Family

Family Tree

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Murlidhar Jain

(Died 1941)​​

Very little is known about Murlidhar except that he hailed from Narwar, near Morena in Madhya Pradesh. A devout man, he would have been a known figurehead in Jain society. The Shri 1008 Parasnath Digamber Jain temple that lies on the outskirts of Morena is particularly revered in the Jain community in and around the city. Here, Murlidhar performed a Bhavya Vedi puja in 1920, in which the main statue of the 23rd Tirthankar Parasnath Swami was instated by him. Over the years, the family has continued to patronise the temple, renovating it from time to time, even as recently as 2019. Now close to a hundred years old, the temple still bears the family name and is considered a part of the family’s early history.

Murlidhar Jain moved with his family to Bhopal in the late 1800s (circa 1891). Amongst the first Jaisavala Jains to settle in the area, he soon set up his business of trade and moneylending which, by most accounts, flourished. In due time, Murlidhar and his wife had a daughter, Gomti Devi.

Tragically, Murlidhar’s wife passed away when Gomti Devi was just two years old. Murlidhar however, didn’t remarry. Now sole parent to his little girl, he put all his energies into bringing up his daughter in the best possible way. He doted on her, unwilling to let her feel the loss of her mother. In an unprecedented move, he also decided that she should be educated. The very progressive Nawab Sultan Jehan, Begum of Bhopal and mother of Nawab Hamidullah Khan, had recently established the Sultania School for women, specifically for the daughters of reputed and privileged families. Murlidhar enrolled Gomti Devi at the school for a year, at a time when it was unusual for girls to receive formal education. He showered her with affection, donning the role of both mother and father.

Later, Gomti Devi would be heard to say “I have drunk my father’s milk” as a tribute to how much like a mother her father had been to her.

In the early 1920s, when Gomti Devi came of age, Murlidhar found a match for her in Jugtilal Jain, whose family hailed from Indore. Jugtilal was well-educated and conversant in English, both of which were rare competencies among merchant families at the time, making Jugtilal somewhat of a celebrity at his wedding, when a telegram arrived for the couple in English, and he was able to read it.

In 1923, Jugtilal and Gomti Devi had their first child, Babulal. The boy would grow up to forge his family’s identity, even as he defined its values. His father however, would not live to see his accomplishments.

A year after Babulal’s birth, Jugtilal passed away. Devastated, and with no siblings or family to lean on other than her mother-in-law, Gomti Devi returned to her father’s home with Jugtilal’s mother-in-law. There, with her father’s loving support, Gomti Devi regained her strength and began to focus on the care and upbringing of her son.

In 1941, Murlidhar Jain fell ill and passed away, bequeathing everything he had to his grandson, Babulal. Among the assets he left behind were 125,000 silver coins, discovered after his death, considered a large sum even at that time. Despite trying times and personal losses, Murlidhar’s trade and moneylending business had done well, and would form the basis of the successful empire to come.

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Gomti Devi

(1905-2000)

With an enterprise that she had inherited by chance, a young son and no husband, parents or siblings to support her, Gomti Devi was faced with promising but overwhelming prospects. A lesser woman might have crumbled, but not Gomti Devi. She now squared her young shoulders and set about the business of raising Babulal to fulfill his destiny. She was determined that her son, as the inheritor of her father’s business and position in society, should lack for nothing. The child would receive the best education possible, including classes that would make him a fluent reader and writer of English. A protective mother, she wanted her son to have the best, but not without a sense of responsibility and as such, she walked a fine line between discipline and indulgence.

As Babulal grew up, so did Gomti Devi. While she had trusted muneems to manage everyday affairs for her, she had a sharp eye for detail and quickly learned business practices. A perfectionist, she took a keen interest in every deal made, and was known to be principled and strong of opinion. This decisive nature and clarity of thought made sure that her son Babulal grew up with sound values in both his business and personal life.

Her day would begin with a bath and a visit to the temple, something she never missed out on, no matter what her age. She chewed tobacco, common for ladies of the time, and slept unaccompanied on the third floor of the house. She was self-assured and unafraid, and possessed a certain raub, a grandeur, that did not diminish with age.

