World of tech-savvy Ganesha (The Tribune (Life style) Chandigarh 6 Apr. 2007)

by Smriti Sharma

In Rajesh Kochhar’s house, Lord Ganesha reads a book and has a telephonic conversation

Lord Ganesha operating the computer!
It’s a collector’s world. Everything right from the tiniest pin to the biggest art piece, they all find a place under the sun. Among such collectors, stands out Dr Rajesh Kochhar, Professor of Pharmaceutical Heritage, NIPER (National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research), Mohali.
He has a unique collection of about 200 dhokra brass craft items from East India that include animal figurines like elephants, bulls, birds to old diya stands, gods and goddesses.
What catches our fancy is Lord Ganesha in various forms. Though in total, there are only 32 permitted forms of Ganesha, but our man has Lord Ganesha reading a book, sitting in front of a computer and even talking on the phone. Out of the total 200 items, 75 are of Ganeshas.
So how did it all start, we ask him. “It all began in 1999 when we were working on a rural development programme to focus on rural technology and to help the dhokra shilpis in West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkand. So my professional interests expanded to personal interests and I started looking for these items in emporiums, shops, villages or wherever I travelled,” says the former director of NISTADS, New Delhi.
For those uninitiated, dhokra is a century-old craft of metal casting by the lost-wax technique. “Interestingly, India represents an unbroken tradition that goes back to 3000 BC,” adds Dr Kochar, who initially studied the art and crafts as part of his official duties and then started building a collection.
Some of the rare antique items have also found places in his collection, including two unique diya stands with a bird and elephant strung with it from Orissa, an idol of Varalaksmi from Bardwan district in West Bengal, a Bankura horse from Bhankura in West Bengal and even a panchdhatu Ganesh from Swamimalai from down South.
A look at his collection is quite an eye-opener as each item comes with relevant information regarding a particular piece is documented and catalogued and even maintains a stock register which include minutest details like the date and day of procurement, the name of the artist and the place of origin.
“I will not mind parting with my collection for research’s sake and that’s why I take utmost care even to clean them myself,” he insists.
While we get ready to leave, he reveals his wish and that is, “My collection should grow and stay undamaged. But for anyone doing research, they are welcome!”

Raja Ramanna: Reminiscences

Ramanna was appointed defence minister by VP Singh. As a balancing act MGK Menon was made science minister. (Both held independent charge but had the rank of aminister of state.) In 1990, Survey of India DehraDun organized a meeting on the occasion of George Everest’s 200th birthday. Defence Minister was give the opening address and I was reading a paper. Those were the days of Mandal unrest. Since I knew Ramanna from his Bangalore days I asked him if I could come with him in the military helicopter. Most graciously he agreed pointing out that I would have to pay the prescribed charges. I was parked at Delhi. There was a phone call saying Ramanna speaking. For a while I got confused thinking the call was from his office. A military jeep was sent to where I was staying to bring me to his office. Given the general unrest, arrival of a military jeep and my being whisked off became a topic of local interest. VP Singh had called a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Could I read Ramanna’s address? I took a midnight taxi and brought his address to DehraDun. The government fell soon thereafter.
Ramanna had a tremendous sense of humour. One of his regrets was that the people he met in the public life did not quiteappreciate it, Worse, they took offence.

Ramanna was chairing a lecture in IISc campus ( in the auditorium near the main gate). After the lecture an oldish man stood up to ask a question or make a point. He bagan: First of all I wish to complement the learned speaker on his brilliant and lucid presentation …blah-blah. Finally he decided to come to the pointby saying However,
By this time Ramanna had run out of patience:You have spoken enough. Now sit down!

Ramanna has a genuine curiosity about things and welcomed addition or correction to his knowledge base. It is well known that the trigonometrical sine originated in India whee the term used in Sanskrit was jya. How does jya become sine, he wanted to know. I did not know. I spent some time in the library and answered his question the next time we met. Jya was rendered as jaib in Arabic. Jaib was an existing word in Arabic meaning folds of a derss. Jaib was literally translated as sinus in Latin

In an inaugural address Ramanna attributed the calculation of the highest peak in the Himalayas to Everest’s tenure as Surveyor General . During the tea break I explained to him that the peak was calculated after Everest had retired and it was named in his honour by his successor, Andrew Waugh. He appreciated the information, for future use.