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Arun Shourie's Biography(Unofficial but Honest and Sincere)

Arun Shourie's Biography(Unofficial but Honest and Sincere)

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Published by texankudiya
The unofficial but sincere biography of Arun Shourie, independent India's most intelligent and outspoken columnist.
The unofficial but sincere biography of Arun Shourie, independent India's most intelligent and outspoken columnist.

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Published by: texankudiya on Aug 03, 2008
Copyright:Public Domain

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05/09/2014

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BIOGRAPHY of Arun ShourieHis publisher calls ARUN SHOURIE a race horse. Others have described him as a bloodhound, apreacher, a missionary, a crusader and a muckraker. These diverse analogues illuminate facets of thewriter who, perhaps as much as anyone since independence, has stirred examination by Indians of theirpolity and their conduct as individuals within it. Admirers speak of his dogged consistency, his courage,gift of grace, intellectual dynamism, versatility and almost photographic memory. Critics, and someadmirers, too, say that he "goes too far."SHOURIE’s wife has said that "the meticulousness with which he approached his work, the continuouspitch, energy and inner drive used to puzzle me, but I quickly realized that this was just a very highlydisciplined person." Admittedly this is his own discipline and never that imposed by others. Hevehemently rejects both the discipline—the "petty, unnecessary niceties" by which he feels the journalistic profession gelds itself—and the label journalist. He is, he insists, "a concerned citizen using theforum of a newspaper for the time being." As a concerned citizen his driving preoccupation is to bare, andhelp defuse, threats to the Indian body politic. He is described as warm, generous and unaffected amonghis small circle of family and close friends, while those who know him less well find him oftenhighhanded, opinionated and sometimes "plain rude."SHOURIE shrugs off all such discussion of himself with good humor. His style and direction, he says, aresimply the result of "good accidents and one deep trauma." His first good accident was his affectionate,close-knit Punjabi family. Born on November 2, 1941 in Jullunder, Punjab, India, he was the first child of Hari Dev Shourie, a high-ranking civil servant, and Dayawanti Devasher. Aside from the fact that Hindufamilies traditionally give importance to the first son, for five years there were no siblings to divertparental attention. A sister Nalini was born in 1946 and a brother Deepak in 1948.His father was in the Indian provincial civil service (he later joined the Indian Administrative Service),presiding as one of the city magistrates of Lahore at the time of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947and was put in charge of the evacuation of Hindus—including his own family—from that portion of thePunjab which became Pakistan. SHOURIE remembers the family being uprooted and transferring back toJullunder on the Indian side, where his father was appointed Director of Rehabilitation, responsible fororganizing camps to accommodate the millions of refugees coming over the new border. SHOURIE beganhis formal education at the Junior Model School started in that city soon after.His father's posting in 1952 to Rohtak, about 45 miles from Delhi, resulted in another good accident, thatof attending the Modern School in Delhi. At this progressive institution, "which laid great emphasis onthings other than bookish learning," there were dedicated teachers and the principal, Mahindra NathKapur, was one of India's outstanding educationists. SHOURIE’s political idol at this time was PanditJawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister.St. Stephen's College of Delhi University, which he next attended, was considered to be the bestscholastically of the university's colleges; it also emphasized games and other outdoor activities.SHOURIE captained the hockey team and excelled in class, graduating with a B.A. in Economics(Honors) in 1961. He had finished the first year of his Master's course at this college when he had his nextgood accident—a meeting in Delhi with the dean of the Maxwell School of Public Administration of Syracuse University, New York, and the award of a full fellowship to that institution.SHOURIE recalls his three years at Syracuse—devoted to completing course work and examinations forhis M.A. and Ph.D.—as "a very lovely period, carefree," and one which widened his horizonsimmeasurably. He credits exposure to "fine, very friendly professors," freely distributed reading lists,extensive library facilities and frequent public lectures the discriminating and intensive reading he has
 