In Jainism, water is drunk filtered instead of boiled to reduce a person’s chances of sinning, simply straining out micro-organisms in the water that might otherwise be killed by boiling it. In ancient times, drinking water collected from baolis or wells would be filtered using a thick cloth made of natural fibres. Once the water had been collected, the cloth was reversed over the well and filtered water poured over it to return the micro-organisms from the cloth back to the original body of water. This practice was called jivani or bilchhaavani, and is no longer possible in modern living because of the use of pipes that now supply water to homes. Gomti Devi, however, always drank filtered water or chhaana hua paani, a Jain tradition that she took pride in. She was incredibly fit, and never saw a day of illness in her life.

Though a disciplinarian, she was extremely loving with her family, including her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Granddaughter Dr. Anjali Jain remembers her as a strong, vital woman, who called her father Murlidhar Jain Kakkaji and had a mix of orthodox and progressive values. “She was a devout lady,” she recalls. “She would teach us grandchildren how to recite religious prayers, and she often invited monks to the house, whom she would then serve with great humility.”

The older Gomti Devi grew, the more she was respected and recognised in the neighbourhood and community as a forthright and powerful personality. Even in her advanced years, when she was counted amongst the seniormost ladies of Jain society, she could recognise every person she met and continued to be sharp and outspoken. She was a force to reckon with and everyone, from Jumerati to Chowk Bazaar, would always be in awe of her. This grand matriarch lived to the ripe old age of a hundred and did not lose her zest for life till the end.

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Babulal Jain

(1923 - 1989)

Early years

Babulalji Jain grew up in the company of distinguished peers. As an only child and the heir to Murlidhar Jain’s inheritance, Gomti Devi took great pains to see that he had every educational advantage. She enrolled him at the newly-established Bhopal Model High School, which was governed by the Ajmer Board, under which Babulalji answered his exams. Keen for her son to follow in his father’s footsteps and be fluent in the English language, she employed an English tutor for Babulalji, Mr. Kanti Prasad Sharma, who would come up to the house every day to give the boy English lessons. Babulalji was articulate and a quick learner, and soon acquired a very good command over both English and Hindi at Piplani Jain Mandir Panchkalyanak, 1975.

 

Mr. Kanti Prasad Sharma lived less than a mile away from the Jain house, and had a son, Shankar, who would go on to become Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, India’s ninth president. He was friends with Babulalji, and the two stayed in touch, especially while Shankar Dayal Sharma was pursuing his LLM. Another notable contemporary with whom Babulalji was good friends was Rai Lala Mulkraj, an eventual prominent political and social figure of Bhopal, whose son Rajendra Malhotra went on to become a known hockey commentator.

Family focus

When Babulalji was barely fifteen, Gomti Devi sought a bride for him. She found a suitable match in Badami Devi, who came from a distinguished Gwalior family. Four years younger than Babulalji, Badami Devi had just passed eighth grade at school, a significant distinction for a woman of that time. She was an intelligent girl and was keen on continuing her education, so Gomti Devi offered her the same tutelage as Babulalji – she would have a chance to study and be taught by the same tutors as her young husband. The match was approved, and Babulalji and Badami Devi were married in May of 1938.

Babulalji Jain circa 1938

This was an era in which large families were the norm, and Gomti Devi, acutely aware of her son being her only offspring, encouraged Babulalji and Badami Devi to have as many children as they could. The couple took Gomti Devi’s advice to heart, and from 1942 to 1963, they expanded their family to include eight children. Two daughters, Chandrakanta and Indrakanta were followed by a son, Mahendra in 1947. A third daughter Ravikanta, son Surendra, and daughter Anjali were born over the next twelve years, and finally the twins Sunil and Sangeeta arrived in 1963. As was the custom in the day, all of them were home births, including the twins, and were attended by trained midwives chosen and supervised by Gomti Devi herself.

Babulalji Jain circa 1938

Babulalji Jain circa 1938

Badami Devi proved to be the perfect partner for Babulalji.

She supported him in his learning, his work and his social life, while devoting her own life to pursuits both spiritual and material. Though young, she was a dutiful mother and brought up their eight children with the values Gomti Devi had so conscientiously taught Babulalji. Aware that goodwill had to be earned, she encouraged Babulalji to attend social functions, help out at the local temple and involve himself in social activities where the right connections could be made.

She kept up with their social calendar and made sure that the family was well-regarded. As their children grew older, she encouraged them to join their father in his social commitments so that they could imbibe social skills from his interactions and learn how to make their presence felt in a positive way.

