A Chapati Tale

RK Nagar
RK Nagar

Wondering? How can there be a tale about a Chapati, but there is one.

Here it is.

Back in 1971 on NDDB campus, bachelors- some twenty of us who were eating in hostel mess suddenly lost our privilege to eat there. Most of us had to make emergency arrangements that included some self taught cooking lessons. 

The next two months after loosing the privilege were a time for most of us to learn some basic survival from hunger tricks. After all how long could we survive on bread, scarcely available eggs, butter and cheese chiplets? The Indian pallet in us needed something else- spiced veggies /curries, simple daal, rice and Chapatis. 

Whereas most of us had by this time managed to cook daal, rice and some vegetables- most of the time it used to be only potatoes and onions, rice, daal and any combination thereof became the staple. Be it lunch or dinner, any permutation had to be around these basic foods. The more adventurous ones added some fresh green veggies out of the limited choices available then. And the good old Chapati was substituted by freshly baked bread from Ambrosia bakery at Jagnath Mahadev. 

Naturally therefore, after office and sports hour which used to be mainly cricket with a tennis ball, whenever we gathered on the lawn opposite hostel after dark,the talk invariably drifted towards Chapati. How we all were missing it. That was also the time for most of us to miss and remember our “Maa ke haath kiRoti”. But there was nothing that we could do to redeem ourselves out of this situation.

“Nagar, here is 1 kg atta, now it is your turn to make the chapatis”.

On one of such evenings, one fellow became so desperate that he almost criedand blurted, ‘Oh God, how long will it be before I get to eat a Chapati? How long will I have to live on this bread from Ambrosia bakery?” And soon there were other dozen or so hungry souls crying with him for a Chapati. Call it a ‘crying chorus’.

Before the atmosphere could turn gloomy, one of them jokingly stated, “you will have darshan of a Chapati only after you get married, provided your wife knows how to cook”. This was just an innocent joke but our friend who had started it all didn’t take it kindly.

“I am talking of one NOW, the fellow who was the first to start retorted. Will I wait for a Chapati till  get married”? He reacted. His frustration with the situation was palpable. 

Sensing that matters might get sensitive, I with a simple intent to divert, said, “I know how to make Chapatis. And I can make one for you but we don’t have wheat flour and at this late hour, we can’t get it either. So wait for another occasion.”

As I made this statement, I noticed that Rajiv Varma just got up, started hisscooter and disappeared. Since, this was his usual pattern,  no one paid muchattention to it. While we were busy with a much lighter conversation on Chapati, we noticed Rajiv return with a linen bag on his shoulder.

He alighted from the scooter, from his shoulder bag he pulled out a paper bag,stretched his hand towards me and said, “Nagar, here is 1 kg atta, now it is your turn to make the chapatis”.

I was caught unawares. I had never entered the kitchen in my parent’s home and here was a paper bag full of wheat flour staring at me with two dozen hungry eyes waiting for me to say ‘yes, I will make chapatis for you’. This soon turned in a chorus demanding chapatis cooked by Nagar.  

Finding myself cornered, I tried another trick, ‘but to make chapatis, you need kitchen aids. You need a Tawa, a Chakla and a Belan and no one has that. So, wait till the kitchen aids are procured’. As I thought I had just escaped the tricky situation, Gore, pulled a rabbit, “I have an equipped kitchen. There is everything there that you need to make chapatis”. 

Oh My God, how did I forget that? Gore had a cook- Shanaji until a few days ago and he used to make chapatis for him right here on the campus! Boy, I was caught in a self created tangle.

Finding no escape, I made a bold statement, ‘alright, let us all go to Gore’s house and I will make chapatis. But there is a condition. You will have to be patient as I am doing it after a very long time and everyone gets only one Chapati. There shall be no demand for a second one’.

“Agreed”, the chorus of hungry souls said in one voice. 

In my parent’s home, I had very keenly observed my mother cook. I knew how she kneaded the dough, how she rolled out chapatis, how she baked them on tawa and how round uniformly cooked and fully inflated lovely chapatis emerged. Equipped with every bit of theoretical knowledge about Chapati making, I was all set to take a plunge to translate my knowledge into practice. 

I carefully made the dough. Kneading it by adding small quantities of water, I was able to get the right consistency- not too soft nor too hard to roll into chapatis. I proudly showed them how the dough is prepared. A dozen hungry souls were very impressed and I could see restlessness in their eyes to devour chapatis. 

Now came the real test- rolling out a Chapati. Here the difference between theory and practice became very apparent. Harder I tried to make a round shape, a new shape emerged. Chapatis in every conceivable shape emerged except the round one. Cooking them on tawa was even harder-I had no idea that temperature control is also needed and that one learns only by practice. 

My observed knowledge had failed me. Not a single Chapati was round and,except the last one that partially inflated, all other turned out as flat hard pieces of, at least fully cooked, edible, irregularity shaped something for which I can’t find a suitable name. 

Anyway, the project ‘Chapati’ was a grand success. I can vouch for it becausethe expression of the dozen hungry souls had given me a thumbs up and a standing ovation. That day I learnt that a humble Chapati can be a life saver too. 

But, I learnt a lesson. The morale of the story is- if you are surrounded by hungry souls, even if you know, never admit that you know cooking. Keep your trap shut. Second, take a good look in your closest friend’s kitchen- just in case you slip his kitchen doesn’t take you by surprise. And if you find any kitchen aids that can ditch you, secretly throw them in the farthest ditch you can find. 

Finally, the humble Chapati won the hearts of a dozen hungry souls. It all happened in good time before they could turn into ‘hungry howls’.


High Stakes


Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Dr Kurien played hard games with high stakes. When he presented NDDB’s Market Intervention Operation to make India self-sufficient in edible oils in five years, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, questioned his targets by saying that you took 20 years in milk, how can you do this in five years.

Dr Kurien’s reply was, “This time we are asking for a complete package of policy and powers to implement it”. 

“But what are the guarantees?” quipped the Prime Minister.

“Our heads”, replied Dr Kurien. He got what he asked for and made the country self sufficient in edible oils in three years instead of five.

The dairy sector in India has had some great people contribute to its growth. Some are very well known names like Dr P Bhattacharya, D N Khurody, Dr S C Ray, H M Dalaya, V H Shah, A K Ray Chaudhuri, G M Jhala, Dr Amrita Patel, etc. All of them have contributed very significantly. However the contributions of many more have largely gone unnoticed. Some, that come to my mind are the contributions made by N Rajagopal, the then Joint Secretary (Dairy Development), Government of India; G V K Rao the then Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture; and, T N Seshan who was later the Cabinet Secretary and the Election Commissioner of India.

Rajagopal was a great human being. When I sought an appointment with him to sort out many problems that we had at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), he gave me a date to meet him at Krishi Bhavan. On reaching his office I was told that he was not feeling well and was on leave. Since I had spoken to him the previous evening and everything seemed to be fine, I decided to go to his home. He greeted me at the door and explained his sick leave. It was to ensure that we had all the time needed to sort out the many issues. His explanation was that how could you get much done at the office!

Rajagopal would take a bus to Krishi Bhavan as he had just enough money for petrol to take him for his morning game of tennis. When Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, visited Anand for the first Convocation of IRMA in 1982, we had to tell her as to how poorly our policy makers were paid. That discussion raised the salaries of officers and a car was then provided to take them to the office and back. Eventually Rajagopal resigned from the IAS as he could not take the heavy bias the then Minister of Agriculture had against the NDDB.

G V K Rao should get full credit for the milk and silk revolution in Karnataka.

When I first met him he was the Development Commissioner of Karnataka.

The Government of Karnataka had prepared a usual project for dairy development at the behest of the Government of India for funding by the World Bank. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had also prepared similar projects, as these states were not covered by OF. The World Bank then asked these three States to rework these projects on the lines of OF. I had assisted these states in reformulating these projects.

T N Seshan was the Agriculture Secretary of Tamil Nadu in the ‘seventies. On the recommendation of his staff, he termed the Perspective Plan prepared for Tamil Nadu under OFas unacceptable. When we asked him the basis of his rejection of the Plan, his officers produced figures of current milk production in Tamil Nadu that equaled the targets the Perspective Plan had projected at the end of the plan. 

We sought a day more to have a relook at the figures. The next day we produced another set of figures (provided earlier by the same officers) to say that the current milk production was already 50 per cent more than the figure quoted by Seshan the previous day. We then congratulated Seshan on having already achieved the targets under the programme and suggested that perhaps Tamil Nadu did not need any more milk production. 

We then explained that the Perspective Plan had already raised the issue of non-reliability of the milk production data and a component of the Plan was to collect the required data on a scientific basis and then aim at increasing milk production by 50 per cent over the period of implementation of the Plan. TN Seshan is a big man and saw the folly of the arguments put up by his staff and promptly approved the Plan and everything that was required to implement it.

In later years Seshan was very supportive of the Market Intervention Operation (MIO) in oilseeds and vegetable oils as the Cabinet Secretary and Chairman of the Empowered Committee on the Technology Mission on Oilseeds. He was a great motivator in getting tough when things got rough.