since done.In 1965 he returned to India to collect information for his doctoral dissertation, entitled "Allocation of Foreign Exchange in India," which he submitted the following September. Indirectly through his thesisprofessor, he was referred for employment to the World Bank, where one of his interviewers was workingon the same subject as his dissertation but had been unable to obtain information SHOURIE had gotten:"So he thought I was well informed; all these things happen by accident," SHOURIE comments. As aresult SHOURIE was one of seven applicants accepted in 1966 for the Young Professionals Programwhich had been instituted to train a cadre within the bank to complement the recruitment of experiencedolder staff. His appointment was to be finalized when he had received his Ph.D.While awaiting word on his interviews at the World Bank SHOURIE returned to India where he took aposition with the Tata Group of industries in Bombay, but resigned three months later when he wasnotified that he had been selected by the World Bank. He then rejoined his family in Delhi where anespecially good accident happened.On January 12, 1967 the matchmaking aunts of SHOURIE and Anita Shukla arranged that the youngpeople and their parents would meet at tea. Immediately after this brief visit SHOURIE asked his motherto tell Anita's mother "we would like the marriage to take place as soon as possible." Anita was of thesame mind. Preparations were quickly made and relatives informed. Though neither SHOURIE nor hisaffianced subscribed to Hindu orthodoxy, they liked and followed the traditional rituals. The engagementceremony was performed on February 9, the marriage on February 12, and the couple enplanedstraightaway for Washington.SHOURIE remained in the Young Professionals Program of the World Bank for five years. After rotationamong the different departments to become acquainted with all activities of the organization, he was senton brief tours of Kenya, Egypt and Sri Lanka and assigned to the Economics Department. He appreciatedthat the bank was a fine place to work, but as he settled into a routine he became restive and his interestfocused increasingly on India—"maybe because of the distance, because of reading, emotionalattachments to the family, to friends, I really don't know." He therefore applied for, and received, a HomiBhabha Fellowship from 1972-1974. Simultaneously he worked in Delhi as consultant to the IndianPlanning Commission. The fellowship gave him complete freedom to pursue his interests and his post atthe Planning Commission, which was then the arena of major controversies within the government andgave him a ringside seat to observe developments in politics and administration. He became an avidstudent of the functions and performance of the government and wrote a few critical articles on economicpolicy. He also began to notice the violations of human rights or the constitution, an awakening that wouldbecome a driving force in his life.In his first political essay, "On Keeping Silent," he predicted the Emergency (restraint on civil liberties inthe interest of internal security imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1975), exhorting citizensto speak out. Striking the theme that would become his clarion call and be elaborated upon many times incoming years, he wrote, "the real tragedy. . .the real cause of the drift into an authoritarian nightmare isnot that a few leaders become rapacious, that they start breaking laws, disregarding norms or destroyinginstitutions. Rather it is that common men remain silent. . .acquiesce." They use specious alibis to accountfor their lack of action, claiming helplessness, questioning the evidence of wrongdoing, assuming thegovernment must have reasons for its actions which it cannot reveal, shrugging off criminality as nothingnew, or fearing to jeopardize a job. But none of these can be weighed in the scale against the interests of the country, he argued: "a flood threatens us," and unless everyone helps strengthen the embankment allwill be swept away.The position SHOURIE was expecting upon termination of his fellowship—that of economic adviser in
 
the Ministry of Petroleum and Chemicals—failed to materialize. He therefore returned to the World Bank and for the next two years was with the Policy Planning and Program Review Department, headed byMahbub Ul Haq, a Pakistani whom he held in high regard and with whom he became close friends.Although this was a good position within the Bank and allowed greater freedom than other assignmentswould have, "it was still just doing those program papers on countries I was not really interested in," hesays. In his spare time, especially after imposition of the Emergency, he wrote three articles, "Symptomsof Fascism," "The Coup as Portent," and "The Role of Popular Movements: A Gandhian Perspective,"which were published in Seminar and other Indian journals.It was another good accident that an officer of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)read these pieces and called them to the attention of the director, Dr. J.P. Naik, who was also the doyen of Indian educational planning. Subsequently SHOURIE received a message from Naik saying he sensedfrom SHOURIE’s writings that he wanted to come home and inviting him to submit a research proposal.Naik suggested some abstract topic, and "then do what you want." SHOURIE chose Mahatma Gandhi'sphilosophy and movements as a way of looking at India—its traditions and its current condition. Theproposal was accepted and he was awarded a three-year fellowship.Shortly before the SHOURIES were due to return to India their son Vikramaditya was born prematurely.Three days later they were told that the child had suffered a massive brain injury resulting in cerebralpalsy. They were plagued by guilt that their desire to return would rob their son of advanced medicalfacilities and possibilities for development until Dr. Charles Kennedy, chief pediatric neurologist atGeorgetown University, reassured them. Kennedy pointed out that not much could be done for the childexcept to monitor his condition and give him steady encouragement. They would have difficulty, hewarned, determining how the boy was developing because he could not tell them, but they must proceedon the assumption that he would develop "very far." In India, he added, the boy would be exposed to thediverse stimuli of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and household help and the SHOURIES would bemore relaxed. He therefore advised them to go. "The advice of this lovely old man turned out to be justright," SHOURIE says.Upon their return to Delhi his father built a spacious home for them in his compound, which affords themboth privacy and nearness to family. The couple prefer a quiet life and go out very little. Much of theirtime is focused on the therapeutic treatment of their son. "This child is our life," SHOURIE says; "he is asensitive, very brave, cheerful child with a positive outlook and is coming along as well as he can." Tohelp him and others like him, Anita has been actively involved since its inception in Delhi's first school forspastic children. The school is free, but the SHOURIES and one other family pay for their children'seducation; costs are otherwise defrayed by benefit concerts and plays, by government grants anddonations from private sources.SHOURIE candidly concedes that he has not coped as well as Anita with the deep trauma of their son'shandicap. An intense person, his reaction to distressing situations, personal and impersonal, has beendepression. Now invading his pleasure in the many things he treasures— "my marriage, my parents,teachers, friends, very forgiving friends"— is his acute sensitivity to physical vulnerability. To keephimself fit he regularly played squash until his work became too demanding, and performed yogicexercises until he nearly lost his hearing in one ear from carelessness. Today he keeps a strict morningregimen of a half hour run or a workout in his room. He is keenly aware that he tends more than before topessimism but his wife talks him out of it; his parents are "also strong," and he is grateful for the "familynet which holds me up."Setting out on his ICSSR project he decided that the key to understanding Gandhi would be to examine hiscommentary on the Bhagavad Gita, the eclectic, popular exposition of the philosophical treatises of theUpanishads which Gandhi called "his mother." Next reading the Gita itself, SHOURIE found that

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