Jayalalithaa 1948-2016

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 6th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

The following word picture  of Jayalalithaa (to use the spellings she adopted in later years for better luck) is based on pieces of information , including  from her distant relatives, that have come my way during the past four decades of my stay in, and association with, South India. (I  am not reading anything being written on Jayalalithaa nor do I intend to. )

First of all a delicious irony should be noted. Tamils and Telugus are crazy about their films, but in the real life they do not follow the script. In Andhra NTR’s political inheritance went not to his son but sno-in-law. Similarly, MGR’s mantle fell upon not his wife but Jayalalithaa. Though of Malayali heritage, MGR had the solid support of the Thevar community. Jayalalithaa’s durability in politics arises from the fact that the Thevar vote bank remained loyal to her.

Jayalalithaa comes from the high-ranking Ayyangar Brahmin caste. Her Mysore-based  mother’s father was a learned Sanskrit scholar, but her mother went wayward. She moved to Madras to try her luck in Tamil films without any notable success. Not much is known about Jayaraman whose name is prefixed to Jayalalithaa’s own personal name.

Jayalaithaa was a very bright girl who left to herself would have become a medical doctor. As it happens with many unsuccessful mothers, Jayalalithaa’s wanted her to succeed where she herself had not. Jayalalithaa teamed up with MGR in many films and moved into politics following him. (It has been rumoured that they were secretly married.)

It is said that she has a (probably disabled) daughter from the Telugu actor Sobhan Babu.

She even ventured into Hindi films. She had a small, rather jarring, side role in the 1968 Dharmendra-Tanuja starrer Izzat. She sang a dance number Jaagi badan mein jwala/ Sainya tooney kya kar daala.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WDk6_YMq8w

Later, an ever-innocent Dharmendra wondered why her picture was being seen in the newspapers so often.

It is noteworthy that while Indians like their male political leaders ( Nehru,  Bajpai) to be benevolent and rather indecisive, they admire focused ruthless women ( Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa.) A trait that contributed to their success was the ability to tell a lie to the face without batting an eyelid.


Praising technical jugaad: Celebrating illiteracy

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 6th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment


Harvinder Khetal (In love with jugaad,  26-Nov-2016; http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/sunday-special/people/in-love-with-jugaad/328851.html) has done well to draw attention to the interesting phenomenon known as jugaad. One however cannot but notice that she has gone overboard in romanticizing it. Human mind is inherently creative. The level of creativity however is determined by the all-round preparedness of the mind. Jugaad is an improvisation effected by self-taught people using simple machines they are familiar with. It can only serve limited purpose and cannot add much value. Value addition takes place though technological innovation where creativity is successfully applied to state-of art machinery.
Celebration of jugaad displays a patronizing attitude. It sanctifies lack of proper formal training to our farmers and artisans. Imagine what these grass-root improvisers would achieve if they went through industrial schools, polytechnics and engineering colleges!

The following is the abridged version The Tribune published:

Sunday Tribune Letters to Editor 4-Dec-2016
‘Take my word’
The article did well to draw attention to jugaad. However, jugaad can serve a limited purpose. Value addition takes place through technological innovation where creativity is successfully applied to the state-of-the-art machinery. Celebration of jugaad displays a patronizing attitude. It sanctifies the lack of proper formal training to farmers and artisans. Imagine, what these grassroots improvisers would achieve if they went through engineering colleges!
Rajesh Kochhar via email

The making of colonial Simla, 1815-1830: A Re-look

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 13th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Simla finds first mention in passing in colonial records in 1816. At the time the  area conjointly belonged to two princely states. The first permanent European structure, a residential building, was constructed in 1822. Simla was taken over by the British in 1830 and made the summer capital in 1864.


Rajesh Kochhar

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Simla entered colonial India’s records after the Anglo-Gurkha War, 1814-1816. Colonial-time accounts as well as more recent ones tend to backdate the eminence which Simla came to acquire later.

