Read

Two journeys, a generation apart

Arvind Panagariya | Updated on June 14, 2021

Long walk: Panagariya’s father left the village in Suwana to study in Udaipur. It proved to be a life-altering journey   -  ISTOCK.COM

Economist Arvind Panagariya’s tribute to his father who made a life against all odds and opened a world of opportunities for his children

* Even at the young age of fourteen, my father concluded that the system of community panchayats had not just hurt many families irreparably but had also damaged the community as a whole

* It was as if all the forces of nature had come together to see him study further

* Compared with the hazardous course he had had to cover between his mother’s funeral pyre and eventual arrival in Jaipur, where I was born, my journey from Jaipur to the United States was more like a joyride

* * *

I was born in 1952. After completing a master’s degree in Jaipur, I left for the United States to do a PhD in economics at Princeton University. The plan was to return to India after completing the degree, but that did not happen. Instead, upon completion of the degree in 1978, I joined the faculty of the department of economics of the University of Maryland at College Park, located on the outskirts of Washington, DC. I married Amita in India in 1981, and became an associate professor with tenure at Maryland in 1983.

In 1985, my father and mother visited us. This was their only visit to the country. By this time, both our children, Hirsh and Ajay, had been born. During the six weeks that Father and Mother spent with us, we travelled extensively on the East Coast of the United States. During one of these outings to Washington, DC, as we were passing by the White House, Father remarked with a touch of pride how I, at such a young age, had successfully made it from the capital of the state of Rajasthan in India to the capital of the world. I replied that it was his journey from Suwana to Jaipur that represented a far bigger leap than my migration from Jaipur to the United States. For, once he had arrived in Jaipur, the road to the United States for me was an easy one. Thinking back, my response had greatly understated the contrast between our two journeys. Compared with the hazardous course he had had to cover between his mother’s funeral pyre and eventual arrival in Jaipur, where I was born, my journey from Jaipur to the United States was more like a joyride.

My Father: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man / Arvind Panagariya / HarperCollins / Non-fiction / ₹699

 

Returning to Father’s journey to Jaipur then, it may be recalled that my grandmother’s last wish was that he should commemorate her death with a community feast at which the Oswal families of Suwana would be invited. Accordingly, my father hosted the feast on the appointed day and invited the families. But even on this delicate occasion, the panchas representing the community did not miss the opportunity to extract a price. Many years earlier, a silver crown of a statue of Parshvanath, one of the twenty-four founders of the Jain religion, had been stolen, among other valuables from my father’s family, in a burglary that took place at the family house in Suwana. As a condition for joining the feast, the panchas demanded that the family pay for the restoration of the crown. Eager to fulfil the last wish of his mother, my father and others in the extended family agreed to put up with yet another insult in a series of insults that the panchas had inflicted on the family, especially on my grandmother, during the preceding two years.

But the humiliations had reached a breaking point. Even at the young age of fourteen, my father concluded that the system of community panchayats had not just hurt many families irreparably but had also damaged the community as a whole. He resolved that when he came of age he would do everything in his power to put an end to it. Later, after acquiring an official position in the newly formed state of Rajasthan, when he became the de facto head of the family, he saw to it that all ceremonies at the wedding of his nephew, Kanakmal’s son, were conducted without any consultation with the community panchayat. That act of his heralded the beginning of the end of the power that the community panchayat had exercised for decades. Within a matter of years, the system withered away.

The period of bereavement over, my father returned to Banera to begin preparing for the English language examination that was to take place in Udaipur in March 1936. Preparations done, he along with other students went to Udaipur two days prior to the examination. Since this was their first visit to Udaipur, they stayed three extra days after the examination and went sightseeing.

Known as the City of Lakes, Udaipur is a beautiful place. Father and others in the party visited tourist spots such as the City Palace, the Sajjan Niwas garden and the many lakes around the city. The festival of Gangaur happened to coincide with their visit. In those days, Udaipur celebrated it with a procession that was led by Maharana Bhupal Singh, his ministers and senior officials. That formed a special attraction for my father and his classmates. Later that evening, they also got to see the spectacular boat procession in the famous Lake Pichola and beautiful fireworks. After an exciting visit, they returned to Banera. From Banera, my father came straight to Suwana, where he got to tell the stories of his Udaipur visit for several days to spellbound audiences.

The examination results came in June, and my father turned out to be the only student from Banera to pass it. He was now eligible to join the ninth grade in school, but had no means to finance his further studies. Therefore, he returned to Banera to seek the advice of his teachers and elders.

One of his teachers and the headmaster of the school advised my father to continue his studies. The former went out of his way and travelled with him to Udaipur to get him admitted to Maharana College in the ninth grade. He also got him a room and boarding in the Jain hostel there, where other out-of-town students of the college stayed. As if that was not enough, he then took him to a businessman belonging to the Oswal community to secure some financial assistance for him. The businessman generously agreed to cover half of the fee charged by the Jain hostel.

Unfortunately, the teacher did not live long after that. He died in an accident a few years later. My father felt deeply saddened by his sudden passing away. He remained grateful to this teacher all his life. Describing him as ‘a jewel among men’, he later recalled, ‘But for him, I would have rusted in some dark corner as a teacher at a school or as a munim (accountant) in a grocery shop.’

While half of my father’s hostel fee was now covered, there still remained the other half. In addition, he needed to finance the cost of books, tuition and other college fees and living expenses. The prince of Banera, who lived in Udaipur at the time, paid for his books. The principal of the college generously exempted him from tuition and other fees. For the remaining expenses, he found a part-time job as a tutor to a young lady from a well-to-do family. It was as if all the forces of nature had come together to see him study further.

Excerpted with permission fromMy Father: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man’ by Arvind Panagariya published by HarperCollins

Published on June 14, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor