Khemchandji, IAS (Retd): The enigma that he was

Author: 
Subhash Mathur

Subhash Mathur was born and brought up in small towns in Rajasthan. During his school and college education at Jaipur, he was keenly involved in sports, journalism and public speaking. His civil services career has given him a platform for spreading his ideas about modernising tax administration to benefit the common man. Post retirement he is devoting his energies, along with his wife Tilak, to public and humane causes.

When I agreed with my wife Tilak’s suggestion to write about my father Shri Khemchand ji I didn’t realise what I was letting myself in for. No doubt it was going to be challenging but I accept challenges quickly. I decided that looking at Khemchandji from the eyes of his children and grandchildren and his well wishers would be the ideal approach.

 
Khemchandji (1911- 2004)

Khemchandji (1911- 2004)

 

For the children, meaning us eight siblings (six brothers and two sisters), Khemchandji was Daddy. For his fourteen grandchildren, he was simply Babaji.

While we the eight siblings never had much courage to pick up a conversation with Daddy (except for most essential purposes), the grandkids were all over him and immune from his stature and standing in the family and the society.

 
Babaji with Grandchildren.

Babaji with Grandchildren.

 

And to our shock and horror Daddy didn’t seem to mind. They conjured up new pranks and didn’t hesitate to play them out. They had a free run of his prized possessions.

His head came in for special treatment too. Neha, his granddaughter, didn’t like her grandfather going around with white hair. He looked so childish. She simply used the Kiwi boot polish and painted his grey hair jet black with the shoe polish brush. The transformation was complete! It took Babaji several weeks to remove the boot polish with sustained shampooing.

One day, the grandkids decided that Babaji’s prized possession, the two-in-one radio was being bitten badly by the mosquitoes.

A two-in-one radio.

A two-in-one radio.

Rescue was imminent to save the two-in-one from this all-out attack. And the task had fallen upon them to save the two-in-one from big goose bumps and malaria. While Babaji was busy attending to visitors, the Gang of Four, Gaurav, Tushar, Rajat and Rakshat, managed to smuggle the two-in-one out of Babaji’s room. They picked up the tube of Odomos as well. Those days Odomos was a popular mosquito repellent but came with a foul smell.

This mischief came in handy to locate Babaji’s two-in-one from the hundreds of two-in-ones recovered from Ramchander, a robber who was operating freely in Bapu Nagar and Tilak Nagar area for several weeks. He was eventually trapped not by the police but by the Tilak Nagar all-night vigilante group. Babaji’s two-in-one stood out in the long line due the strong odour it emanated.

Daddy enjoyed the cocktail evenings at home. He had some beautiful decanters and enjoyed serving drinks to niche guests in style. In his presence the whisky had to be ‘sipped’ gently and lovingly. No tequila shots at Ram Kutir.

 
Ram Kutir at Jaipur, with the family car, a Hilman, parked in front.

Ram Kutir at Jaipur, with the family car, a Hilman, parked in front.

 

Grandson Gaurav recounts the bizarre story of the Prancing Mouse and the reducing levels of whiskey in the decanter. One day, Babaji complained to the Gang of Four that the level in his whiskey bottle was going down although he had not consumed a drop for the past few days due to mild indisposition.

The Gang did not expect such a direct attack from Babaji. They went into a huddle and quickly came up with the perfect foil. They told Babaji that they had actually seen a mouse sitting on the top of the whiskey bottle with its tail in the bottle. Apparently the mouse was sucking up the nectar via his tail. That’s why they were stunned to watch a mouse dancing in the foyer.

Babaji apparently bought the explanation but as Grandson Tushar often says that Babaji always knew the truth but simply enjoyed the ingenious cover-ups proffered so convincingly by the grandchildren.

Khemchandji with a cricket bat in an on-drive.

Khemchandji with a cricket bat in an on-drive.

For the family, cricket was like religion. The family followed the matches everywhere — on radio, in the newspapers, and on television. And they played cricket everywhere. Wherever they went with instant set rules framed on the spot.

