A man of many eccentricities

Updated on Apr 02, 2003 07:09 PM IST

How does one expect objectivity from a daughter who struggles to break free of her father's larger-than-life shadow.

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PTI | ByManjulaa S Negi

Father Dearest
The life and times of RK Dalmia

Neelima Dalmia Adhar
Namita Gokhale Editions/ Roli Books
Price: Rs 395
Pages: 262

For a literary work to be authentic, it needs to be objective as well. But how do you expect objectivity from a daughter whose father-inflicted wounds are still festering and who still struggles to break free from his larger-than-life shadow. He's dead, yes but not gone.

Neelima Dalmia Adhar, the fourth child of industrial giant (and founder of the Dalmia empire) Ramakrishna Dalmia from his sixth wife Dineshnandini, in the dedication to the book writes that she has "exorcised the ghosts from within my soul." That may be true but there is no denying that the book is a powerful indictment of everything that a clan can hold sacred - values, growth, familial bonds and above all, a desire to not speak ill of the dead. Adhar deliberately and consciously strips away layer by layer the deceit, duplicity and intrigue, which stalk the precincts of Dalmia's varied homes. Largely perpetrated because of the man himself.

Ramakrishna Dalmia was a man of many eccentricities, not the least of which was his overwhelming desire to seek out and become one with his first wife, Narbada - whom he lost to tuberculosis, while still a boy of fifteen. The quest of Narbada (and his desire to assuage his guilt at having precipitated her death, since he had been needlessly cruel to her) would lead Dalmia into five other marriages, one more unsuccessful than the other. His actions would leave 24 humans (including 17 offspring apart from the wives) deeply and permanently wounded in psyche - the scars of which all of them will bear for the rest of their lives.  

Adhar does not attempt to camouflage her father's life and the manner in which he led it - including among other things, laying bear his over-exercised libido, the manner in which he conducted his business deals or even the way he brought about his own ruin. In her honesty lies her strength, and she uses it effectively to advantage - be it when she mentions his taking on Jawaharlal Nehru, or his commitment to the cause of India's independence. She is equally candid when it comes to her mother and her neurotic behaviour.

The book is an insider's look at the rise and fall of the mighty Dalmia, whose Midas touch had become legendary at the stock market. Dalmia's tireless ambition led him to become one of the richest Indians and one who wielded enough influence on the most powerful of them all, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah - a close friend. Adhar claims that Dalmia was the sole man who could have prevented the Partition, so close was he to Jinnah. She cites the details of a meeting called by Dalmia and attended by the Mahatma, Sardar Patel, Nehru and Jinnah to resolve the issue. But Nehru's ambition to become independent India's first premier stalled Jinnah's aspiration to the same post.

The effort came undone, and turned Dalmia into Nehru's most vociferous critic. Dalmia, the first Indian owner of the Times of India, vilified Nehru's name through the columns of his newspaper, thus inviting his own ruin. Not only does she indict Nehru in the book, calling him among other things "a Brahmin snob," Adhar accuses Dalmia's oldest son-in-law Shanti Prasad Jain and his younger brother Jaidayal of back-stabbing Dalmia - which left him bankrupt overnight. Accused of misappropriation of funds from his Bharat Insurance Company, Dalmia was imprisoned for two years.

A no-holds barred account, the life and times of Ramakrishna Dalmia, is a book that works on multiple levels. Structured interestingly, the book moves comfortably between detailed accounts of Dalmia's rise to international acclaim and his personal life - which was no less intriguing because all his wives wanted his undivided time attention and plotted against one another for the same. It follows a lateral, not linear narrative without losing focus on any of the incidents mentioned.

Father Dearest is not just another biography eulogizing a parent figure (and Thank God for that). It is, instead a deeply moving account of the suffering of a woman who was only one among many to get caught up in the quagmire of lust and ambition, not of their own making. It is as revelatory about the author as it is about its subject and that makes it a compelling read.

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