A ringside view of the Operation Flood programme

Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Before India liberalized its economy and before IT professionals made India matter in the world, the most successful story of the country was its achievement in the dairy sector. From huge dependence on imports of milk powder, India became self sufficient in milk and even started exporting significant amounts of milk powder and other milk products. Our milk production increased from 20 million tons in the ‘seventies to 80 million tons in the ‘nineties and 140 million tons now.

Who was responsible for this revolution? Surely the farmers produced the milk but the one person who more or less singlehandedly organized millions of small and marginal farmers into very successful organizations was Dr Verghese Kurien. 

The cooperatives Dr Kurien organized on the basis of the Anand Pattern have been responsible for the increase in milk production. They run the entire gamut of milk production — collecting and paying for it twice a day, every day; processing this milk for marketing; and conserving the seasonal surpluses into milk powder. They have conclusively proved that cooperatives do work as democratic institutions in India.

Dr Kurien always emphasized that democracy in Delhi needs to be underpinned by democracy at the grassroots level in the villages. He told his detractors that he knew more than they didabout the limitations of the cooperatives, since he had worked for the cooperatives all his life and had great faith in the goodness and generosity of the rural people. He was a firm believer in the unmatched combination of farmers and professionals working together to serve the rural areas.

Before Dr Kurien came on the scene, the task of dairy development was being organized by the Milk Commissioners of the States. The Government Milk Schemes soon found that it was easierto use cheap imported milk powder to supply milk in the urban areas of the country than it was to pay higher prices for locally produced milk. 

All these milk schemes like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta began with good intentions. To start with they procured milk at the prevailing prices and sold at market prices. As producer prices rose, consumer prices needed to be raised. It was cheaper to bring in imported milk powder as it enabled the politicians to keep the urban prices low. As a result India became dependent on imported milk powder and the urban market was destroyed for the rural milk producers.

Vested Interests

Also the Milk Commissioners had vested interests in the sector. Dr Kurien often stated that there were no Milk Commissioners in Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand but there was plenty of milk in those countries. His theory was that you could either have milk or Milk Commissioners. The Milk Commissioners in India opposed the setting up of cooperatives tooth and nail. While the Cooperative Commissioners welcomed the idea initially, they opposed it later as Dr Kurien did not want political interference in the working of these cooperatives. He often stated that the Registrar of Cooperatives was like God and the Minister in Charge of cooperatives liked being the boss of God.

An incident comes to mind: The Chief Minister (CM) of Rajasthan, Barkatullah Khan, did not agree on autonomy being given to the milk cooperatives as required under the Anand Pattern. He told Dr Kurien that Rajasthan farmers were not as capable of managing their businesses as Gujarat farmers. Dr Kurien then asked him as to how the CM was elected. The CM mentioned that he was elected from the Jodhpur Rural constituency. Dr Kurien then retorted by saying if these people were capable of electing their CM, how come they were unable to manage their own little milk business. That convinced the CM and he agreed to the Anand Pattern of Cooperatives.

Dr Kurien wanted major changes in the antiquated cooperative laws, which gave the executiveall powers to supersede cooperatives. When this matter went to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she also questioned Dr Kurien on the capabilities of our farmers to manage big business. Dr Kurien is then reported to have told her that she was talking like the British who had said that they would give Indians their freedom when they were ready. Dr Kurien went to the extent of telling her that because of our desire to govern ourselves we had fought forindependence. If we wanted good governance then maybe we should call Lord Mountbatten back.

Dr Kurien was a missionary. He was fond of saying that for him replicating the Anand Pattern was a mission and like missionaries who know only one way to God, he would support all those who follow the Anand Pattern of Milk Cooperatives. Those who followed would reach God and those who kept on discussing (like many States did and are still debating) will keep on discussing. The results are there for all to see — States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and some others did well. The others are still discussing.


कथा, एक मित्र के ब्याह की भाग १ और २

रश्मि कांत नागर
रश्मि कांत नागर

कथा, एक मित्र के ब्याह की भाग -१

सुप्रसिद्ध अंग्रेज़ी नाट्यकार जॉर्ज बर्नार्ड शॉ ने कहा था की, “हर बुद्धिमान महिला को जितनी जल्दी हो सके शादी कर लेनी चाहिये और हर एक बुद्धिमान पुरुष को शादी में जितनी देर हो सके उतनी देर करनी चाहिये”।

हमारा मित्र उनके इस कथन से बहुत प्रभावित था। मुझे नहीं पता की जॉर्ज बर्नार्ड शॉ ने स्वयं अपने इस कथन का खुद कितना अनुसरण किया या नहीं, परंतु हमारा मित्र, मुझे ऐसा लगा जैसे वह ठीक ऐन मौक़े पर अपने आप को बुद्धिमान साबित करना चाह रहा था। हम ऐन.डी.डी. बी. के कैम्पस में रहते थे और दिल्ली के लिये रवाना होने से पहले, भाई साहब हॉस्टल के सामने सड़क पर अपना सूटकेस रख कर, अपनी खोपड़ी खुजलाते इस दुविधा से निपटने का निष्फल प्रयास कर रहे थे। ये घटना जून १९७१ की है। तब हम सब जवान थे ।

हम में से कुछ तब और अब

हम उनकी ये दुविधा समझ रहे थे। हमें मालूम था की उनकी सगाई छोटी उम्र में ही हो गयी थी और अगर गाँव में रहते तो शायद न सिर्फ़ उनका बालविवाह हो चुका होता, पर वह अधिक नहीं तो कम से कम २-३ बच्चों की पिता भी बन चुके होते। मुझे पूरी तरह से ज्ञात नहीं, मेरा अनुमान है कि वे अपनी मंगेतर से प्रेमपत्रों के माध्यम से जुड़े रहे होंगे। एक तरफ़ शादी का लड्डू खाने को आतुर मन और दूसरी और जॉर्ज बर्नार्ड शॉ का प्रभाव। बलिहारी उन प्रेमपत्रों की।

हम ठहरे उनके शुभचिंतक मित्र।समझाया, “भाई, जल्दी कर वरना गाड़ी छूट जाएगी और सिर्फ़ शादी के लड्डू के सपने मिलेंगे”। यह समझिए धक्का मारना पड़ा महाशय को आनन्द रेलवे स्टेशन पहुँचाने में। अगर दोपहर दो बजे की बड़ोदा लोकल छूट जाती तो बड़ोदा से दिल्ली जाने वाली राजधानी छूट जाती, समय पर नहीं पहुँचते और मुहूर्त निकल जाता। सोचिए, सही निर्णय दिलवाने में हम मित्रों की कितनी अहम भूमिका रही होगी, क्योंकि ७० के दशक में आवागमन की सुविधाएँ सीमित थीं।

अपने इस निकटतम मित्र की शादी को लेकर हम सभी उत्साहित थे। कैम्पस में रहने वाले कोई बीस एक नौजवान कुँवारों बे बीच, यह पहला शेरदिल था  जो अपनी आज़ादी की क़ुर्बानी देने जा रहा था। याद रहे बचपन में हुई सगाई और बाथरूम में पढ़े गये प्रेमपत्र। उनकी भी तो अत्यधिक महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका थी। 

शाम क़रीब पाँच बजे हम में से एक बोला, “अरे यार, ये तो वाक़ई शादी करने चला गया। इसके बिना अपन तीनों शाम को बोर हो जायेंगे। दूसरा बोला, “हमारा तो ठीक है, पर उसकी ‘लोटिया भागोल’ वाली प्रेमिका का क्या होगा? जब उसे पता चलेगा तो वह लड़की तो अपने बाल नोच लेगी, सर फोड़ लेगी, रो रो कर बुरा हाल हो जायेगा बेचारी का। हो सकता है आत्महत्या भी कर ले”।

“यह तो बड़ी गंभीर स्थिति हो गयी”, तीसरा बोला और उसने सुझाव दिया की हम तीनों, लोटिया भागोल वाली हमारे मित्र की प्रेमिका से मिल कर उसे समझायें ताकि वो कोई भी आत्मघाती कदम ना उठाये।

हमने ऐसा ही किया। हमारे मित्र की प्रेमिका- कपिला बेन से मिले, उन्हें समझाया। पहले तो उन्होंने बहुत आँसू बहाए, पर इस बात पर मान गयी कि वह कोई भी ग़लत कदम नहीं उठाएँगी। ठुकरायी हुई प्रेमिका कुछ भी कर सकती है, यह बात हम तीनों को परेशान कर रही थी।

कपिला बेन ने सिर्फ़ एक काम किया। अपने दुःखी मन के सारे भाव एक पोस्ट कार्ड पर उँड़ेले, और तुरंत उसे रेलवे स्टेशन जाकर RMO के हवाले कर दिया। पत्र लिखते समय कपिला बेन के आंसू बड़ी मुश्किल से रूके होंगे, फिर भी तो- तीन तो चिठ्ठी पर टपक ही गये। कपिला बेन क्योंकि “लोटिया भागोल” से थीं, उनका हिन्दी ज्ञान सीमित था, लिहाज़ा खुला पत्र यानी पोस्ट कार्ड में उन्होने हिं -गुजराती मिश्रित भाषा का प्रयोग किया गया।