Parents, and especially fathers in those days, very rarely shared a personal interaction with their children, their roles usually being limited to being providers. Babulalji however, was very involved with his children, investing both time and energy in their upbringing. Daughter Anjali Jain recalls: “All of us kids called him Chachaji and he took an interest in everything we did, even the girls. As early as nine or ten, I remember him helping me with school debates at the shop below the house at Jumerati. I would sit there and take notes as he talked and worked. He taught me how to drive when I was eleven. I think we inherited our language skills from him and our mathematical abilities from my mother, who was quite good with numbers.”

The focus on education continued into adulthood. While the two eldest daughters went to Kedaria Mahal and then Vidya School, all the other children went to Cambridge School except for Sunil Jain, who attended Campion. “This,” he recalls with a smile, “was because I was the baby of the family, and my older siblings would cover for me whenever I misbehaved. My parents thought I’d have a better chance of learning discipline if I wasn’t under their protective eye.”

As often happened in those days in large families, some of Babulalji and Badami Devi’s children would be younger than their grandchildren, the older girls having been married before the arrival of their younger siblings. The couple continued to be closely involved with their children even when they moved away. When their eldest son Mahendra left for the United States of America for his higher education, Babulalji visited him there, carrying with him Mahendra’s favourite foods and sweetmeats from India. Both parents would write to their daughters married and living in different states, offering advice and encouragement along with news from back home.

Lifestyle (50 - 70s)

Babulalji Jain was known to have an aristocratic lifestyle. Though his mother had taught him discipline, she had also indulged him and exposed him to the finer things in life, and as such, he possessed an eye for elegance. He loved cars, but was forbidden from buying one by Gomti Devi, who feared he might meet with an accident. A story often told is that knowing his mother would not allow him to bring a car home, Babulalji, unbeknownst to her, bought one to drive himself around in the daytime but would park it at the dealer’s each evening, simply to honour his mother’s wishes.

Another story tells of how his mother refused to let him buy a two- wheeler, and so the first vehicle the family owned was a car, a black two-door Baby Austin from Nausherwan Garage of Indore in the 1950s. The car was a matter of pride, as Nawab Hamidullah used to own the same make, an Austin Champ Jeep in the day.

Later, the family would also own a Jeep, with the registration number 605.

The family would often go on picnics in their Jeep, especially every Sunday in the monsoon. Surendra Kumar Jain, Babulalji’s son- in-law recalls: “When I visited Jumerati, I went out with the family on picnics and outings several times. Babulalji loved excursions. I would go with them to places like the Bhadbhada Dam or Sanchi, sometimes to Raisen. Other times, we went to Abdulla Ganj or Bhojpur. If the weather was good, then on Sundays he would put all the children in the car, and we would go together.”

Babulalji and Gomti Devi were fond of paan or prepared betel leaf, and depending on the season, the ingredients would change. Babulalji preferred his supaari flavours strong, and his brand of choice was Tota Chhaap Paan Bahaar.

This was often hard to find, so he would buy it by the crateful. Each crate would hold twenty-four neatly-stacked tins of a hundred grams, each of which he would carefully empty out into a large bowl. Into this he would mix two kilograms of chhalia, finely cut unflavoured supaari from the local store. This special blend was then stored in a large, airtight jar. He would take a little at a time and fill a small dibbi with it, which he then slipped into his pocket. Another dibbi was then filled with fragrant jarda, flavoured with peppermint and coated in silver foil. He would carry the two dibbis about with him, sharing the supaari generously with whoever was fond of it. His supaari box made him quite sought after at social gatherings. Years later, his son Surendra Jain, who inherited his passion, would also be known for the silver supaari box he carried around.

As a staunch Congress follower, Babulalji wore only khaadi.

His usual attire was a khaadi cotton dhoti and kurta, with a Jawahar jacket when the weather demanded it. His undershirt and handkerchief were khaadi, and on occasion, he wore a khaadi Jodhpuri suit. As the years passed, he began wearing a sherwaani and churidar. It was the style of the day to sport a rose pinned to the sherwani front, which Babulalji often did, along with a gold chain around his neck. His sartorial style would later be emulated by his son, Surendra Jain. Known to dress for the occasion, Babulalji would wear a particular fur cap on Eid every year, which Sunil Jain has carefully preserved.