The Gurkha conquests included Sirmaur, Nalagarh,  Bilaspur and the 12 Simla Hill states. For what is now Himachal Pradesh, the war ended in May 1815 with the surrender of the Gurkhas. Since the British were unfamiliar with the terrain and in addition had a very small number of soldiers of their own, they asked for and received help from the hill chiefs. Another major source of men and general help was the Maharaja of Patiala. After the war, territories of military importance as well as disputed ones were retained by the British. Other territories were returned to the chiefs except that parts of the states of Keonthal and Baghat  were given to the Maharaja of Patiala as a reward for his help. This is how the Simla area came to be conjointly owned by Koenthal and Patiala. Their rulers routinely gave rent-free land  to those Europeans who chose to live  there.

An important consequence of the war was the induction of the Gurkhas into British Indian army. A  Gurkha battalion was raised and headquartered at Subathu , while a detachment was posted at Kotgarh. {The formation was named the Nusseeree battalion. The rather peculiar name calls for some explanation. The British campaign was led by David Ochterlony who  otherwise carried the appointment of  the first British Resident at Delhi. As such he had received the   title Nasir-ud-Dowla (helper of the dynasty or state) from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam. He now named the new battalion after his Mughal title.}

European discovery of Simla was a corollary of the troop and officer movement between these two places {Subathu and Kotgarh}. Simla entered colonial records in May 1816, when a British surveyor pitched his tent on the Ridge ‘and found villages distant and supplies scarce’. I have found from the records of the Survey of India that his name was [Major-General] John Anthony Hodgson, later the Surveyor General of India.

The next Simla surveyor is better known. Alexander Gerard, otherwise stationed at Saharanpur, travelled from Subathu  through Simla to Kotgarh  where his brother  Patrick Gerard was based.  Alexander reached ‘Semla’ on 30 August 1817 and described it as ‘a middling sized village’. European residential interest, as distinct from the surveying interest, can be said to have begun in 1819 when a double-poled tent was pitched on the north-western extremity of the Simla ridge by Subathu-based Lieutenant Robert Ross who from 1815 till 1822 held the post of Assistant Political Agent  for the Protected  Hill States.

During 1819-1821, Simla became at temporary resort for Subathu invalids and some visitors. The first ever permanent residence in Simla was built in 1822, by Ross’ successor, Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy. He  remained in Subathu till 1829 when he was given the higher designation of Principal Assistant to the Resident at Delhi and transferred to Simla where he served till 1835. The French traveller, Victor Jacquemont, who visited Simla in June 1830 as Kennedy’s house guest, recorded that ‘Some hundreds of mountaineers were summoned, who felled the trees around, squared them rudely, and, assisted by workmen from the plains, in one month constructed a spacious house’.

Following the 1826  Bharatpore siege in which the Gurkhas played a leading part, the Governor-General Lord Amherst  visited Subathu the next year and went on to spend two months, April-June 1827, at  the Kennedy House. While his visit made Simla well known, infrastructural development came about the next year thanks to the five-month sojourn of  the Commander-in-Chief  Lord Combermere. Even though he himself stayed at the  Kennedy House, a  large number of houses had to be built for his vast entourage.  To him goes the credit for building a road around mount Jakhu and a wooden bridge over a ravine.

In 1829 Amherst’s successor Lord Bentinck announced his intention to visit Simla. Accordingly, a dak bungalow atop a hill was demolished to make way for Bentinck Castle. Less reverentially, a prominent peak on the north-west horizon was called ‘Lord  Bentinck’s nose’ from the similarity of its outline to the profile of  His Excellency. Kennedy’s 1829 transfer to Simla as Political Agent, already referred to, was no doubt a prelude to a change in the status of Simla.

In 1830, in a negotiated settlement,   13 villages  from  Keonthal and four villages from Patiala that together constituted the Simla ilaqa were transferred to the British and villages elsewhere given in their stead.  We have the names of these 17 villages, but Simla does not figure in the list. Obviously, Simla at the time was not important enough to figure in the revenue or administrative records. It would be interesting to find out the name of the village and the pargana to which the pre-British Simla belonged.

By the time Bentinck visited Simla in 1832, it was part of his empire. Finally, in 1864, it was made the summer capital.