हमारे मित्र का भाग्य बहुत अच्छा था। पोस्ट कार्ड दिल्ली पहुँचा। पोस्टमैन की दस्तक पर उस दिन सौभाग्य वश कपिला बेन का पत्र सीधे उन्ही के हाथ लगा।

मित्र ने पत्र पढ़ा तो चेहरे का रंग उड़ गया। तुरंत घर के पास वाले तारघर पहुँचे और हमें तार किया, “किसी कपिला बेन का पत्र है, माजरा क्या है? तुरंत छान-बीन करो और मुझे बताओ। भाग्य ये पत्र मेरे पिताजी के हाथ नहीं लगा वरना अनर्थ हो जाता”।

क्योंकि हम तीनों कपिला बेन पहले मिल चुके थे, हमने तुरन्त जवाबी तार किया, “सब कुछ नियंत्रण में है”। तार मिलते ही हमारे मित्र की जान में जान आयी, विवाह निर्विघ्न सम्पन्न हुआ और कोई एक सप्ताह बाद वो नयी नवेली दुल्हन के साथ सकुशल आनन्द आ पहुँचे ।

आप सोच रहे होंगे के हमारा ये मित्र कौन था। ये कोई और नहीं,इसी वृक्षमन्दिर के प्रणेता श्री शैलेंद्र कुमार थे। कपिला बेन हम तीन मित्रों- बेहला, गोरे और मेरी कल्पना का नतीजा थीं, और मेरी टूटी-फूटी गुजराती ने प्रेमपत्र को साकार रूप दे दिया। पत्र पर गिरे आँसू भी नक़ली थे- आख़िर पानी की दो बूँदे गिरा कर कार्ड हिलाया और हो गया काम!

आख़िर अच्छे मित्र ऐसे नाज़ुक मौक़े सम्भालने के लिए ही तो जाने जाते हैं! 

कथा, एक मित्र के ब्याह की और हमारे बापू की भाग -२

मित्र के ब्याह की कथा आगे बढ़ायें, इसके पहले हमारे “बापू” से परिचय करवाना अत्यंत आवश्यक है। 

बापू, हमारे सम्माननीय बापू, कौन थे और उनका नामकरण कैसे हुआ यह अपने आप में ही एक कहानी है। पहले इसे पढ़िये। इस सारी कहानी में “बापू” की असली पहचान आपसे छिपायी जायेगी क्योंकि मैं अपने ख़िलाफ़ मानहानि का कोई मुक़द्दमा नहीं चाहता।

ऐन.डी.डी.बी कार्यालय ने जब कैम्पस से काम करना प्रारंभ किया, तब नए इंजिनीयर्स की भर्ती हुई। बापू इनमे से एक थे। ओहदे में तो हमारे बराबर ही थे, परंतु उम्र में शायद हमसे ४-५ वर्ष बड़े रहे होंगे। ऑफ़िस के बाद जब हम लोग खेल कूद और हंसी मज़ाक़ में लगे थे, बापू अपनी गम्भीर मुद्रा में, हाथ में ब्रीफ़केस लिये हमें भी अपनी तरह गंभीर बर्ताव करने की सलाह देते। “तुम अफ़सर हो, कुछ बड़ों की तरह, अफ़सरों की तरह व्यवहार करो। यह क्या सारे समय बच्चों की तरफ़ कूद-फाँद करते रहते हो”। 

बापू का यह रोज़ का प्रवचन हो गया था। हद तो जब गयी, जब बापू अपना ब्रीफ़केस लेकर छुट्टी के दिन भी दफ़्तर आने लगे और अपना रटा रटाया प्रवचन हम पर बरसाने लगे।

गोरे से ये बर्दाश्त नहीं हुआ। वैसे बापू ने गोरे को कभी भी प्रवचन झाड़ने की कोशिश नहीं की क्योंकि गोरे बापू से काफ़ी सिनीयर थे, गोरे को बापू के प्रवचन मुझ पर झाड़ना नहीं भाया। गोरे ने कहा, “नागर, इस बापू का कुछ इलाज़ करना पड़ेगा”। 

क्या करें, “बापू” के नाम मशहूर कर दें”, मैंने पूछा। 

“यही सही होगा”, गोरे ने सहमति जताई। 

“पर पहले उसे बताना होगा ना कि हमने उसे “बापू” के नाम सम्बोधित करना तय किया है, और ये करेंगे कैसे”, गोरे ने प्रश्न किया। 

आख़िर, “बिल्ली के गले में घंटी बांधने का ज़िम्मा मैंने उठाया”। गोरे और मैं बापू से मिले। 

मैंने बापू क़ो असली नाम से सम्बोधित करते हुए वार्तालाप शुरू किया, “आपका कहना सच है। ये बचकाना बर्ताव अब हमें बंद करना चाहिये। हम आपकी सीख का सम्मान करते हैं और अब से आपको एक सम्मानजनक तरीक़े से बुलाना चाहते है। अपर आपको आपत्ति ना हो तो हम आपको “बापू” के नाम से बुलाना चाहते हैं। ये सम्बोधन सिर्फ़ महात्मा गाँधी के लिये प्रयोग किया जाता है, क्योंकि सारा देश उनसे बहुत प्यार करता है, उनका बहुत सम्मान करता है और हम भी आपका बहुत सम्मान करते हैं”।

वह तुरंत मान गये। आख़िर सम्मानजनक सम्बोधन किसे नहीं भाता? 

अगले २४ घण्टों में वह सारे कैम्पस में “बापू” के नाम से मशहूर हो गये। 

अब लौटते हैं, हमारे मित्र की शादी पर। शादी सम्पन्न हुई और मित्र पत्नी सहित आनंद लौटने वाले थे। दिल्ली से बेहला को तार कर खबर भेजी की ‘फ़लाँ फ़लाँ ट्रेन से बड़ोदा पहुँच रहे हैं, स्टेशन पर मिलो’। रिक्वेस्ट नहीं आदेश था। 

मैं और बेहला, बेहला की मोटरसाइकल से बड़ोदा पहुँचे। स्टेशन पर एक नयी फ़ीयट टैक्सी तय की इस शर्त के साथ कि ‘अगर हमारे साहब आये, तो ही हम टैक्सी का उपयोग करेंगे। अगर नहीं आए तो हम कोई पैसे नहीं देंगे’। टैक्सीवाला मान गया। 

हमें नहीं पता कि हमारा मित्र किस डिब्बे में सफ़र कर रहा है और ट्रेन सिर्फ़ पाँच मिनट ही रुकने वाली थी। तो हमने तय किया की हम प्लेटफ़ार्म में उस जगह खड़े होंगे जहां बीच का डिब्बा आता है। फिर एक एंजिन के तरफ़ के डिब्बों की तरफ़ जायेगा और दूसरा विपरीत दिशा में। 

हमने सारी ट्रेन छान मारी। ट्रेन के छूटने की सीटी भी बज गयी, पर हमारा दोस्त नदारद। हम लौटने ही वाले थे की बेहला की नज़र दुल्हन के भेष में प्लेटफ़ार्म पर अकेली खड़ी एक लड़की पर पड़ी। 

“नागर, कहीं ये तो किरन नहीं है? अगर है तो शैलू कहाँ है? मैंने कहा, “चल पूछ लेते है कि आप शैलेंद्र की बीबी हो क्या”। पर बेहला ने पास जाकर निहायत शरीफाना अन्दाज़ में पूछा, ‘क्या आप शैलेंद्र के साथ हैं?’

“हाँ”, उत्तर मिला।

“शैलेंद्र कहाँ है?”, मैंने पूछा।

“आगे, इंजिन के पास ब्रेक वान से बक्सा लेने गये हैं”, किरन बोली। 

मैं इंजिन की तरफ़ बढ़ा ही था कि कुली के सर पर एक भारी- भरकम बक्से के साथ शैलेंद्र को आते देखा। 

आम दिनों जैसा पहनावा हमारे मित्र का और साथ सजी-संवरी दुल्हन। लगता ही नहीं था कि भाई नयी नयी शादी करके आया है। 

कोई दो महीने बाद, एक दिन किरन ने हमें ये बताया कि वह बड़ोदा स्टेशन पर बेहला और मुझे देख कर डर गयी थी। वो सोच रही थी की ये दो गुंडे जैसे लड़के क्यों मुझे घूर रहे हैं। उसकी जान में जान आयी जब बेहला ने पूछा, “क्या आप शैलेंद्र के साथ हैं?’ बेचारी क्या करती, उन दिनों फ़ोटो आईडेनटीटी का प्रचलन जो नहीं था। उसे तो सिर्फ़ हमारे नाम मालूम थे। 

हाँ, उसदिन हमें पता चला की हमारी शक्लों- सूरत किसी भले शरीफ़ आदमी जैसी नहीं, गुंडो जैसी है। पर क्या करते, ऊपर वाले ने जैसी सूरत दी है, उसी से गुज़ारा सारी ज़िन्दगी करना पड़ेगा! 