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Babulalji’s projector

Babulalji was a photography enthusiast and owned a Kodak box camera as well as an 8mm movie camera with a projector. Mahendra Jain recalls how the family would gather round to watch as the projector would be set up outside on the terrace to run footage of Bhopal that Babulalji and his friend Chatur Narayan Malviya had shot. “There was plenty of it too,” he says, “including extensive footage of Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhopal in 1962.”

Babulalji enjoyed visiting city clubs, and every once in a while, he would dress up, splash on Tata’s Eau de Cologne and head out. He was a member of the Bhopal Lodge and often spent an evening playing rummy at the Bhopal Club. A progressive mother-in-law, Gomti Devi would encourage Badami Devi to accompany him on these evenings, offering to babysit the children while they were out.

Taking a cue from her mother-in-law, Badami Devi years later would end some of the more restrictive traditions that her own daughters-in- law were expected to follow, such as covering their heads in the presence of others. This strengthened her reputation in the neighbourhood as an amiable and pious woman, yet one with a modern outlook.

Babulalji had a habit of carrying a diary around, in which he made notes of things he did and places he visited. In it, he also wrote down the phone numbers and addresses of everyone he knew, and this came in particularly handy one time. Babulalji had flown to America to see his eldest son Mahendra, who had moved to Chicago. The plan was to fly to New York and then take a connecting flight to Chicago, where his son would pick him up. However, the Air India flight to New York was delayed, because of which Babulalji missed his flight to Chicago. As luck would have it, that very same day, Mahendra was changing apartments. Babulalji tried to call his son, but Mahendra’s telephone had been removed and shifted along with the rest of his furniture. Unable to inform his son of the delay and missed flight, Babulalji had to eventually board his flight without having contacted him.

Mahendra meanwhile, had reached the airport at Chicago with a friend and looked for his father for over an hour, but unable to find him, had returned home. When Babulalji eventually landed in Chicago and found no one waiting for him, he didn’t panic. He had his diary on him and in it was the number of his friend Dr. Somani who, at the time, lived in Chicago. The good doctor came, picked Babulalji up and drove him to Mahendra Jain’s apartment. In the days that followed, Babulalji toured the entire country from coast to coast with his son before they both returned to India. He wrote a detailed description of his time in the US in his diary, which Dr. Anjali Jain hopes to one day have translated.

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Babulal Jain on his return from America

Daily routine (1950s to 1970s)

Babulalji’s mornings would start early with a bath and a recital of the Namokar mantra. He would then walk to the Mahavir Chowk temple about a kilometre away to offer prayers before heading back to the house for breakfast. The bath and prayers were a daily ritual, without which he would never sit down to eat. On occasion, instead of going home, he would stop at the Jain sweet shop near the temple for a breakfast of pure ghee jalebi and kachori.

The store would open by ten in the morning. If the driver wasn’t in that day, Babulalji would drive the children to school himself before settling down to the day’s business. The rest of the morning would pass in meetings with customers and consultations with the ADM or the collector. Lunch was usually at two o’ clock. Babulalji would go upstairs and as was the custom, would be the first to be served. The younger children who were not yet in school would join him. The ladies would eat later. Lunch done, Babulalji would then drive out at 3.30 pm and pick up the kids from school. If the driver was in however, he would let him go instead and indulge in an afternoon siesta till about 4 o’clock. By 6 o’clock in the evening, his salesperson would return from the task of booking orders, and the day’s stock-taking would be done. Babulalji would end the day by counting the store’s cash payments by hand. In those days, the Union Bank stood right across the road from the house. He would fill in the bank’s pay-in slip and hand it to his muneem Khushilal, who would then go and deposit the cash in the bank. None of the muneems could leave till the tallying had been done for the day. The wooden lockbox used to store the cash at the time still exists at the Jumerati house, where it is venerated by the family every Diwali.

While the rest of the family would have their evening meal by sunset, Babulalji would have a dinner of a few small snacks between nine and ten o’clock and head out to meet friends and colleagues. He would often go to the club to hobnob with the leading lights of the time, most of whom he knew personally.

He enjoyed sports and was known to be a good hockey player. Occasionally, he would also play badminton with his friend, Principal P. C. Malhotra, father of the renowned playback singer Sudha Malhotra.

More commonly however, he would engage with the local community in a unique Bhopal practice called patiyabaazi. Patiyas, or wooden planks, would be spread out in the streets at night after business hours, and men from every social stratum would come together to sit on them and chat.

