her silk trousers and offered them to the mountain spirit. King Suro told her that he knew about her arrival in advance, and therefore, did not marry the maidens recommended by his courtiers.

When some of the Queen’s escorts decided to return home, King Suro gave each of them thirty rolls of hempen cloth (one roll was of 40 yards). He also gave each person ten bags of rice for the return voyage. A part of the Queen’s original convoy, including the two courtiers and their wives, stayed back with her. The queen was given a residence in the inner palace, while the two courtiers and their wives were given separate residences. The rest of her convoy were given a guest house of twenty rooms.


Today the population of South Korea is 51.25 million, out of which the percentage of Indian Princess’ descendants is 11.70%. A large percentage of the country’s politicians, businessmen and intelligentsia have been and are descendants of the majestic Queen of Korea hailing from Ram’s birth place Ayodhya, in India.

My Nani Bari


My grandfather was a second generation Marwari businessman in Burma. His family moved to Burma looking for greener pastures, when the trade route going thru Rajasthan dried up and they were left with no means of earning. This is the ordeal lot of families in Sekhawati Region of Rajasthan faced. Sekhawati Region consisted of towns like Bikaner, Sikar, Sardarsahar, Jhunjhunu, Fatehpur, Pilani, Ramgarh and so on. It was because of the trade route drying up, we see Marwari businessmen in every nook and corner of India. Migrating to other parts of India was not by choice, but because of compulsion. It was, for sure, a plight.

My grandfather was in timber business. He used to buy tree lumbers of Burmese Teak and get them sawn on contract in saw mills in a town called Moulmien in Burma. He used to ship these to Calcutta. His father and younger brother were based in Kathgola in Calcutta. Kathgola, as the name sounds, was a timber market (Kath in Hindi means wood and Gola – Center). Burma Teak is hardwood and is called king of woods. It was supposed to be the best wood for furniture.

My grandfather bought a composite saw mill in Moulmein from an English Company in the year 1926. The owner of the company Anglo Burma Teak Company had decided to go back to England. The property was huge in the sense that a road ended there. On the back side was River Thanlwin. It made it convenient to bring in timber from the forests, towed by a steamer. Lumbers were stacked and tied which became a floating platform; it was then hooked to a steamer. The compound had owner’s large colonial house, houses for staff, saw mill, timber stacking yard, a shed and fodder storage area for elephant, two jetties, steamer deck and a small garden.

When my grandfather informed his father about the purchase, he was very angry and was worried from where the money would come for such a huge property. It was then that my mother was born. This announcement condoned the first one and the family indulged in rejoicing, for she was the first child in my grandfather’s generation.

Life in that small colonial town was very good and peaceful. People had time to relax in the evening. Men used to play cards in clubs or with friends in one of the homes. Women, as usual, were involved in the house affairs. My mother grew in this free environment, having a host of Burmese friends. She grew up more like a Burmese girl and spoke Burmese fluently.

There was a small but not insignificant population of Marwaris, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Keralites along with Thakurs and Brahmins from Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Moulmien is now called Mawlamyine. It is the main gateway to South Eastern Myanmar and is on the mouth of River Thanlwin.

Moulmien was called ‘Little England’ in colonial times. Both Moulmien and Rangoon were capitals of the once British Colony of Burma and that has left the city with a treasure trove of colonial era architecture.

The British chose Moulmien as their capital after the first Anglo-Burmese War, because of the safe harbour it offered at the mouth of the Salween (Thanlwin) River where it enters the Gulf of Martaban.

Between 1826 and 1852 the British built Government Offices, Churches and a massive prison in Moulmein.

As a child, I remember Moulmein as a small beautiful town, surrounded by hills and rivers. The city had a mix of Burmese and Colonial architecture.


Being a Buddhist country, the city was dotted with huge numbers of large beautiful Pagodas.


In the mornings, you could see many Buddhist monks of all ages going house to house for alms, as per the tradition. Every Burmese house had a small temple or alters of Buddha. Every boy had to be ordained for certain period as a Buddhist monk and had to live away from family.


People were peaceful, pious and fun loving. As men are the world over, they loved drinking in the evening. Their dress was simple – a shirt and a lungi to wrap around. Formal dress top was different which went along with a cap.