ख़ैर, टैक्सी में सामान रखा, किरन और शैलेंद्र पिछली सीट पर बैठे और मैंने टैक्सी वाले से गाड़ी रवाना करने को कहा। 

टैक्सी वाले ने प्रश्न किया, “पर आपके साहब कहाँ हैं, वो नहीं आये क्या”? 

हमने शैलेंद्र की और इशारा किया तो टैक्सी वाले ने ऐसा मुँह बनाया जैसे हमने इसके साथ कोई मज़ाक़ किया है। बेचारे का मुँह देखने लायक़ था। 

अब लौटते हैं, बापू पर। 

शैलेंद्र की टैक्सी के कैम्पस के पहुँचेने के ठीक दो घंटे बाद हमारे प्रिय बापू को आनंद से दिल्ली प्रस्थान करना था। ये मात्र संयोग था की शैलेंद्र का दुल्हन के साथ आनंद पहुँचना और बापू का तबादले पर जाना एक ही दिन था। शैलेंद्र D12 और में D11 में रहते थे। मैंने बापू को हमारी बिल्डिंग के नीचे खड़े देखा। वे बड़े बैचैन लग रहे थे। 

मैंने पूछा, “बापू, कोई ख़ास बात है क्या?”

“दुल्हन का मुँह देखना है”, बापू बोले।

मैंने कहा, “ऊपर आ जाओ”, और शैलेंद्र को बताया की बापू किरन को देखने ऊपर आ रहे हैं। कमरे में गोरे, बेहला और नन्दी नैथानी और अन्य नौजवान कुवांरे भी मौजूद थे । चाय पकौड़ी का दौर चल रहा था ।

बापू आए और जैसे ही एक ख़ाली कुर्सी पर बैठे, शैलेंद्र ने किरन को आवाज़ दी, “किरन, तनिक इधर आओ, ये हमारे बापू हैं, इनका पैर छू लो”। 

किरन को मालूम नहीं था की माजरा क्या है। उसने लम्बा घूँघट निकाला, बाहर के कमरे में आई और जैसे ही वो बापू के पैर छूने नीचे झुकी, बापू झट से खड़े हुए और फ़ौरन भाग खड़े हुए। 

हम सब की हंसी छूट गयी, पर किरन सकपका गई और शैलेंद्र से पूछा, “ये बापू कहाँ चले गए? चाय के लिए भी नहीं रुके”। 

हम क्या बताते। बापू ऐसे भागे की सीधे दिल्ली जाकर ही साँस ली। 

कोई दो महीनों बाद मेरा दिल्ली जाना हुआ। बापू मिले तो बहुत उखड़े उखड़े थे। मैंने पूछा, क्या बात है? ठीक से बात क्यों नहीं कर रहे हो?”

“तू शाला बहुत बदमाश है। शैलेंद्र की दुल्हन का मुँह भी नहीं देखने दिया। और साला मेरा पैर छूने क्यों बोला?” बापू ग़ुस्से में बोले। 

“अरे तो इसने इतना दुःखी होने की क्या बात है? अगली बार आनन्द आओ तो मुँह भी देख लेना और मुँह दिखाई भी दे देना”, मैंने कहा। 

“धत बदमाश कहीं का”, बापू की मुझे ये आख़िरी गाली थी। कुछ महीनों बाद उन्होंने ऐन.डी.डी.बी. की नौकरी छोड़ दी और किसी इंजिनीयरिंग कॉलेज में पढ़ाने चले गये। शायद उन्हें वहाँ अधिक आज्ञाकारी शिष्य मिले होंगे। 

बापू को उनका नया काम अवश्य ही अधिक भाया होगा क्योंकि मेरी जानकारी के अनुसार, वे एक प्रतिष्ठित विश्वविद्यालय के उपकुलपति के पद से सेवानिवृत हुए। 

शादी की शैलेंद्र ने, दुल्हन का मुँह नहीं देखने दिया उसने और बापू से डाँट पड़ी मुझे। कैसी विडम्बना, हाय रे कलियुग।


Fearless Karamyogi

Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Dr Kurien was a fearless karmyogi and he never asked for anything for himself. I recall when Jagjivan Ram wanted a private dairy to be funded under Operation Flood (OF), Dr Kurien’s blunt reply was that it could not be done. Surely the Minister had wanted him to be sacked but could not because of the Prime Minister’s support for Dr Kurien.

Dr Kurien was blunt with the bureaucrats as well. Early in the implementation of OF, PN Haksar,a Member of the Planning Commission, asked as to why the project was not being implemented speedily. Dr Kurien’s reply was that the delay was because of him. Haksar was taken aback and wanted Dr Kurien to explain. Dr Kurien then mentioned that the approval for the setting up of the Mother Dairy in Delhi had been pending with the Planning Commission for a long time.

Haksar then asked for the concerned Joint Secretary to explain the delay. The Joint Secretary stated that he had some questions on the subject, like the use of stainless steel in the milk tanks at the bulk vending machines. At that time steel was being imported and we were short of foreign exchange. Dr Kurien then told the Joint Secretary that if he had questions why did he not ask? We have a postal system. He could have picked up the phone and asked. What had stopped him from asking these questions?

Dr Kurien then asked him the Planning Commission did not object to the use of stainless steel in the toilets in the Indian Railways. Why was he objecting to its use in milk booths now?

Dr Kurien then informed him that the tanks in question were to be made of fiberglass reinforced plastic. The Joint Secretary had not read the report. Dr Kurien then went on to question him if he was the Joint Secretary or the disjointed secretary. The project got cleared the same day.

Dr Kurien was just as blunt with the politicians. The Minister of Civil Supplies in the early ’eighties, V C Shukla, was withholding approval for NDDB’s Vegetable Oil and Oilseeds Project. The same minister’s staff had telephoned the General Manager of the Mother Dairy in Delhi to take back a driver who had been dismissed in a disciplinary case. Dr Kurien met the minister and explained to him as to how the project in question would make India self-sufficient in edible oils on the lines of the milk project. The minister did not seem to be interested in Dr Kurien’s explanation and nonchalantly told him to leave the proposal and he would go through it. Dr Kurien then asked him if there was anything on the minister’s mind, hoping the minister would raise the question of the dismissed driver. The minister did not say anything. 

Dr Kurien then asked him the Planning Commission did not object to the use of stainless steel in the toilets in the Indian Railways. Why was he objecting to its use in milk booths now?

Dr Kurien then said, “Sir there is this question of a driver that you want to be taken back. Before I came to you I explained to the General Manager of the Mother Dairy that we need your approval to this Rs 300 crore project.”

“So why can you not take this driver back?”

Dr Kurien’s reply was that the driver in question was dismissed on serious charges. He went to the court and lost his case. He said, “If I take him back, I will lose the moral authority to run the Mother Dairy. My staff expects me to support them and that driver will not be taken back. You can now do whatever you want with the proposal before or after reading it.”

The minister was taken aback and slumped in his chair and said, “So what they say about you is true. I will support you but you will have to pay a price”.

Dr Kurien quipped back, “What is the price, Sir”? 

The minister said, “You will have to help me manage the Asian Games”. 

The next day we were at the Management Committee meeting of the Asian Games and I recall Eswaran, the then Finance Secretary, asking Dr Kurien as to what he was he doing at the meeting. Dr Kurien replied, “Maybe you have to drink milk to jump higher and run faster”. 

The Minister did support the oilseeds project.


Persuasive Powers

Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand


There never was and never will be another Verghese Kurien who reigned like a Colossus over the dairy industry of India for over 50 years. He had the authority to rule over the industry because of his intense knowledge of the sector, his faith in the capacity of the rural milk producers and his selfless dedication to their cause. This was further strengthened by his persuasive powers to mobilize professionals from all walks of life to devote themselves to the noble cause of alleviating rural poverty. He used his immense charm to muster the support of policy makers as their contribution to this noble cause.

I first met Dr Kurien in 1957 when I was a trainee at the Amul Dairy at Anand in 1957. One late evening I ran into him at the gate of the dairy plant while he was waiting for a local politician to arrive so that he could show him the Amul Dairy. He enquired about our in-plant training and told me that he was waiting for a politician who wanted to see the dairy at that late hour before he boarded the Saurashtra Janata Express at Anand as he wanted to see as to how this dairy was helping the poor milk producers. Much later, Dr Kurien would often quote Jawahar Lal Nehru: “We were ordinary people and it was the nobility of the cause (fighting for the freedom of India) that rubbed on us and people thought that we were great, while we were ordinary people”. I was terribly impressed by Dr Kurien’s personality and charm.

A year later he was our examiner on dairy engineering and gave us all an assignment to draw a plan for a rural dairy plant. I had fever and therefore I finished the assignment as quickly as I could, handed over the assignment and went back to the hostel. I was later called back to the examination hall and Dr Kurien pointed out several flaws in my drawing. I was worried until he mentioned to the internal examiner, Sinha, that mine was the best drawing.

