Pride of Bachhawats in 20th century turns 104 – KL Mehta, ICS
It is indeed a rare feat that a father and son duo received highest civilian award of a foreign country. KL Mehta wrote his autobiography, tilted “In different Worlds”, published by Lancers Books, New Delhi in 1985. These are excerpts and stories from the book.
Kanhaiya Lal (Bachhawat) Mehta was born on 30 March 1914 and passed away in 1992. He turned 104 on this birthday. He received his early education at the hands of private tutors mostly at home and in traditional ‘Pathshalas’ of Udaipur, before moving to Ajmer for graduation and later to London School of Economics and Lincoln’s Inn. In 1937 he became the first Rajasthani to qualify in the competitive Indian Civil Services (ICS) examination. He served under British government in the Ajmer Presidency, United Provinces, and later after Independence in Himachal Pradesh and NEFA (North East Frontier Agency). He then moved over to Ministry of External Affairs and served as India’s Ambassador to many countries from 1963 to 74. He served as Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan during sixties. The government of Afghanistan in 1972 honoured him with their highest civilian award for immense contribution towards Indo-Afghan friendship.
Mehta Fatehlal (1869*-1959*), son of Mehta Rai Pannalal, had two sons – Devilal and Udailal. Mehta Devilal worked as Hakim of Devasthan. He died at an early age leaving behind two sons – Kanhaiya Lal (1914-92) and Gokal Lal (1917-91). Mehta Udailal was given in adoption to Mehta Takhat Singh.
Popularly referred to as KL Mehta, married ladies of his choice with whom he had fallen in love, first a German Jew, Gisela and on her passing away a Muslim lady, Sakina from Hyderabad, unmindful of the restraints which govern the selection of brides in Hindu family. KL Mehta, brought up in the feudal aristocratic home, later transformed in to a modern, emancipated, rational and forward-looking citizen.
He is survived by two sons – Ashok and Dalip. While Ashok served in senior positions with various corporate houses, Dalip joined Indian Foreign Service and served as Ambassador and High Commissioner to various countries with distinction. It may be recalled that when Dalip Mehta was Indian Ambassador to Bhutan during 1995-97, the ties between India and Bhutan were at peak high, because of his personal efforts. Even after retirement, he continued to work towards strengthening relations between these two countries. In 2012, he received the highest civilian award of Bhutan from His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
Grandson is Born in the Family
KL Mehta writes, “Bhanwar Devilal, grandson of Mehta Rai Pannalal was married to Saras Kanwar, when just 14 years old, from Raoji family of Jodhpur. Saras Kanwar to her embarrassment gave birth to daughters at the age of 16 and 17. The wise lots of the haveli were already casting doubts about her ability to give birth to a son without whom no Hindu family is complete. Not only a male child was needed to perpetuate the family line but also to perform ‘kapalkriya’ at the time of cremation of his father and offer shraadha (श्राद्ध oblations) to his departed ancestors every year. It is said that in the absence of these ceremonies, the souls of the departed would not rest in peace.”
Saras Kanwar was not intimidated. With her complete faith in Thakurji (God), and interminable prayers, she presented a baby boy to Mehta Devi Lal, on the 2nd day of four-day long, colourful and romantic festival of Gangour at Jodhpur. The news travelled to Udaipur and even the grand old man Mehta Pannalal was awakened from his sleep to be given this happy tiding. He did not mind being thus disturbed, as he knew that the new arrival would ensure his entry into heaven and bring peace to his soul after death.
Mehta Kanhaiya Lal writes in his book, ‘In Different Worlds’, “The ceremony of ascending a Golden Ladder (सोने की निस्सनी) is performed, along with special ‘pooja’, when grandfather is alive. Mehta Rai Pannalal put the big toe of his right toe on the top most rung of a ladder made of pure gold as a kind of symbolic gesture of ascending the steps to paradise. The pooja is performed as a kind of thanks-giving to Thakurji and seek his favour for the baby’s long life.”