It was a female dominated society where the men moved to bride’s house after marriage. Women were invariably beautiful and knew how to carry themselves. In the evening they would cover their face with a cream made out of herbs, to tone up their skin.


The Japanese invaded Burma in 1942 and occupied it up till 1945 during World War II. Fearing safety most of the Indians residing in Burma moved back to India. My grandfather also moved to India along with his family. His property was taken over by the Japanese and was made Regional Military Headquarter. After occupation, when my grandfather moved back to Moulmein, his found his house in a very bad condition, steamer sunk and one of his pet dog blinded by a bayonet. Japanese were very cruel and more than 200,000 people died during occupation.

This period of 1942 to 1945 was very critical for our family, as during this period my parents got married. My father was studying in Calcutta in St. Xavier’s and was also involved in the family business, as well as in independence movement.

Nani Bari word itself carries lot of excitement. All the children during summer holidays look forward to go to their maternal grandparents’ house. Why not? Change it provides loaded with tons of pampering.

My two brothers, my sister and I were a privileged lot. My mother used to go to her parents in Burma once in two years. We kids, obviously went with her. From Allahabad it was train ride to Calcutta, from there by Union of Burma Airways to Rangoon. From Rangoon, a short flight to Moulmein. Also getting visa every time was a big hurdle. My grandfather had to pull lot of strings in Rangoon to obtain visas for us.

My grandfather was always there to receive us at Rangoon Airport. What an imposing personality he was! Tall, lanky, receding grey hair lines, he used to stand erect. I always looked up to him. I had the confidence, that he is the one man who can do and manage any and everything in this world. I always dreamt to be like him. From Rangoon, we were taken to Moulmein by another short flight of UBA. Train and road journey from Rangoon to Moulmein were considered dangerous.

First thing which was organised for us were white boxer shorts and Burmese lungis. We have to be like Romans in Rome. Why boxer’s short? This is the question which comes up in mind. We were supposed to wrap the lungi around our waste. As an insurance plan, we were to wear shorts, just in case somebody pulls away our lungi or it decided to open on its own.

My grandfather’s working area was ground floor. First floor was the residence. It was a huge teak wood and concrete house with back veranda facing the river. All flooring end to end was of Burma Teak. Furniture was very simple and functional.
The household had four Malayali maids, with origin from Kerala. I remember they were Christian and my grandmother had no problem with that, though she was a very religious lady.

Staff in the mill consisted of Burmese, Muslims, Hindus, Christians from Kerala and Thakurs from Eastern UP. The mill had one elephant to pick up lumbers from the river and stack them in the compound of the mill. The mill had two jetties, one each for low and high tide and a large steamer. Steamer was used to bring in lumbers from the forests.


Work would close at sharp 5PM with the whaling of a siren. I still remember a Chinese guy, who would come exactly at 5PM. Dressed in white, donning a white cap, he would carry salted peanuts in a white wrap around bag. Below the container holding peanuts, there was a small mud stove, with burning coal, to keep the nuts warm and crispy. Even today I have not been able to wipe out the memory of that Chinese peanut vendor nor the taste of warm salted peanuts.

My grandfather’s working dress was a white dhoti and a white shirt. After business hours, after bathing he would change into a lungi and a white vest. Sheets were spread on the floor and he along with his senior staff, neighbours would sit in a circle to play cards. A servant’s duty was to light up a chilum and ensure that it remains lit. Turn by turn the card players, rather gamblers, smoked it. Surrounding my grandfather would be four of his pet dogs.

My grandfather was a thorough professional. He would mount the elephant, whenever the lumbers were to be picked up from the river. It was quite a tedious and dangerous job of keeping the elephant on the nerves. Mahaout could not manage the elephant at this stage. My grandfather had the knack of managing the elephant. I always thought he spoke elephant’s language. In the evenings, he would swim and float in the river. We kids would sit on the jetty and watch him swimming and floating. Along with us sat a bunch of Burmese kids dipping fishing rod in the river.

My mother would become a different person while in Moulmein. She would also wrap around a lungi and chat with Burmese neighbours in their language. She would go around meeting and spending time with her childhood friends, most of whom were Burmese. The life for her here was quite in contrast to her life in Allahabad. Actually, we also did not need her in Moulmein.

My times at Moulmein remain very nostalgic for me, memory of which will remain with me throughout my lifetime.