In the early 1960s, Amul Dairy was one of the many ways the dairy industry was being developed. Amul grew and evolved as a result of the professionalism of Dr Kurien and the political leadership of Tribhuvandas Patel who was its founder chairman. It was Tribhuvandas Patel who went to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to seek relief from the unjust order of the MIlk Commissioner of Bombay State that gave Polson Dairy the monopoly right to collect milk from 19 villages around Anand. Sardar Patel then sent Morarji Desai to organize the milk strike that led to the formation of the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd (Amul Dairy). Tribhuvandas Patel and Dr Kurien were jointly awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award in 1963 for ‘Community Leadership’ for the path-breaking effort to organize dairy farmers into a viable cooperative.

When Dr Kurien needed some initial funds to set up NDDB, it was Amul Dairy under the Chairmanship of Tribhuvandas Patel that provided the initial grant to set up the NDDB campus at Anand. We were fortunate to be at the foundation laying ceremony of the NDDB campus byTribhuvandas Patel. A mouse appeared from the pit that was dug up for the purpose at the NDDB campus and Tribhuvandas Patel observed that a similar incident had taken place when the Amul Dairy foundation was laid by President Rajendra Prasad. The significance was explained by Tribhuvandas Patel that this was a great blessing and Amul never stopped growing. He wished the same for NDDB.

Till then Milk Colony Model based on Khurody’s Aarey Milk Colony had been replicated at Kolkata and Chennai. The Delhi Milk Scheme had started a new trend in large government milk supply schemes. There were also the private dairies concentrating on luxury milk products. The government milk schemes had virtually started a vicious dairy development cycle by resorting to the use of cheap (dumped) imported milk powder that was destroying the urban milk markets for the rural milk producers. When we learnt dairying at Karnal, the teachers would tell us that since the demand for milk was more or less constant throughout the year, we must produce constant supply of milk throughout the year by producing more milk in summer.

Dr Kurien had already realized that the surplus milk produced in winter that could be used in summer by conserving it as milk powder and that we should encourage more milk production even in winter since it was the time that farmers had more crop residues and natural herbage. That led to a much better model for dairy development, one which could flood the cities with rurally produced milk instead of India being dependent on imported cheap milk powder that wasimpinging on the growth of rural milk production. The era of milk colonies and government run dairies was over and a new king had arrived. It started with the fall of Delhi Milk Scheme which had run into serious managerial troubles. The Agriculture Minister, C Subramaniam, appointed a committee under Dr Kurien to look into the revamping of DMS. The committee took this opportunity to encourage the Government to relook at the way the sector was being developed. The setting up of the NDDB with most of its members from this Committee indicated the arrival of a new strategy for dairy development.

I joined the NDDB when I was told that its mission was to replicate the Anand model. Dr Michael Halse, who had impressed me at the courses that I attended at IIM Ahmedabad, had himself switched over to the NDDB. I was convinced that replicating the success of Amul Dairy was the way India should be going. Dr Kurien gave me whatever I wanted to join the NDDB and that started a fairy tale for me to work closely with Dr Kurien.

In 1972, I resigned from the NDDB following some false stories being carried to Dr Kurien. Heasked me the reason for my leaving and I explained to him how I was disappointed in his listening to all kinds of stories. I told him some plain truths in a most rustic manner as I thought it was a mere exit interview and that he could do nothing to me. Dr Kurien showed that he was a big man and he could take honest criticism. He asked me to repeat the story (and the choice of words that I had used) at the meeting of the Board of NDDB that was being held at that time. I did exactly that and after that he asked the members of the Board to let me go to Canada on study leave and that he wanted me back. He also told the Board that I need not sign any bond to return as he trusted my word. That made me come back.


Great Blessing

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Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Working with Dr Kurien for over 24 years has been a great blessing. He led from the front and was totally committed to the dairy farmers of India and showed the thoroughness that was needed to handle the tremendous challenges that we faced. He was able to muster support from the highest levels in the country and that helped in the successful implementation of OF. His real strength came from the farmers supported by professionals working for them. This is an unbeatable combination. I was lucky to have a ring side seat and watched events unfold as they did to make the country a leader in milk and milk products.

 

When I went to Karachi to prepare a dairy development plan on behalf of SAARC in 1996, our nodal point was the Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan. The General Manager of the Bank was not very enthusiastic about an Indian Team coming for this purpose. He narrated to us as to how “Indian spies were following him when he went to Delhi for a regional conference”. He said that he was however impressed by the milk booth outside his hotel in Delhi. When he went to see it he became keen to see the Mother Dairy that ran the booth. The Booth Manager then put him in touch with the General Manager of the Mother Dairy in Delhi. The General Manager arranged for a car to pick him up and show him the Mother Dairy and he was most impressed with it. He then mentioned to us that he could not believe the name of the General Manager as it turned out to be a Muslim gentleman by the name of N A Shaikh.

 

I then mentioned to him that Shaikh was an engineer who started his career as an apprentice engineer at the NDDB and that we had a Chairman, Dr V Kurien, who was a Christian. When he learnt that I used to be the Managing Director of the same NDDB, he warmed up and did everything that he could, to help with the SAARC study which recommended the setting up of a Mother Dairy for Karachi.

 

I hope the new generation, with all the technology that they now have at their disposal, will further our age-old values of honesty, sense of purpose, hard work and compassion. The guiding principle has to be “Love All, Serve All”.

 

Poverty in India is going to harm the rich almost as much as the misery it causes the poor. The rich are refusing to see the reality and are living in virtual bubbles. When the bubbles burst, the reality will dawn on them in the most horrific manner.

Have I got it right ? क्या हम सही पकड़े हैं ?

Today Anas Haqqani tweeted. See the screenshot of the tweet and a couple of replies are give in text below.

If you have, like me, all the time in the world to spend and really want to know who this moron is click here

Yes, he is now a Talibani Minister in Afganistan. He was one of the negotiators with Americans at Doha.


There is a news item on Tribune today suggesting this tweet may be the cause of a spate of shootings of innocent civilians in Kashmir.

Two tweets by a Haqqani Network scion which glorified the destruction of statues in Somnath have stirred social media users and given food for thought to intelligence agencies here.

Making a reference of his visit on Tuesday to Ghazni, a city past its prime, Anas Haqqani glorified Mahmud Ghaznavi and his act of breaking the Somnath temple idol.”

Haqqani’s first tweet in Pashto went unnoticed where he made no reference to Ghazni’s foray into Somnath though he did say that the medieval age ruler had been a breaker of idols. His second tweet, an hour later, was in English and it specifically mentioned that he had “smashed the idol of

This set the social media on fire with some Afghans berating him for digging up the past, others hailing his statement and Indians largely pointing out that the Somnath Temple today shines in full glory whereas Ghazni is a dust bowl.

Having read the above, I recalled writing of our learned historian cum story telling intellectual Romila Thapar on Somnath that I had read many years ago in a monthly journal of the Communist Party of India.

Memory loss is a natural phenomenon in old age of lesser mortals like me. I wanted to quote her words of wisdom on this controversy. But if I quote someone it has to be backed by an authentic source. That is “sina quo non” in the times that we live in.

And since I have a lot of time to waste no no spend these days I searched and found a reference.

The following quotes are what Romila ji had opined after extensive research in a subject that leftist liberal marxists like her ( these words are deliberately chosen to portray the oxymoron nature of marxists) . Yes in contemporary times they are liberals and nationalists are conservatives.

And the comic tragedy is that neither the marxists liberal nor nationalist conservatives know who they are.

“Not unexpectedly, the Turko-Persian chronicles indulge in elaborate myth-making around the event, some of which I shall now relate. A major poet of the eastern Islamic world, Farrukhi Sistani, who claims that he accompanied Mahmud to Somanatha, provides a fascinating explanation for the breaking of the idol.11 This explanation has been largely dismissed by modern historians as too fanciful, but it has a significance for the assessment of iconoclasm. According to him, the idol was not of a Hindu deity but of a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess. He tells us that the name Somnat (as it was often written in Persian) is actually Su-manat, the place of Manat. We know from the Qur’an that Lat, Uzza and Manat were the three pre-Islamic goddesses widely worshipped,12 and the destruction of their shrines and images, it was said, had been ordered by the Prophet Mohammad. Two were destroyed, but Manat was believed to have been secreted away to Gujarat and installed in a place of worship. According to some descriptions, Manat was an aniconic block of black stone, so the form could be similar to a lingam. This story hovers over many of the Turko-Persian accounts, some taking it seriously, others being less emphatic and insisting instead that the icon was of a Hindu deity.

THE identification of the Somanatha idol with that of Manat has little historical credibility. There is no evidence to suggest that the temple housed an image of Manat. Nevertheless, the story is significant to the reconstruction of the aftermath of the event since it is closely tied to the kind of legitimation which was being projected for Mahmud.

The link with Manat added to the acclaim for Mahmud. Not only was he the prize iconoclast in breaking Hindu idols, but in destroying Manat he had carried out what were said to be the very orders of the Prophet. He was therefore doubly a champion of Islam.13 Other temples were raided by him and their idols broken, but Somanatha receives special attention in all the accounts of his activities. Writing of his victories to the Caliphate, Mahmud presents them as major accomplishments in the cause of Islam. And not surprisingly, Mahmud becomes the recipient of grandiose titles. This establishes his legitimacy in the politics of the Islamic world, a dimension which is overlooked by those who see his activities only in the context of northern India.

