Half a century is a long time and when it stretches beyond, it feels like an eon. Long ago, fifty-four years ago, Edward Nirmal Mangat Rai served the state of Jammu & Kashmir. He served as Chief Secretary for two years between 1964 and 1966 and was the first civil servant of the ICS cadre to serve the state. A long time has passed since then and not many present-day residents of the state can be expected to remember him or even know about him.
Born in 1915, no contemporary of E.N. Mangat Rai – age-wise – must be alive presently, as more than a century has elapsed since the time of his birth. And yet, some, a few, from his days when he was the Chief Secretary of the state may remember him just in name but will have very little to tell us about him as one who served the state as Chief Secretary.
However, E.N. Mangat Rai’s posthumous fame (he died in 2003 at the age 88) does not limit only to his bureaucratic status alone. He was the widely known as second husband of Jawahar Lal Nehru’s niece, Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijay Lakshmi Pandit (sister of Pandit Nehru) and Ranjit Sitaram Pandit- the famous Gujarati Sanskrit scholar and editor of the 11th century Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. Love followed by marriage between Mangat Rai and Nayantara Shagal is a legendary tale, the gossip, facts and fiction of which are well known. Perhaps this reputation of E.N. Mangat Rai, mostly among the upper and middle class elite of India and literary circles because of Nayantara Sahgal’s achievements with pen, is indelible.
However, Mangat Rai’s memory as bureaucrat who served our state with distinction as Chief secretary remains eclipsed and deserves to be salvaged from the debris of time and penumbral seclusion of anonymity. In family and close friends circle, Mangat Rai was called Bunchi for the simple fact that as a child his cheeks were red like a bunch of roses and the name stuck to him throughout his life. He belonged to a well known family of Punjabi Christians of Pre-Partition Punjab. The family belonged to Multan but had settled in Abbottabad. Bunchi’s father at the young age of 18 abandoned his Hindu faith and converted to Christianity. This caused much furore in the social circles of Punjab at the time. Given the orthodox time of that era, conversion of Bunchi’s father to Christianity caused him excommunication from the family and much consternation within the Punjabi Hindus.
Braving the odds, both social and legal, E.N. Mangat Rai’s father refused to relinquish his family surname even after conversion. It may interest the readers that famous leader of the Freedom Movement, Lala Lajpat Rai argued on behalf of Bunchi’s grandparents but the court ruled in his father’s favour. E. N. Mangat Rai’s maternal grandfather Kali Charan Chatterji too had turned his back on his Brahmin heritage and converted to Christianity in 1854. At the time he too left his home in the undivided Bengal and finally settled in Punjab at Jalandhar.
E.N. Mangat Rai had two sisters and a brother. The sisters were Priobala Nina and Leena Sushiela. The former throughout her life remained a Pakistani national and lived in Lahore even as rest of the Mangat Rai family, post-partition, moved to India. Priobala retired as Principal of the famous Kinnaird College, Lahore. His second sister Leena Sushiela married Arthur Lall, another Punjabi Christian who too belonged to the prestigious Indian Civil Service. Arthur Lall worked at the United Nations and represented India at the world forum in the 60s of the last century. E.N. Mangat Rai’s younger brother Edward Raj served the Indian army and to the writer’s best knowledge retired as Brigadier.
In 1944 E.N. Mangat Rai married Champa Singha, the daughter of S.P. Singha- also a Christian and living in Lahore. He was a teacher. Mona Uma Chatterji, sister of Champa, later also called as Kalpana Kartik married Chetan Anand’s younger brother, the far famed Bollywood actor Dev Anand. Champa herself was an ardent thespian and served as lecturer in English at the Women’s College in Lahore.
E.N. Mangat Rai lived and completed his early education in Abbottabad. Later, he enrolled himself for B.A and M.A. in History at the St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. From there ENMR went to Keble College at Oxford to prepare for a career in the Indian Civil Service. Two years later, in 1941, he returned to India as a qualified ICS officer and began his bureaucratic career from Lahore. However, E.N. Mangat Rai never became a Lahori. His heart was somewhere else.