During a family get-together at Gwalior in 95 the grandkids were even able to coax Babaji at age 85 into an on-drive.

 

In many ways Daddy was a pioneer. He agreed to marry our mother, Dayawanti, who came from a Radhasoami background of pure vegetarianism and abhorrence for wines and drinks. In a civil ceremony in 1937, mind you.

 
Khemchandji and Smt. Dayawanti, ready for the wedding bells.

Khemchandji and Smt. Dayawanti, ready for the wedding bells.

 

The family generally gathered to celebrate the annual Deepawali festival. After a quick Lakshmi Pujan involving worshipping the instruments of choice like writing pens and newly-bought utensils, the family got down to playing ‘Ganchhua’ a card game handed down to Kayastha Mathur parivars from the Mughal times. No cash stakes but pride for the winner was important.

Blistering hot summers days in Jaipur were the ideal chosen time for playing ‘Chaupad’. No stakes here either. Kayasthas are endowed with lots of brains but little cash in hand.

Khemchandji was born and brought up in Alwar. He went to Mission School at Alwar in Munshi Bazaar, near our ancestral home. The house has since changed hands but the new family has retained its essential flavour as part of heritage preservation.

 
Our ancestral house in Munshi Bazaar, Alwar.

Our ancestral house in Munshi Bazaar, Alwar.

 
 
Mission School, Alwar.

Mission School, Alwar.

 

Khemchandji did his under-graduation and masters from St. Stephens at Delhi where the famous Mr Monk was the Principal.

He began his career as Naib Nazim after his selection in 1935 with Alwar state services.
With sheer hard work and copious output Daddy rose rapidly in the hierarchy. Within no time, he was picked up to work as Secretary to the Prime Minister of Alwar.

 
Khemchandji as Secretary to Prime Minister, Alwar.

Khemchandji as Secretary to Prime Minister, Alwar.

 

Khemchandji became the first Collector of the newly formed Alwar District in December 1947 when Alwar was still part of the Matysa Union but had joined the newly independent Indian nation.

 
City Palace, Alwar that housed Khemchandji's office as Collector and District Magistrate.

City Palace, Alwar that housed Khemchandji's office as Collector and District Magistrate.

 
 
Jagmohan Niwas, Alwar that served as Khemchandji's residence as Collector and District Magistrate.

Jagmohan Niwas, Alwar that served as Khemchandji's residence as Collector and District Magistrate.

 

Nearly ten years after Khemchandji retired in 1969, one family retainer Kaluram approached him to request the Collector Alwar to post him, Kaluram, to a particular department in Alwar itself. Kaluram’s request had been turned down by the Collector as it did not meet the guidelines of the transfer and posting guidelines. Kaluram was due to be transferred out of Alwar on tenure basis.

Khemchandji made the call. The Collector told him that he could not budge from the guidelines and, in any case, he did not know who Khemchandji was. This incensed Khemchandji. The subsequent conversation went something like this:

“Mr. Collector, are you sitting on a swivel chair in your office?”

“Yes sir, I am. What’s the point?”

“Please swivel your chair with you sitting in it 180 degrees and face the name board on the wall behind you.”

“Ok. Yes sir, I have done that. Now what?”

“Now, if you still desire to know who I am, then please look at the first name on the board.”

 
Name board of Collectorate Alwar.

Name board of Collectorate Alwar.

 

“Yes sir, I get it. Now I know that you are The Khemchandji. Thank you for my first lesson in Being Humble. Sir.”

Kaluram to this day cannot forget that glorious moment. At the drop of a hat, he can recount the entire sequence of events with joy.

Alwar remembers Khemchandji with pride and happiness. The tales of a strong personality are the stuff that dreams are made of for Alwarites.