BUT his legitimacy also derives from the fact that he was a Sunni and he attacked Isma’ilis and Shias whom the Sunnis regarded as heretics.14 It was ironic that the Isma’ilis attacked the temple of Multan and were, in turn, attacked by Mahmud in the 11th century and their mosque was shut down. The fear of the heretic was due to the popularity of heresies against orthodox Islam and political hostility to the Caliphate in the previous couple of centuries, none of which would be surprising given that Islam in these areas was a relatively new religion.

Mahmud is said to have desecrated their places of worship at Multan and Mansura. His claims to having killed 50,000 kafirs (infidels) is matched by similar claims to his having killed 50,000 Muslim heretics. The figure appears to be notional. Mahmud’s attacks on the Hindus and on the Shias and Isma’ilis was a religious crusade against the infidel and the heretic.

But interestingly, there were also the places and peoples involved in the highly profitable horse trade with the Arabs and the Gulf. Both the Muslim heretics of Multan and the Hindu traders of Somanatha had substantial commercial investments. Is it possible then that Mahmud, in addition to religious iconoclasm, was also trying to terminate the import of horses into India via Sind and Gujarat? This would have curtailed the Arab monopoly over the trade. Given the fact that there was a competitive horse trade with Afghanistan through north-western India, which was crucial to the wealth of the state of Ghazni, Mahmud may well have been combining iconoclasm with trying to obtain a commercial advantage.”

~ Romila Thapar Click here for the full article



There is another article in right wing online portal Opindia.

They quote not our desi Romila Thapar but an equally worthy historian/ writer story teller from the west Richard Davis.”

“In ‘Lives of Indian Images’, 1999 (Princeton University Press), Richard Davis mentions Ghaznavi wanted to destroy the idols as his duty as a Muslim.

Excerpt from Lives of Indian Images’ by Richard Davis, 1999 (Princeton University Press).

Let me end this post by linking a tweet by Times Now where in the daughter of a Kashmiri Pandit Bindroo who was shot by terrorists sends a reply and challenge to the terror mongers.


जिंदगी का समंदर

काल था, है, और  रहेगा

वर्तमान को भूत बना भविष्य निगल जाता  है काल

जीवन के जीवन की शक्ति है काल

अज्ञात होता है  जीव का काल जीवन का जीवन,  जीव की ज़िंदगी से करता है खिलवाड़ 

लहरें  उठती हैं ज़िंदगी के समंदर  में अकारणअनजानेअनायास

कुछ उछलतीउफनतीइठलातीबलखाती कुछ दुबलीपतलीमरियल सी सुस्त 

हो जाती है सब ख़त्म, नियति जो है इनकी j

पर ख़त्म हुई लहरें भी बनी रहती हैं समंदर का हिस्सा , बन कर शायद कोई और लहर

क्या कोई फ़र्क़ पड़ता है समंदर को 

लहर तो होती है समंदर की 

पर लहर का समंदर नहीं होता


समुंदर की लहरें

या

लहरों का समुंदर

Audio conversations with former colleagues


Most of my former colleagues are senior to very senior citizens. I am blessed to have been a recipient of their love, affection and encouragement which has helped me in coming out with articles of interest -mostly related to NDDB and on subjects of common interest – regularly on Vrikshamandir. Two months from now this website will complete two years !

Farid A Siddiqui in conversation with SK


Many of my former colleagues have regularly been contributing to Vrikshamandir.
But for them it would not have been possible to bring Vrikshamandir.com to this stage.

My heartfelt thanks to each of them. Thank you ..🙏🏼

I keep trying to look for newer content, research on formats that can be used to upload content and struggle with learning the technology involved. I notice that in old age some of us like to listen more than read. Therefore, audio format is a possibility for uploading content at Vrikshamandir.

Dr SC Malhotra had earlier done a series of audio episodes on his professional journey which is available at Vrikshamandir Audio . After that there has been a lull.

Then I started Zoom Baithaks at Vrikshamamdir in which invited and interested individuals participate. So far there have been two meetings on 23 August 2021 and 6 September 2021. Blogs on both the meetings have been published.

I decided to try a new format in audio mode under a seres titled Conversations with former colleagues.

I have great pleasure in sharing with you the first episode in this series.

Farid A Siddiqui in conversation with SK is the title of this episode.

Do please listen in and share your feed back. What you liked? What is it that you did not like? What can be done more? What can be done less? Answers to these questions would be of great help to me in my efforts to improve quality of content and format of presentation at Vrikshamandir.

I will be uploading the next episode of Conversations with former colleagues soon. This time a conversation with MN Vyas.



Some thoughts and questions on India’s edible oil strategy

RK Nagar
RK Nagar

Two significant announcements have been made by the government of India in a short span of one month on how India plans to deal with the twin problems of the oil sector- ever increasing reliance on imports to meet the growing demand and controlling the retail prices of edible oils.

On 10th August the prime minister announced a plan to boost domestic production of edible oils at an outlay of ₹ 11000 crores so as to do away with India’s overwhelming dependence on imports and make the country self sufficient in edible oils. 

Exactly a month after it- on 10th September, the government decided to reduce the import duty on edible oils to soften the consumer price of edible oils and if the trade circle is to be believed, the duty reduction will at best have only a marginal impact on consumer prices. 

The last time the government of India emphasised on self sufficiency was in 1989, when it realised that the efforts of the Technology Mission on Edible Oils launched in 1986 to enhance domestic production and achieve self sufficiency will have little impact unless it is backed by a strategy that ‘creates an environment conducive for the farmers to respond in a manner that helps the nation achieve self sufficiency’. As a result MIO (Market Intervention Operation in edible oils) was envisaged initially for a period of five years and the National Dairy Development Board was designated as the implementing agency. 

The choice of NDDB was made for two reasons: first, NDDB had been implementing an edible oil project that was financed by monetisation of commodity aid since 1977 and second, by 1989 it had created a network of farmer’s cooperatives with infrastructure to procure, process and market edible oils in ten major edible oilseeds producing states. NDDB thus had the required expertise in building integrated institutions that are owned and managed by the farmers themselves not only in milk but in other non perishable agricultural commodities as well. 

This background is necessary to understand what happened thereafter and how it has impacted the edible oil sector; how was self sufficiency achieved in a short span of five years; how the gains were squandered to put India in the precarious situation where almost 70% of current domestic demand is met by imports and, how the present situation challenges the government’s plans to fast track ‘Atmanirbharta’ in edible oils. 

India achieved self sufficiency

By the time MIO was concluded, India achieved self sufficiency as the commercial imports were almost zero for two consecutive years. The mandate of MIO was to contain fluctuations in retail prices of edible oils within a narrow band of 15% over an oil year. 

To achieve this mandate, what the NDDB did was to begin with disciplining the retail trade. It introduced 1 litre consumer packs and using the distribution network of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) ensured that these packs have a pan India reach. The most important part was that the retail prices were kept stable over long time periods thus creating an atmosphere of price stability in the market. This strategy challenged the loose oil retail market as well as 15 kg tins, consumers began to view bulk buying at the beginning of the oilseeds crushing season as unnecessary and in a short span of two years, consumer behaviour changed. This strategy gave NDDB the necessary handle to rationally link producer prices of oilseeds with the retail prices in urban markets while ensuring that the channel margins remain reasonable for the processors, bulk distributors and the retailers. 

On the procurement front, NDDB adopted a two pronged strategy. It worked back price parity for oilseeds based on urban oil prices and procured oilseeds through its network of cooperatives at the parity price, it also procured oil from private millers. Since NDDB announced the procurement prices for both the oilseeds and oils, keeping the parity and channel margins in mind, private millers had no option but to procure oilseeds from farmers at prices declared by the NDDB. In the process both the ends- procurement and retail were firmly secured within a desirable price band. 

It was this strategy that built the confidence of the oilseeds producers to boost oilseeds production. It was for the first time that increased production (through area expansion and increased productivity through better seeds and other inputs)did not ‘depress the price of their produce when their produce reached the mandis.’ When they saw it happen season after season, they responded by increasing the production. 

In the process they proved that the Indian farmers are capable of making the country self sufficient in any agricultural commodity provided the government policies are geared towards protecting their interest and are equally effectively implemented. 

But the self sufficiency was short lived. The MIO, despite its resounding success was not extended for reasons best known to the government of that time. The net result is that there has been a steady increase in the share of imported edible oils and in 2020, the imports accounted for nearly 70% of the national consumption. In terms of value, 2020 imports are placed at US $ 10 billion. The graph below shows how rapidly the domestic production grew during the MIO implementation period and how the commercial imports dropped.

Why are imports a matter of concern? 

India first looked seriously at the need to increase domestic production and reduce its dependence on imports in 1977, when the then finance minister late Shri HM Patel asked NDDB to formulate and implement a project for oilseedsgrowers and implement it on the lines of’Operation Flood’- the dairy project that transformed the lives of millions of small milk producers across India. Shri Patel put it simply, ‘India can’t afford to spend precious foreign exchange to import basic foods. We are self sufficient in cereals and now we have to become self sufficient in edible oils and pulses too’. 