“While such a programme on the religious front was going on, arrangements were also made for gratifying the pleasures of senses. The troupe of dholniyas (lady drummers) were busy in the zanani haveli, regaling the lady guests and the maid servants with their songs and dholaks (drums) for several hours of the day. The dancing girls (रण्डी) were engaged to sing and dance in the darikhana (mardani haveli) for the amusement and pleasure of male guests. This went on for several days and it is believed that the celebrations were unmatched in the history of havelis of Jagidars of Udaipur”.
Etiquettes for handling new born
KL Mehta further writes, “I was taken to Rai Pannalalji, my great grandfather, every morning for a few minutes, when the old gentleman would fondle me and those who had gathered around him to pay their respects, would either say a few complementary words about the baby or just stare in silent admiration. If father was present at the time, he would not take any notice of me, as etiquette forbade fathers from talking to their sons or daughters in the presence of their own fathers.”
Interaction between men and woman
KL Mehta writes, “I was born in a world in which there was virtually no communication between men and women., in which a father-in-law and a daughter-in-law could spend a life time together in one house, without him ever seeing her face or a single word being exchanged between them. Interpersonal relations were as a rule on superficial levels, with a display of goodwill and flattery in the face to face encounters”.
Virginity was sacred
The elder sister of KL Mehta was already married. The younger one Sarju was to be married to an eligible young man from a respectable family as soon as she reached the age of puberty. Virginity was considered to be sacred. Parents took great care to marry off their daughters before they got a chance of losing it. It was much too risky to have a young lady living by herself in the haveli as their mother was no more. A misadventure, usually engineered by a female servant and prompted by a promise of substantial reward, could smirch the reputation of the family for generations to come. Before Mehta Devilal passed away in 1937, he ensured Sarju Kanwar was happily married and installed in her husband’s home at Nagpur. Both Kanhaiya Lal and Gokul Lal went to England for higher education.
Sex and Extra Marital Affairs
Sex was a dirty word and sexual impulse was believed to physical and spiritual degeneration. Yet there was a muted admiration for those who kept mistresses (पासवान) and otherwise engaged in illicit sex. Decent people were not supposed to refer to it; the elders did not educate their teenage boys or girls. Their knowledge of this important and complex subject was derived from hush-hush talks with the servants. KL Mehta writes, “One of them even managed to entice a dog in to the compound, while bitch was on heat and I was provided with an object lesson in sex. The ones, who persuaded me to steal, even arranged with one of the young maid servants to provide me with a practical lesson in sexual intercourse. I found the experiment neither pleasant nor entirely successful”. KL Mehta adds, “I could not think of sex for the rest of my life, only if I got very fond of someone and fell in love with her. A good man I was told, took a wife for procreation and not enjoyment.
The Love Triangles of Mehta Kanhaiya Lal
Whilst in London for higher education, Mehta Kanhaiya Lal fell in love with a German lady, a fellow student at London School of Economics. He asked his brother Gokal Lal, who was in Udaipur, to break the news to his father about his intention to marry Gisela and also to prepare the ground for hearing of it through his letter. Gokal showed his father the photos of Gisela and even a letter which she had written to him. KL Mehta writes, “Gokal, my brother, played an active role to help me out when I decided to marry a lady who was out of the community and was not even a Hindu but a foreigner. He attended my marriage along with Dr Mohan Sinha Mehta, solemnised at Banaras against the will of grandfather. Dr Mehta performed the kanya-daan on behalf of Gisela”.
The leaders of the community met and discussed the situation. Finally, nothing happened, and they refrained from actually expelling him from the community. Incidentally, KL Mehta as teenager in Udaipur looked up to Dr Mohan Sinha (Cheel) Mehta, with admiration. Like his father he too was an odd man out. He was in the State service as a Minster and had special interest in Scouts.
KL Mehta passed away at Delhi after a brief illness in 1992. He presented his autobiography to us in 1990 at Delhi, when we were about to leave on posting to Vizag. He came over to our residence at Princess Park to bid goodbye to my father and his elder cousin. That was the last we met him. May his soul rest in peace.