Today I am writing about autobiographies of two friends. Both have been published recently and posthumously.
“Motivated by Life and Undaunted by Strife” is authored by M.M.K. Wali. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 92 in New Delhi.
He and I qualified for the IAS/IFS in 1953. I opted for the IFS, Wali for the IAS for family reasons.
In those far off days the probationers of these highly coveted services had their training in Metcalfe House situated on the banks of Jamuna, which was far from dry in those times.
The IFS batch consisted seven and IAS of 32 probationers.
Our salary was nearly Rs 400. One did not know how to spend it. Petrol was 12 annas a gallon.
Wali was born in Sailkot in 1927. He excelled at school, college and Allahabad University. He was fluent in half a dozen languages including Persian. Wali was allotted the Rajasthan cadre, ending up as Chief Secretary.
His first Chief Minister was Jagannath Pahadia. He came from my hometown, Bharatpur. Everyone in Rajasthan was appalled at his appointment. He was Sanjay Gandhi’s choice. Pahadia was not up to the job and was soon eased out. He was endowed with a very thick skin. Let me quote Wali. “As late as 2016, decades after he had been replaced as the Chief Minister, Pahadia continued to occupy an almost rent free government bungalow in the posh Civil Lines in Jaipur. For a decade he also continued to occupy an apartment in Bikaner House in New Delhi, rent free. Rajiv Gandhi appointed Pahadia, Governor of Bihar!!”
The most gripping parts of the book are about the statue of Lord Mahavira being installed in Badabari near Mehruali. Wali was Lt Governor of Delhi at the time. Indira Gandhi had no objection to the erection of the statue. So did Wali, as all concerned agencies had approved the building of Mahavira statue.
Sonia Gandhi disapproved of the statue. She spoke to Rajiv, who wanted the statue to be removed. This message was conveyed to Wali by M.L. Fotedar. Wali pointed out that serious problems would be created if the statue was removed. Rajiv would have none of it. Wali was asked to resign. This does no credit to Rajiv Gandhi or his wife.
“Motivated by Life and Undaunted by Strife” is a splendid and engrossing book. It is co-edited by his daughter, Charu WaliKhanna. Wali departed before the book was published.
“Fiji A Love Story: Memoirs of an Unconventional Diplomat” by Ajay Singh is a gem of a book. I read it at one go. Ajay’s ancestors were farmers. They were inhabitants of a small village located between Agra and Bharatputr state, where my family lived. His great grandfather was taken to Fiji as an indentured labourer in the 1880s.
Ajay’s father Captain Bhagwan Singh was born in 1916. He was educated at Agra College. In 1941, he joined the Army. When India became independent Capt Bhagwan Singh was inducted into the IAS. He also served as India’s first High Commissioner to Fiji.
Ajay Singh was born in 1950, educated at Modern School, St. Stephen’s College and Canterbury University in New Zealand. For a while he was a journalist. Had a brief stint with India Today. He joined politics, worked under Chaudhary Charan Singh. He was elected to the Lok Sabha, became a junior minister in Prime Minister V.P. Singh’s government in 1991. He was president of the All India Jat Sabha from 2013 to his passing away in 2020.
The book is not only a history of his family but also of brutal British rule in Fiji.
Ajay has dedicated his memoirs to his late wife, Shiromani, who belonged to a prominent Brahmin family in Suva, the capital of Fiji.
Some months after I became External Affairs Minister in 2004, I was told that we were to have a vacancy in our mission in Suva. I sent for Ajay, telling him that I was posting him to Fiji. He was naturally taken aback. “Me, what for? What would you like me to do there?” I informed him that he would be India’s High Commissioner.
When he told Shiromani, she said to Ajay, “Did I hear right? High Commissioner! Are you sitting in the Press Club again, boozing with your friends while I slog my back off in this office? Who the hell would appoint you High Commissioner?” Ajay: “Chacha Natwar”.
Ajay Singh made a mark as Head of Mission, Shiromani proved to be an excellent hostess and helped Ajay in getting to know all aspects of Fijian life better.
In the middle of May 2020 Ajay and Mahavir Singh (he worked with Ajay in Suva) came to meet my wife, Hem and me. I asked how the autobiography was getting on. He had written a few chapters. That is the last time I saw him. He passed away a few weeks later. We were deeply distressed.
This is a most readable book, will keep Ajay’s memory alive.
I might add that the book was finished by Mahavir Singh with the help of voluminous notes left by Ajay Singh.