The same sentiment was echoed when late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched the Technology Mission on edible oils. India just couldn’t afford to continue with ever increasing edible oil import bills. All the government programs to increase domestic production were not yielding desired results. By 1989, it became clear that all the programs directed towards increasing production will have only limited impact and pressure on our foreign exchange reserves will continue to increase. 

It is true that at that time saving foreign exchange was a major concern and the answer lay only in increasing domestic production. But today, when the country has a robust reserve in excess of 660 billion US dollars, why should an outgo of 10 billions dollars be a matter of concern? Today’s India can very well afford an outgo of 10 billion dollars. 

In my understanding, it is not the question of affordability, but a question of how it affects the income and livelihood of millions of small oilseeds growers. 

To understand thais concern, I would like to do some quick back of the envelope calculations. 

Commercial imports of edible oils were $ ‘0’ in 1995. In year 2020, the imports were of the order of $ 10 billion. In a span of 25 years we turned from self sufficient to overwhelmingly dependent on commercial imports. 

The median value of the imports works out to US$ 5 billion. Thus over a period of 25 years, our foreign exchange outgo on edible imports was a massive US$125 billions. 

I would for a minute like to take you back to 1995. Had the government of that time extended the MIO for a further period of five years and provided a budgetary support of just ₹ 500 crores, it would have not only saved 125 billion dollars but at least 60% of it would have gone as direct income to the oilseeds growers who depend on marginal and unirrigated land for their livelihood. In other words, we deprived our own poorest farmers of this income. 

Therefore the plan announced by the government in August 2021 needs to be viewed more as a plan that aims to secure the livelihood of millions of small marginalised farmers. Although India of today can very well afford to annually spend 10-12 billion dollars on imports of edible oils, it can ill afford to neglect the interest of its own farmers crucially dependent on farm income. If the plan is well implemented, it would go a long way in realising the government’s objective of doubling the income of farmers. 

But how well conceived is the plan and how will it be implemented? There are many questions that arise as there is little that has been said on the implementation strategy so far. 

What is critical? 

The plan itself has three components and each will be implemented by a ‘MiniMission’. The first one will deal with farm grown oilseeds crops, the second one with Oil palm plantations and the third one will deal with oils of tree based oils that are largely non edible and of industrial use. 

The mission document summarises the targets and strategy with regard to each mini mission as follows:

MM I on Oilseeds

Achieve production of 35.51 million tones and productivity of 1328 kg/ha of oilseeds from the present average production & productivity of 28.93 million tonnes and 1081 kg/ha during the 11th Plan period respectively.

MM II on Oil Palm

Bring additional 1.25 lakh hectare area under oil palm cultivation through area expansion approach in the States including utilisation of wastelands with increase in productivity of fresh fruit brunches (FFBs) from 4927 kg per ha to 15000 kg per ha.

MM III on TBOs

Enhance seed collection of TBOs from 9 lakh tonnes to 14 lakh tonnes and to augment elite planting materials for area expansion under waste land.

STRATEGY

The strategy to implement the proposed Mission will include increasing Seed Replacement Ratio (SRR) with focus on Varietal Replacement; increasing irrigation coverage under oilseeds from 26% to 36%; diversification of area from low yielding cereals crops to oilseeds crops; inter-cropping of oilseeds with cereals/ pulses/ sugarcane; use of fallow land after paddy /potato cultivation; expansion of cultivation of Oil Palm & TBOs in watersheds and wastelands; increasing availability of quality planting materials of Oil Palm & TBOs; enhancing procurement of oilseeds and collection & processing of TBOs. Inter cropping during gestation period of oil palm and TBOs would provide economic return to the farmers when there is no production.”

In the following analysis, I shall focus manly on mini missions I and II as their focus is to make India self sufficient in edible oils. 

I would also like to share my understanding of the ‘Self Sufficiency’. In today’s global trade environment and inter-dependence of economies, no country can be absolutely free from any kind of imports. In case of food items however, overwhelming dependence on imports is akin to ‘loss of freedom’ and is at the expense of livelihood of our own people. So long as the imports are only marginal or necessary only to tide over a temporary supply shortfall, there is nothing wrong with it. 

Now the questions

Mini Mission I

The mission’s objective is just to increase by the end of the 12th plan period ,productivity per acre by a combination of better inputs and increase in irrigated area under principal oilseeds crops grown in the country. 

The objective is quite laudable but there is no mention of how it is going to help the farmers? It is assumed that increased production will automatically increase the producers income but the past experience proves otherwise. 

Barring the brief period of five years during which the MIO in edible oils was implemented, the speculative markets have always succeeded in depressing the farm gate prices with the fresh arrivals in the mandis. Increased production invariably brings in lower returns to the farmers. Thus, in the absence of a mechanism like MIO how would the government ensure that the farmers get remunerative prices? 

MIO was implemented by the NDDB that had the ability and reach to manage both the supply and demand sides of the equation simultaneously. Today, do we have an institution with similar expertise, experience and reach to create that environment which will be conducive to give a production boost? 

Where are the farmers in the equation? Do we have farmer’s organisations and an infrastructure owned and managed by them to get them the benefit of the value addition or their role is expected to end merely as suppliers of raw materials to millers and refiners? If so, will they not remain dependent on the exploitative market mechanism? If they do not benefit from value addition, why should they risk higher input costs and lower returns? 

Mini Mission II

Before I touch upon’Mini Mission II’, I have a couple of questions that directly relate to the objectives of this mission. 

First, the per capita consumption of edible oils is stated to have increased fromaround 10 kg late 1990’s to approx 19 kg in 2017. That is the average on which demand projections have been made. Various sources place the figures differently but the averages that I have used to illustrate the point are closer to most estimates. Thus an average family of 4.4- rural or urban purchases about 84 kgs of edible oil every year. At an average price of ₹ 105, a family annuallyspends ₹ 8820 on this commodity. That is a whopping ₹ 735 per month. 

And here I would like to take a short detour.

If a family can afford to spend this much money every month just on edibleoils, where is the case to give them heavily subsidised cereals under the public distribution system? The rational to provide wheat and rice at ₹ 2 or 5 per kg – well below the minimum procurement support price falls flat. If we accept the need to provide heavily subsidised cereals under PDS then one has to take the demand and consumption figures with regard to edible oils with a pinch of salt. I believe that these are gross overestimates made only to justify massive imports as the domestic production of oilseeds may have actually declined orhas grown at a much lower rate than what the officials statistics say after 1995- i.e after the closer of MIO. 

The second important point is that the palm oil that makes up almost 65% of the imports is nowhere seen on the shelves of the retail shops. Where does this oil go then? Who consumes it and how? 

My hunch is that bulk of it is used to adulterate other sweet oils like Ground nut,  coconut and sesame. This was a common practice that the trade indulged in the 1980’s and ‘90’s when unbranded loose oil selling was the most common practice. It seems that post MIO, this practice has returned with a bang, especially in the rural markets. And this may be a major reason for sluggish farmer response to increase production despite a massive rise in consumer prices of edible oils. 

Be that it as it may, the fact remains that a large part of domestic demand is met by imports and that has adversely affected Indian oilseeds growers. And since bulk of the imports are of palm oil, the official think tank has thought it appropriate to put its weight behind ‘Mini Mission II’. 

Is oil palm the right choice?

Before I dwell further on this subject, here are a few facts about oil palm that must be recalled. 

1. For best growth, Oil palm requires well drained loamy or alluvial soil at least a meter deep and high in organic matter. In poorer soils, growth and yields will be certainly lower. 

2. Oil palm is a water intensive crop. It thrives best in areas where rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year, atmospheric humidity is always about 90% and the ambient temperatures move in a narrow range of mid to high 20s.

 3. It requires high doses of fertilisers and if rainfall is limited to a few months a year, regular irrigation of nearly 200 litres per plant per day in the initial 3-4 years. The water requirement increases as the plants attain maturity and reach the fruit bearing stage.

 4. Fresh fruit bunches must be crushed within 24 hours of harvesting otherwise oil quality deteriorates. 

5. The life span of oil palm trees is approximately 30 years. Intercropping is possible only during first three years after which the growth of canopy and tree height provides little scope for intercropping.

 6. Full yield potential is realised only after about 8-10 years. 

Thus, once oil palms are planted, the land gets committed to the plantation for at least 30 years. 

Now let us see, how are the chosen Indian states placed in terms of these requirements, especially climatic parameters in relation to the world’s top oil palm producers- Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Indonesia: Borneo and Sumatra are the two islands that account for 96% of Indonesia’s palm oil cultivation. Oil palm cultivation in Indonesia is therefore very concentrated. 

Indonesia receives in excess of 4000 mm of rainfall annually over 190 rainy days resulting in the atmospheric humidity in the range of 80-85% throughout the year. The ambient temperatures too move in a narrow range of 27-32 degrees Celsius throughout. 

Malaysia: Four provinces-Sabah, Sarawak, Johor and Pahang account for 79% of Malaysia’s area under palm oil cultivation. Other 9 provinces account for the remaining 21%. Thus although much of the country grows the crop, the concentration is in four provinces. 

