Krishna Murari Chachaji - As I knew him
Krishna Murari Chachaji from my childhood had a larger than life image in my mind of a person who was full of love for me. He and I grew up in the same family of traders in a small town Shikohabad in Uttar Pradesh. We had similar schooling, though he grew up when the country was under the British colonial rule, and by the time I was four years old and sent to a single teacher primary school, India had gained its independence. He was the engineer saheb of the family. I did not know then what an engineer saheb did. All the same, my father, Pitaji, Chachaji’s eldest brother, who was in the civil service holding the office of the District Magistrate of Tehri Garhwhal at Narendra Nagar, and Chachaji, who perhaps was holding the post of SDO in the Irrigation Department in the UP Government, were the pride of the family. My grandparents were proud of these two sons and would tell me now and then to follow the footsteps of my father and Chachaji and study well to be worthy of the tradition of these two high achievers. Both of them would come home each year on Diwali. My grandmothers will get jalebis and kachoris for breakfast from the well-known halwaiof the town, Ramswaroopji. I was under awe of both of them, particularly of Pitaji, and timidly would polish their shoes to please them, perhaps the only useful skill I possessed then.
My Chotey Babaji, called Bauji by Chachaji, had got a car for the engineer saheb. I think the car was of Mercury make, a reasonably commodious vehicle. I went in it with my grandfather to Meerut for attending the marriage of one of my uncles and in our return trip took a route along a canal and stopped at an inspection bungalow of the irrigation department. I then became vaguely aware of what Chachaji did.
Chachaji was a brilliant student and wanted to become a mathematician. But during the colonial period my grandfather, Babaji, Chachaji called him Tauji, ruled out an academic career for him. As one of his sons was a deputy collector in the government service, he wanted Chachaji to become a civil engineer and join government service, preferably in its irrigation department . Pitaji endorsed Babaji’s decision and took charge of the education of Krishna Murari Chachaji and Shambhu Nath Chachaji.
Chachaji possessed flair for research and wrote research papers based on his experiments in developing high strength concrete using ash waste produced in thermal electricity plants. Chachaji’s research was noted internationally and he got an opportunity to visit USA and meet engineers and scientists who were experts in his research field. I was a school student in Delhi. Chachaji was my hero as he was the first person from the family going abroad and that to the US. I started dreaming of one day going to the US for research studies.
Chachaji was large hearted and of generous temperament.
When he was associated with the Rihand Dam project he recruited a stenographer. The person he selected appeared before him in a kurta paijama for the interview. He was a brilliant person but had to discontinue his studies because of family circumstances. Chachaji was not aware of his background but was impressed by his typing skills. Chachaji liked him and he respected him from his heart. The name of this person was Keshav Dev Sharma. Chachaji could not have anticipated that Keshav Dev Sharma will play a crucial role in my life and become my life long friend. When Chachaji was finishing his Rihand Dam project, Keshav Dev Sharma requested Chachaji to post him to Lucknow to enable him to resume his studies. Chachaji helped him in his Lucknow posting. Keshav Dev Sharma was a brilliant student. As soon as he completed his MA degree he applied to the University of Chicago for doing his Ph.D. in sociology. He perhaps had come to the University of Chicago in 1963. A year later I went to the University of Chicago for doing my Ph.D. in physics. Chachaji wrote to Keshav Dev Sharma that his nephew would join the University of Chicago. Soon after I had spent the first two days in the International House of the University of Chicago, Keshav Dev Sharma came in his car and introduced himself to me as a friend of Chachaji and took me to his apartment for dinner. I and Professor Keshav Dev Sharma became good friends. Keshav Dev Sharma was in touch with Chachaji throughout his life. He once showed me his toes and pointed out that they were similar to those of my Chachaji. In 2015 I wanted to send a copy of my book to Keshav Dev Sharma. Chachaji shared with me the sad news sent to him by the wife of Keshav Dev Sharma that he had died.
In 1971-72 soon after my marriage I went to Trieste, a beautiful Mediterranean town on the border of Italy and Yugoslavia for spending a year at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics. I splurged and rented a portion of a villa having a private beach, though stony, and purchased a white Fiat 500, a cinquocento. In February 1972 Asha was in advanced stage of pregnancy and had returned to India. I received a letter from Chachaji that he would be in Ljubljana in Yugoslavia then and now in Slovenia and he could spend a weekend with me. On a Friday afternoon I drove to Ljubljana which is about 100 km from Trieste and met Chachaji at his hotel. On the way back to Trieste I showed him the world famous Postojna caves. I did not do much cooking and on the way purchased some french fries, salad and bread. I gave Chachaji a dinner of soup, bread, fries and salad. Next day I took Chachaji to Venice a beautiful resort town I was familiar with and showed him the San Marco Plaza, Rialto Bridge and took him to the neighbouring town of Murano by a ferry. I showed Chachaji how beautiful glassware were made in Murano by blowing inside a long pipe with molten glass at its end. Chachaji liked Murano glassware as it reminded him of similar glass making in Firozabad a town neighbouring his home town. My landlord was happy that my father’s brother was visiting me and invited him for a vegetarian dinner. On Sunday evening I sent Chachaji to Ljubljana by the Orient Express, famous for its journey from London to Istanbul and plot of a murder mystery by Agatha Christie. Chachaji recalled to me details in of his visit to Venice and Murano but decided to summarily recall his visit to Trieste and Venice in two lines.
Pitaji and Chachaji lived a simple life within their means and had reputation of being efficient and just administrators of unimpeachable integrity. Their family members found them unapproachable, although were keen to avail their influence in facilitating their business. During Dussehra holidays Babaji took me with him to Mussoorie for a week. On way to Musssoorie we visited Chachaji at Dehradun. One of Chachaji’s brothers had taken up the work of a civil contractor in Chachaji’s project. As soon as Chachaji was informed of this development he was disturbed. He expressed his anguish with Babaji. I do not know what transpired between these two elders but Chachaji was visibly upset. He informed the facts to his Chief Engineer and sought his transfer.
I admired both Chachaji and Pitaji for their honesty, sincerity and upright dealings. They were my role models and I tried to face administrative situations protecting interests of institutions I was associated with without worrying about consequences guided by the ideal set by these two elders I admired.
Pitaji had begun his career as a SDM and retired as an Additional Secretary in the Government of India. Chachaji began his career a SDO and retired as the Engineer in Chief in the Irrigation Department of the UP Government.
I wrote my memoirs on the occasion of Pitaji’s centenary to place before him how his son had tried to live up to the standards set by him. But Pitaji had left us in 1985. I gave the book to Chachaji. He read it with interest and with a gesture expressed his happiness that I had conducted myself with dignity and courage in facing adverse situations. I conclude my humble tribute to Chachaji, who at the age of 91, wrote his memoirs in minutest details. His memoirs make each one of us of our generation proud of belonging to his family and perhaps will make our future generations equally proud that our roots are part of the legendary person like Chachaji.