Nonetheless his closest friend circle at Lahore included Khushwant Singh, Champa, later also his wife; G.D. Khosla, Agha Abdul Hamid also of the ICS; Mahmud and Satbir Kaur, son and daughter-in-law of Nawab Muzaffar Khan of Wah. There were Wilbur and Usha Lall, both married to each other. Incidentally, ENMR’s sister Sushiela was married to Wilbur’s brother Arthur Lall. And of course there was Faiz Ahmed Faiz and W.H. Morris Jones, later a close aide of Lord Mountbatten and served the Viceroy’s Secretariat in the pre-partition India.
When Punjab was partitioned in 1947 and Lahore assigned to Pakistan, E. N. Mangat Rai opted for India and moved to Simla in the East Punjab government. Rising high up in the bureaucratic hierarchy, ENMR moved to Chandigarh in 1962 as Financial Commissioner. It was then that he encountered friendship with Nayantara Sahgal even when she was married to the pharmaceutical corporate baron Gautam Sahgal. At the time it was Mangat Rai who gave the Sahgal couple the architectural permission for their dream house in Chandigarh. It was named Anokha, a name given to it by Pandit Nehru.
Two years later, ENMR was promoted and posted as Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir state during Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq’s terms, first as the Prime Minister and later as Chief Minister of the State between 1964 and 1966.
Of ENMR’s tenure as the Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir not much information is available and nothing significant in his official achievements is recorded or known.
However, a significant piece of rare record accessed by this writer reveals the heart of this bureaucrat and his candid acknowledgement of owning and wielding his power and authority in the position as the Chief Secretary. It is heart touching but brave confession of a man whose heart pounded for humanity and whose mind must have breathed honesty and integrity or even expressed love for the people he served as Chief Secretary.
On November 20, 1966, E.N. Mangat Rai was in Jammu. There he lived in his official accommodation at the Wazarat Road. That evening he had a haircut at the Lucky Hair Cutter in a little shop down Residency Road, presently called Vir Marg. The barber was a handsome young man. Normally ENMR would have him at his house for the haircut. But on that day, ENMR decided to “break the middle class Jammu tradition” and walked into his shop for a haircut. The shop barely measured seven feet by twelve feet. Inside the shop there were two chairs for the customers being attended at the time and two tucked towards the wall for those who waited for their turns. At due turn, the barber cut ENMR’s hair without any instructions from him and to Mangat Rai’s satisfaction parted his hair on the right. After the haircut, Mangat Rai gave the barber two rupees. The barber said he charged only rupee one at the shop. However, the generous Mangat Rai left the extra rupee with the barber as a “gesture of goodwill”.
The remaining story must be read in Mangat Rai’s own words:
“I am certain my colleagues would have been a little taken aback if any of them had seen me. This event, and the fact that I walked to and back from office three times yesterday through the smelly streets, made me wonder again how cut off my type of person is from the ‘native’ India. The streets, mostly narrow, except the main car roads, are endless in their ramifications in this old town. There must have been an improvement scheme at one time, as they are mostly brick-paved, with a drain on each side. The drains smell foul as they carry not only the refuse but, I believe, the excreta of the population.
“They flow grey-black with lumps of vegetation discarded by the people. But they do flow, and Jammu is lucky to be on a gradient so that it continually (and with little rain fully) flushes itself out to all-absorbing, all-suffering river Tawi, which takes the refuse through miles of Indian and then Pakistani countryside to the sea.
“And I felt a strong link with this real India, this dust and squalor and poverty. I felt a haunting sense of guilt that I did not belong, that I was cut off in the method and manner I lived. After all, this society, this poverty, this squalor, has fed me, and maintained me in my special way for fifty years. And I could almost see its skeleton fingers stuffing bread into my mouth.”
The writer is a well-known Jammu-based Environmentalist with special expertise in History.