Malaysia receives +2400 mm of rain but has almost 250 rainy days in a year. The ambient temperatures range is 20-30 degrees Celsius and the atmospheric humidity is always above 85%. 

Let us now see how climatic conditions of the Indian states selected compare with that of Indonesia and Malaysia. 

As far as the selected Indian states are concerned, only the north- eastern statesand coastal regions of peninsular India come closer as far as overall rainfall is concerned. The distribution of rainfall viewed as number of rainy days, however varies a great deal since most of India depended heavily on south-west monsoon and even during the monsoon season of four months, the number of actual rainy days vary a great deal- from 60-90 days. The ambient temperatures too vary a great deal over different seasons and within a season during day and night. 

Thus, climatically even most parts of selected states are not entirely suitable for oil palm cultivation. If the past experience is any guide, then over the past 20 years or so, only a handful of farmers, mostly in Andhra Pradesh have taken to oil palm cultivation. The FFB yields realised from ten years or older plantations averages just around 4 tons per hectare a year. 

The climatic conditions in India. Indonesia and Malaysia have its own merits and limitations.  

Progress so far

The government of India embarked upon oil palm cultivation in 1991-92 under the Technology Mission on edible oils as it was viewed as a quick way to achieve self sufficiency. The achievements till 2018- that is almost after 26years of program implementation does not give us any reason to be proud of our achievements. 

The official data prove it. 

1. Over a period of 28 years, the average area brought under oil palm cultivation averages 11824 hectares per year.

 2. In  2017-18- that is after 26 years, fresh fruit production averaged just 3.89 MT per hectare.

3. Crude palm oil production from these FFB’s was just 0.17 MT per ton of FFB. 

4. 15 private entrepreneurs financially supported by the government established 24 oil mills with 312 tons of FFB crushing capacity per hour . That is 13 MT per plant. 

Mini Mission II states that the current FFB production is 4927 kg per hectare and proposes to increase it to 15000 kg per hectare. Considering what the actual production levels have been reached after 28 years, the targeted increase in production can only be a ‘wishful thinking’. 

There are other important issues with oil palm cultivation. To begin with let us look at the following:

Do we have Comparative advantage

1. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have a great advantage in terms of climate. The number of rainy days, even distribution of rainfall, high humidity throughout the year and temperature movements within a narrow band toplace them in a great situation to cultivate a plantation crop without incurring any expenditure on irrigation. Under Indian conditions, it would be a major cost component.

 2. Indian farmers will have to spend a lot more on labour since it will include the cost of additional labour for irrigation.

 3. Indian agricultural holdings are small and it would require a large number of small farmers coming together to form a compact, continuous plantation area with a commitment to keep the area under oil palm to attract investors to set up processing plants.

 4. Since oil palm would require irrigation almost daily, especially during non monsoon seasons when the atmospheric humidity drops to 40% or even less, the selected areas will necessarily have to have very high irrigation potential. Such areas are already under intensive land use and in most cases the cropping intensity is above 250%. In such a scenario, Howmany farmers would be willing to switchover to oil palm when they can take three crops a year, rotate cropping to take advantage of assured production, improving production techniques, markets and prices? In this situation, how many farmers will be willing to risk uncertainty with a long duration plantation crop? Let us not forget that in Indonesia and Malaysia, the large plantations are owned by corporates and not by small farmers. In India, most of the corporates have walked out of oil palm plantations after dabbling in it only for a few years. There are numerous instances where farmers uprooted oil palm trees even in Andhra and Tamilnadu after 3-4 years of suffering losses and returned to their previous cropping pattern.

 5. How many farmers will be willing to trust private processors who would invest in processing only after watching the progress of oil palm adoption by farmers in a given area for at least 3-4 years? Let us not forget that at the FFB production levels achieved- 5 MT per hectare, a 5 MT hourly FFB crushing plant operating for 20 hours a day will need an intake of 100 MT of FFBs daily. Over a period of an year and assuming 320 working days, it would mean 32000 MT of FFBs from a compact area so that the fruit quality doesn’t deteriorate. In other words, an exclusive ‘Oil palm shed’ of 6400 hectares. 

6. Since land holdings vary from state to state, I wouldn’t hazard a guess in terms of numbers of farmers, but even if we assume that around 3000 farm holdings can cover the required area, will these farmers take to oil palm without any say or partnership in the value chain? If not, then why should they take immense long term risk only to become a supplier to the monopoly of a single processor? 

I consider these questions extremely valid and answers must be found before more funds are pumped into Mini Mission II. 

The ambitious targets, especially in the light of experience so far may mean that we are “putting the cart before the horse”. 

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Data sources: agrifarming.in; worlddata.info; Indian Meteorological website; nfsm.gov.in, NMOOP20114.pdf


Toughness of boss !


An overwhelming thought arose during my routine meditation today. And in the eyes of my mind I was pulled back for a while to about 5 decades to a time when I as a fresh college graduate from Anand veterinary College and joined NDDB.

I had recently joined and posted at NDDB Head Office in Anand undergoing training in Farmers Organisation and Animal Husbandry Department.

When I recall that incident it plays like a movie scene in the eyes of my mind.

One day as Dr Chothani entered the hall were our department people had their office desks he saw me sitting on my desk.

He lost no time and started bombarding a volley of questions. “Why of is this fellow sitting in office? What is he is doing here?” . These questions were addressed to every one in the hall.

It was my first such experience of open verbal firing coming from the boss . I got scared and wondered what would be my future in such a fearful climate. A climate where senior talk openly like that !

But that wasn’t the end.

Pointing at my reporting office Shri NG Trivedi, Dr. Chothani went on “How is he competent to train field people?” And then he walked into his office cabin.”

There was a hush of silence for a while.

After a while Shri Trivedi, perhaps in order to bring some normalcy and calm me down, as a protective measure, decided to give gave me ten minutes to refer and be prepared for a written examination in Milk Cooperative Society Management.

Some how I prepared myself and took up the challenge. After joining NDDB I was slowly learning that tasks can be given at very short notice and one has to perform treating each assigned task as a challenge. A challenge stood in front of me!

I secured 72 Marks. That made my boss happy. He then went on to explain to Dr Chothani about my skills and competence !

He lost no time and started bombarding a volley of questions. “Why of is this fellow sitting in office? What is he is doing here?

A number of questions loomed in my mind. Why the display of such dreaded toughness in a boss? Why was he so heartless while admonishing me and Shri Trivedi in front of others?

While pondering over the incident , it occurred to me that it was a situation in which the boss wanted to teach a lesson that survival requires impermeable toughness !

Do or die , there is no other option ! If we think over more we have more empathy with such bosses as they were foundation stock of most challenging implementation of systems under Operation Flood Program ‘which required to take and swear toughness to get work done from people without considering too much about the emotional element.

Such bosses are just work on a sparkle in their mind ,whatever solution comes they implement immediately as perhaps they have no second thought!

Such an approach may work in a situation that calls for tough actions in times of tough opposition. But is that a sustainable strategy to get work done and achieve overall goals ?

Such toughness displayed by bosses induces and is more likely to create a tradition that is followed by others to work in the same manner.

Bosses who follow of traditional “tough” approach learnt from their earlier bosses, show “artificial” toughness. They hardly smile. Their sole hardware is their brain and logic. Heart is treated as a barrier and thus all emotions are kept aside !

Such “tough boss clones” neither live their own lives nor allow others to live theirs.

Such bosses do not like a relaxed work place atmosphere as they do not entertain such thoughts. They have only seen a tough and angry shouting bosses as if the house is always on fire,trying to find remedy by inducing fear ,suppressing people’s emotions and thus the potential of people always remains in slumber as they have hardly any interest to interact with such whimsical people!

When I was in Regional office Delhi with a novel task of as board director in a Rajasthan Milk Union, I always tried to get my my work through persuasion considering the overall situation and thus my task was easy but the “clones” were not happy and kept asking me why am I not aggressive? This was in contrast to the prevailing atmosphere wherein other “clones” would loudly talk about their “accomplishments !”.

Like an “artist” I used to work from my heart ! I was made cultural secretary keeping in view my past at NDDB HQ, were I was actively participating in organising garba during Navratri festival!

Now this was not liked by the “clones of tough bosses” who had hardly experienced the emotions from the heart ! They would tell me “What kind of activities you are taking up ? Leaves this all” May be jokingly but with sarcasm was visible !

I don’t have a black and white answer for this dilemma

I have experienced approach of “toughness” and thought it was right in that phase of early years at NDDB practiced by some of the “foundation stock” and in later years also by the “clones of tough bosses”.

However, it would appear that the “clones of tough bosses” learnt the technique but applied it without any consideration to the prevailing circumstances.

Those interested may like view this video explaining Douglas McGregor’s theory x and y

Was Dr. Chothani a typical theory X boss? Or Theory Y boss? The answer is that he mastered both approaches and based on the situation he used one approach or the other. The “clones of tough bosses” learnt only the toughness and were oblivious of the prevailing situation while deciding their approach to tackle an issue.