Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Bold, Brilliant and Free: Devaki Jain's Memoir

 Bold, Brilliant and Free: Devaki Jain's Memoir.

Devaki Jain (2020): The BRASS NOTEBOOK - A Memoir. Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, Pp xi+215. 

Devaki Jain is the wife of late L C Jain, a renowned Gandhian Economist, mother of Srinivasan Jain of NDTV, daughter of Late M A Srinivasan, an highly exalted civil servant of Mysore Maharaja's era and who also became a Dewan( equivalent to present day Chief Minister) of Gwalior and member of Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of India. Devaki herself is a highly regarded Feminist Economist and title of some of her books partially defines her: The Journey of Southern Feminist, Close Encounters of Another Kind: Women and Development Economics, Women, Development and the UN. Yet it tells very little of her as a whole person, her travails and struggles to reach what she is now at the age of 87 years. Her present book, a memoir, is an attempt to portray just that.

Devaki is in a way one of those who contributed significantly to the policies and programs of India immediately after the Independence in her chosen area. Her reach was equally global. Her painstaking work concern marginalised and exploited, so called, she hates that word, "informal" workers especially women of the world, the Southerner who is historically Colonised by the Northerner, a Coloniser. She went on to say the issues of a Southerner female is different from that of Northerner and hence different policies are required to meet them. In fact, she even said that the models of women that we have like the panchamahakanyas - Ahalya, Tara, Sita, Draupati and Mandodari - as the most ethical, dutiful and subservient persons is  not the only model, and there are also women like Gargi, an ancient Philosopher, Avaiyar, a Tamil poet and scholar, Amrapali, a cultured and worldly courtesan, and others. 

Her work took her to associate herself personally with the giants of that era: Jaya Praksh Narayan(JP), Vinoba Bhave, Ram Manohar Lohia, Julius Nyriere, Desmond Tutu, Iris Murdoch, Amartya Sen, K N Raj, ( Delhi School of Economics), just to mention only a few, leaving out many literary figures, social activist, educationist and others of the kind with whom she had close contact.

Early part of the book gives us a vivid picture of her growing up as girl in the late 1930's and forties under a towering and loving father as well as the bonding she had with the other members of the family. She travelled along different villages with her father on a horseback as that was the only mode of transport then. She herself learnt horse riding, cycling and riding on elephant unlike the girls of the era! Those periods are full of joy and freedom which she fully utilised and enjoyed. However, it soon came to an end when her choices made in her full freedom, especially in choosing a marital partner, was totally opposed by her father and all members of the family, and her father literally showing her the door; the reconcile, if at all, that took was after a much too longer time. 

Since then till the 1960's perhaps, it was a harrowing time for her. Alone in foreign land with no money but with a strong desire to study in Oxford, meeting all sort of people for funding and research, few of her contacts being mean and ugly, often no place to sleep even, eating namesake foods, and yet slowly inching her way with only her determination as companion, graduated from Oxford, getting great appreciation for her original works from all the teachers, mentors and  educational administrators. The world opened at last to unfold her talents. Her narration is very vivid, deeply touching, and some of her very personal and intimate events depicted

were brutally honest and candid!

My own brief acquaintance with her was when she was nominated by the Chancellor as member of the Bangalore University Syndicate during my term as its Vice Chancellor(2002-2006). (Incidentally, the composition of that Syndicate was unique and true to the spirit and letters of the University Act 2000 wherein only eminent educationist and professionals are to be nominated. I was one of the first VC under the new Act and I must compliment Sri. S M Krishna as Chief Minister, Dr Parameshwar as Education Minister and I think Smt. Ramadevi as Chancellor who sent such eminent persons as retired Professors, retired DGP, renowned business men, Head of an highly accomplished  NGO. Alas, that was the first and the last time, Syndicate of the subsequent years consisted nominated members who were party workers and the likes where eminence of any kind were never to be found!).

She used to attend every Syndicate meeting, once she even invited members to her house in Malleswaram, and yet I missed knowing her as much as her Memoir portrayed now. Our meetings then were purely business like. At the end of her term as Syndicate member, while she was leaving, she presented me her friend Amartya Sen's just released big book "The Argumentative Indian", a marvellous work dealing with Indian History, Culture and Identity; I enjoyed thoroughly reading that book. Devaki Jain's book "The Brass Notebook - A Memoir" too I equally enjoyed reading although it belonged to a different genre than that of Sen's. Her book reads like a fast paced Novel! 



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