I was born in a family. I mean family in real Indian sense of the word. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by my Grand Father, Grand Mother, my Parents, one of my married chacha (uncle) and chachi (aunt), another of my unmarried chacha, third uncle – one and half year older than me, my father’s unmarried sister, a cousin sister and host of Maharaj (cooks), servants, maids and chowkidar (gate-keeper). All lived under one roof. My father had five brothers and seven sisters. The day I was born, by then six of his sisters were married and a brother as well.

When I started going to school, our family consisted of 16 members. We used to eat our meals in kitchen called Chowka. Eating elsewhere was not allowed, accept breakfast.

During mangoes season, fruit was divided into two, with one kid getting one half. We were never deprived, but were also never had abundance.

All festivals like Holi and Diwali were celebrated together with preparations starting a week ahead of the festival date.

In school, our bill was combined, having serial number one and the largest in school. We were seven uncles and nephews studying in St. Joseph’s High School, Allahabad, at any given moment. My sister and a cousin used to study in adjacent St. Mary’s. In the mornings, three cycle rickshaws used to line up to take us to school and then to bring us back in the evening. As we grew, every new teenager was bought a cycle. All rickshaws and cycles used to go together and back together in the evening, as mandated by the elders of the family. A great security strategy it was for sure.

Starting of each new session, we all used to go to Universal Book Company in Civil Lines along with our eldest uncle to buy books, copies, etc. We had a bargaining power because of numbers.

What fun it was! After coming back in the evening and before study and home work time we used to play cricket in our small courtyard. We did not need anything for entertainment. We were self-sufficient. Everybody had a favourite magazine which they bought, including Phantom Comic, Raja Bhaiya, Chanda Mama, Parag and of course Dharmayug, which was a family magazine and was primarily meant for elders. These were shared by all, turn by turn. Of course, the person who bought it had the power to decide the turns. Not a single page was left unread by any one.

When we fought, we fought like mad. Ladies of the house had to get involved to separate the fighting boys. There was a room which was like a class room. Each of us had our own table and chair. In front of us Masterji (teacher) used to sit, to help us do our homework and resolve problems we faced. Immaculately dressed in a Bengali dhoti and a shirt, I believe he used to work in the administration department of Allahabad University. Evening study session used to be serious and dedicated. Masterji was responsible for our performance at the school.

Such was our relationship with him, that on every Durga Puja we were invited to his house. We were offered Bengali delicacies prepared by his wife. This was the event we used to wait for. After seeing the Chowk Dusshera Chowkis, we all boys used to parade down to his house. I still miss it so much, that whenever I visit Allahabad I take a peak where his house was, behind our house. Sadly it is there no more.

During summer holidays, apart from doing homework, we were assigned to write two pages of Hindi and two pages of English text every day. This was to keep us partly busy and also to improve our hand writing. Not doing this was a punishable offence. We all boys used to cycle down to Yamuna bank in the evening. Our family boatman, Sangam, used to wait to take us on his boat to teach us swimming. In the mornings, turn by turn, on Sundays we used to go with our eldest Uncle to bathe in Gangaji. On return, we would to buy a large water melon. In evenings, the whole family used to assemble in the courtyard to have a slice or two of that melon.

During afternoon we use to shut ourselves in a room and read whatever comics, magazines and books, we could lay our hands on.

Our distant family used to love coming to our house during summer holidays. With cousins joining us, it used to be fun all the way.

Marriages in family, of which we had many, were most sought after events. Mostly, it was a week’s event. First to come were a team of Halwais who used to set up big chulahs on the roof. A store was prepared to store sweets and namkeens. Over the halwais were staff and over them a supervisor, who had deep knowledge of sweets and namkeens. We had free hand to pick and choose what we wanted to eat, twice a day. The house used to be full of relatives, who were all assigned tasks, from peeling of soaked almonds to peas.

Today when I look back, I analyse that whatever I am today, it has lot to do with the joint family. Having good habit of eating all kind of vegetables came from my eldest uncle, who taught us to eat everything. Flair for gardening came from my second uncle. From my father I learned to be system oriented. Joint family teaches you so much, to face the world and to evolve as a good person.

Sadly, the families are becoming nucleus, for now everybody wants space. In the process they fail to realise the benefits of getting born and growing in a Large Indian Joint Family.