My father Inder Singh Mehta, born on 29th September 1910 at Udaipur, was almost 9 years old when my grandfather Nawal Singh Mehta was given in adoption – adoption was prevalent among Bachhawat Mehtas to maintain continuity of the clan for the purpose of succession and heir. It was a legitimate source of compensation for the inability of a couple to reproduce. At a time when warfare was quite frequent and death on the battlefield was common, such a tradition for a male successor was well understood. It is also interesting to note that in over 50 generations, not a single member was adopted from outside the clan. It was a way to maintain the purity and exclusivity of the clan. He passed away at Port Blair on 10th April 1992.
My father, the eldest son of Nawal Singh use to suffer from convulsions. The family could not find cure. However, one day a fakir announced, “Kunwar Inder Singhji could be cured if his father begged (bhiksha) for his bride”.
In 1930, Nawal Singh Mehta and his entourage were returning from pilgrimage to holy places of Marwar, by Mewar-
Marwar Railway (established in the same year 1930). At Marwar junction railway station, whilst the entourage was waiting for change of train, there was a group of Sanghis (Sanghi is a member of a group / sangh proceeding on Jain pilgrimage) on the other side of the platform. My grandfather, Nawal Singh spotted a young, beautiful and charming girl amongst the Sanghis. He sent a messenger to invite the father of the girl for a dialogue. The gentleman called Jaswantraj Singhvi, a small time money-lender from Sojat, arrived and paid his respect and reverence to the grandfather. Upon which they exchanged a few pleasantries and grandfather begged to give his daughter in marriage for his son Inder Singh. Jaswantraj Sanghvi was mighty pleased and accepted the proposal with reluctance as he became mindful of the class difference of the two families. The marriage was solemnized in 1931. The bride Kamala was rechristened Bhikam Kanwar, as she had been begged for the alliance. The health of my father, Inder Singh improved gradually but considerably. Rightly so, Bhikam Kanwar became the most revered ‘Bahu’ of the house. Though she was hardly educated but highly admired and respected for the profound maturity and wisdom she demonstrated in running the affairs of the household.
My father, Inder Singh had his early education at Udaipur, then at St Joseph College in Agra. In 1936, Mehta Inder Singh (1910-1992), went to King’s College, London for legal higher education. After his return in 1938, on completion of Bar-at-Law degree, he was invited by Maharana Bhupal Singh of Mewar to join him as his Private Secretary, which he could not refuse.
Maharaj Kumar Bhagwat Singh, adopted son of Maharana Bhopal Singh, was to be married to Princess Sushila Kumari, sister of Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner on 29th February, 1940. Inder Singh was assigned the task to make detailed planning and protocols for the wedding of Maharaj Kumar Bhagwat Singh at Bikaner. The wedding was conducted with precision and grace. It was a grand affair remembered to date by the various Maharajas and British Government dignitaries who attended the wedding.
After Independence he was transferred to Rajasthan Administrative Services. He served in various capacities such as District Magistrate, Collector, Census Commissioner, Revenue Appellate Authority, etc. before retiring in 1967. He also received President’s Gold Medal and commendation as Census Commissioner in 1961 for exemplary services and devotion to duty. He was instrumental in providing training and temporary employment for a year’s duration to over 2500 teachers and unemployed graduate youths of Mewar.
Bhanwarlalji Purohit, then our senior staff at the haveli, once recalled with pride about my father, who was addressed as ‘Rawale’ and Kunwarsa,
“In 1949, when Rawale hokum was City Magistrate at Udaipur, there were Hindu-Muslim riots. With timely intervention by him, both parties were disciplined, without much destruction and casualties being caused. While trying to control the agitated crowd at Ghanta Ghar, he was hit by a bullet shot in his left hand palm. The injured Kunwarsa did not leave the place of duty, until both parties accepted the peace proposal. Later, he was felicitated by the public of Udaipur for timely intervention and effective riot control.”
We may recall that similar communal riots took place in 1887, at the same place, which were contained due to timely intervention by then Pradhan Rai Pannalal Mehta, great grandfather of Inder Singh. The clock tower was then built by Pradhan Rai Pannalal Mehta in 1887 as a symbol of communal harmony.
I have very little memories of my mother since she passed away in 1958, when I barely 8 years old and my father was posted as Collector at Ganganagar (Raj). I use to call my mother ‘Bhabhi’ and father ‘Kaka’. I guess that was the practice in our families at Udaipur.
The life was not only tough but lonely for my father as his life partner left him when he was just 48. My elder brother, who was about 22 years old was studying at Calcutta and lived with my uncle Jai Singhji. My elder sister was about 12 years old and she had to be shifted to a convent boarding school at Ajmer. I too was sent to Vidhya Bhawan at Udaipur as boarder.
By 1960, my father was transferred to Udaipur and things became slightly easy as he managed to take direct control of household management. Kanchan Bhojaisahib, filled the void to manage the household affairs and also guide me and my sister. Since my father was a very organized and methodical person, the new member of the house found it easy to settle down. One could blindfolded go to a room or open a cupboard to find an item stored by my father. He was also very practical but a religious person. He frequently entertained visiting Acharyas and Gurus in the haveli. He doubled up as both father-in-law and mother-in-law to guide his new ‘Bahu’. He did not think twice to revoke old customs and traditions for the benefit of my Bhabhi.