Legend has it that Daddy did not spare even the most powerful Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Mohan Lal Sukhadia, from his sharp tongue and ready wit. Sukhadia sahib was slated to chair a coordination meeting of PWD, Health Dept and Urban Housing departments. Daddy waited for the CM to arrive for precisely 15 minutes before starting the meeting in his absence. Tea was served at the appointed hour. Sukhadia Sahib entered the Conference room just as the cups and snack plates were being cleared off.

Daddy welcomed the Chief Minister but pointedly told him that he would be served lukewarm tea as he was late as tea had already been served at the scheduled time. Hushed silence descended upon the conference room. The attendee officers waited with bated breath for Sukhadia Sahib to simply turn around and storm out.

But Sukhadia Sahib was far too mature and sophisticated to respond ‘normally’. He knew Daddy well. He rose to the occasion.

“Khemchandji, knowing you for the past so many years as a stickler, I am ready to drink whatever you have on offer.”

With that exchange of words the attendees heaved a sigh of relief and the conference went to work.

 
Mission School, Alwar.

Khemchandji (3rd from left) with Sukhadia Sahib (4th from right).

 

Daddy's passion for outdoor life from early life continued into his service days. Being the Collector of a District did not curb his style. On the contrary, in Bikaner he even took the District SP along a for an all night vigil on a ‘machaan’ for a tiger shoot.

 
Khemchandji on a shikaar or tiger shoot.

Khemchandji on a shikaar or tiger shoot.

 

Yet a simple drive back home in the family car, a Morris Minor, with my sister and I on the front seat, produced startling dividends.

Panther trophy.

Panther trophy.

As we climbed uphill for the next turn we found a panther sitting on the side parapet, staring at us nonchalantly.

The driver halted the car immediately. Daddy took out his .12 bore gun, inserted two BG cartridges, took aim and fired. The panther was hit but merely injured. The big cat slid off the parapet and disappeared down the hill in the thick forest.

Eventually some villagers found the panther after a week nearly 5 kms away from the road. The panther head trophy adorned our drawing room for several decades till it withered away.

 

Inspite of the hectic schedule he followed, Daddy was able to find time to master four languages namely Persian, Urdu, English and his mother tongue, Hindi. He wrote his personal notes in Urdu, thereby ensuring confidentiality from our prying eyes.

 
Specimen of Khemchandji's Urdu diary.

Specimen of Khemchandji's Urdu diary.

 

His love for Urdu and sher-o-shayari stood him well after retirement. Khemchandji became the President of the Literary Circle. Suddenly, our home Ram Kutir, B-87, Ganesh Marg became the hub of activities for shayars, old and new.

 
Gatherings of the Literary Circle at Ram Kutir.

Gatherings of the Literary Circle at Ram Kutir.

 
 
Letterhead of the Literary Circle.

Letterhead of the Literary Circle.

 

The family honoured the memory of Khemchandji by organising a Centenary Year Mushiara at Ajmer in 2011. Top shayars including Zanab Wasim Barelvi, Mohtarma Naseem Nikhet, Zanab Manzar Bhopali, Zanab Justice Shiv Kumar and several others regaled the audience with thought, wit and humor.

 
Mushaira organised on the occasion of Khemchandji's birth centenary year in 2011 at Ajmer.

Mushaira organised on the occasion of Khemchandji's birth centenary year in 2011 at Ajmer.

 
 
Top shayars at the mushaira organised on the occasion of Khemchandji's birth centenary year in 2011 at Ajmer.

Top shayars at the mushaira organised on the occasion of Khemchandji's birth centenary year in 2011 at Ajmer.

 

The month of April was a very important one in the life and times of Daddy. He was born in April. His wife Dayawanti was born in April. They got married in April. But April was not all that perfect either. His wife Dayawanti died in April 1980, leaving him to live on for many more years. Alone.

Khemchand ji passed away on 14th February 2004. He was sitting on his favourite moodhaa in his much-loved garden with a spade in his hand.

 
Khemchandji happiest in the garden.

Khemchandji happiest in the garden.

 

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