My father, Inder Singh Mehta was blessed with four children – Man Singh (born 1933, passed away early in childhood), Bhim Singh (1936-1980), Jeewan Prabha (1945-1999) and Pratap Singh (Born 1950). Mehta Bhim Singh is survived by his wife Kanchan and a son Mahim and a daughter Pallavi. Jeewan Prabha was married to Ajit Singh (Cheel) Mehta, IAS, who passed away whilst holding the post of Home Secretary to the Government of Rajasthan. She is survived by three daughters – Shalini, Nalini and Vandini.
He retired from the government service in 1969 and moved to the haveli in Udaipur. Around mid-seventies he came in contact with Pujya Sitaram Baba from Jagannath Puri and welcomed him to haveli along with his devotees. He also took ‘diksha’ from him. The other prominent Guru Bhais (all those who have taken diksha) and who became his close associates were Chander Singhji Mehta (also his Samdhi), Raj Kumar Man Singhji of Banera and Rao Manohar Singhji of Bedla.
My father would often visit us at the place of our posting and stay for couple of months. He would also spend some time with my elder brother’s family, settled in New Delhi. Gopibai, our trusted house help, affectionately called ‘Jeeji’, would always accompany my father for out station visits. Besides taking care of special needs, medicine and food for my father, she would also be entrusted with full kitchen responsibility. Ultimately, he would be most comfortable and in ‘command’ when he returned to heveli at Udaipur. He loved every minute in the haveli as there would be couple of daily visitors, enquiring about his wellbeing and sharing the news of other havelis. Lot of time would also be spent on arranging regular maintenance of haveli and meetings with ‘lawyer’ for the encroachments by neighbors. Besides depositing cash in bank fixed deposits, he would also give money on loan to help out his close relatives and associates. Number of times he had exempted the payment of interest and at times even recovery of the principal amount.
In 1988-89, whilst at Udaipur, he had a massive heart attack and after that he became pretty week and it was not safe to let him live alone. That way he was very cooperative and started spending more time with us or my brother’s family in New Delhi. He was totally a self-made man. Though he lived his life as a king but always believed in doing his own thing and also chipped in for other household errands, like laying table for meals, cleaning utensils, drying clothes and picking up dried ones and folding them back. He had no airs about the jobs meant for house helps. He moved with us, without any reservations, from Delhi to Vishakhapatnam and then to Port Blair.
I, sometimes think of certain parents of my friends and relatives, who would insist on staying in their parental homes, in spite of failing health, causing much stress and diversion of attention for their sons and daughters. We were indeed blessed, as our father ate what we cooked, he slept in tight accommodation, when there was no proper house allotted to us. He went along with us for a movie or even stayed behind to take care of children, when we went for parties. He was the most adjusting and accommodating father, who had lived a life king-size. He was there with us when we needed him most. He would easily make friends with any parent living nearby and keep himself busy with morning-evening walks, a little bit of yoga & pranayama and TV news. Though he was pretty critical of modern culture, dance and music but he would still participate, may be as passive member. Perhaps missing his wife, who passed away early in his life?
Though he was a bit of orthodox, but quite liberal as far as his own family members were concerned. He would encourage my Bhabhi for wearing salwar-kurta, which was objected to by his own sisters (my Bhuas). He loved Mewari culture and food with equal gusto and passion. Although he was very class conscience but he had weakness for white skin and respect for Christians. I recall that way back in 1961, when we were at Ajmer, the sweeper of the bungalow was Mr Alfred, an Anglo-Indian. He would insist on adding prefix Mister. He would often offer him tea; ask him to sit on a chair in verandah and exchange pleasantries. There is no doubt that Alfred spoke chaste English and had pleasant manners. There would always be a disagreement between Gopibai, a devout Brahmin and family cook, with my father, over the type of cup to be given to Alfred. But on days when Ramlal, a shudra by caste, came in his place, he would not be offered even water and more so kept at an arm’s length.
Let me also share that we enjoyed the benefit of getting priority accommodation on the grounds of my father’s health. As a dependent parent, he was also privileged to receive medical treatment from naval hospitals. But he never had to be admitted for any serious illness. He passed away peacefully in his sleep on 10th April 1092 at Port Blair. He was 82. Yes we had gone to Corbin’s Cove, a beach in Port Blair, just two days before he passed away and had even taken some snaps. Although our flat was on first floor, he would walk down and come up on his own till very end. However, in the last days, he would have to be carried up to the flat by two people as he had become week. There was also some memory loss in the last one month or so. His younger sister Roop Kumari Bapna passed away at Udaipur in March but he couldn’t be told as he won’t recall her. I am very happy that I was with my father and not on flying duties when the end came. I had an opportunity to grasp the hand of a man who had shown the way to intellectual freedom to many family members. Glorious death is a transition into heavenly glories.
In the words of Spartan poet Tartarus,
“You should reach the limits of virtue, before you cross the border of death”