They were often joined by ministers who, unlike today, did not have a security detail or follow any particular protocol. A gardener could sit down beside a chief minister, and no one would think anything of it. Issues were discussed animatedly over ten paise packets of toasted peanuts, bought off street sellers. Babulalji was a prominent figure at these patiyabaazis.

Often, after a debate, everyone would head to the sweetmeat shops at the Chintaman Crossing nearby, where they would end their session with a feast of rabri and kulfi.

Religion

Babulalji continued the family tradition of religious ritual and the veneration of holy men. He often hosted meals and pujas for monks, and remained involved in the betterment of the Jain samaaj that they lived in. He did this not just as a matter of tradition, but with the passion of someone who truly cared about the role of religion in society.

If it was within his power to get something done, he usually would. Mahendra Jain recalls an incident: “There was a piece of land next to a Jain temple that was being considered in a plan to extend the temple premises. However, permissions were difficult to get, and the temple committee sought my father’s help as vice president. At the time, Arjun Singh was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Instead of letting the matter drag on, my father decided to speak to him in person and, accompanied by a few committee members for support, visited his office. The chief minister, recognising him, invited him in and while the delegation waited outside, the problem was resolved quickly and amicably between the two men. The land was handed over for the temple expansion that same year.”

On Sundays, the children would be dressed up and taken to the temple for what was known as boli lagaana. Devotees could bid for the opportunity to be the first that day to anoint the deity with holy water. Even when very young, the children would be allowed to bid any amount without having to ask permission, and this attitude continued through to their adulthood.

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(Jaisavāla Jaina, eka yuga, eka pratīka, 1993)

Chandrakanta Jain recalls: “In 1975, the family conducted a Siddhachakra Mahamandal Vidhan at the temple, an eight-day ritual considered very auspicious in Digamber Jain society. Each of us gave an offering of money, but none of us would ever dream of questioning the others about how much. It’s simply not done.”

The family’s Jain values were so deeply ingrained that they continue to reflect on the business even today. They have never diversified into enterprises that contradict the teachings of their religion, no matter how profitable, so some industries such as meat processing are not even considered. Mahendra Jain however, is pragmatic. “As business expands, these values are liable to get diluted,” he says. “But for now, the current generation still deem them an important hallmark of the business.”

Philanthropy

From the time of Murlidhar Jain, the family was known to help anyone who was in need.

Chandrakanta Jain recalls: “Way back, about a hundred and fifty years or so, my great-grandfather Murlidhar Jain would keep tins of roasted horse gram in the shop. Horse gram as you know, is considered a superfood today for the nutrition it provides. If any destitute or hungry person came by, he would hand him two fistfuls of horse gram to eat.

Chandrakanta Jain recalls: “Way back, about a hundred and fifty years or so, my great-grandfather Murlidhar Jain would keep tins of roasted horse gram in the shop. Horse gram as you know, is considered a superfood today for the nutrition it provides. If any destitute or hungry person came by, he would hand him two fistfuls of horse gram to eat.

Chandrakanta Jain recalls: “Way back, about a hundred and fifty years or so, my great-grandfather Murlidhar Jain would keep tins of roasted horse gram in the shop. Horse gram as you know, is considered a superfood today for the nutrition it provides. If any destitute or hungry person came by, he would hand him two fistfuls of horse gram to eat.

His in-laws’ tradition was carried on by Babulalji, and shows even now in the way the family supports anyone in whom they see potential. He would also often use his influence to get people a job at the bank. These were the days before bank exams, and banks would offer positions to people they found competent. A bank job meant stability and respect, so it was desirable employment.

As a community leader, it was easier for Babulalji to resolve issues, and his counsel was valued on many social and political matters. Sometimes he stepped in when he felt a wrongdoer could be redeemed.

Sunil Jain recalls: “Once, a person from the community was caught committing electricity theft and not knowing what to do, he asked my father for help. Nawab Hamidullah, who ruled Madhya Pradesh at the time, sent the police to the man’s home to arrest him. Before they could get there, my father, taking advantage of the purdah system that existed at the time, draped the man in a veil and whisked him off in his car to hide whilst he spoke to several officials. He counseled him and saved him from prison and even from the penalty he might have had to pay. The man was eternally grateful. My father was influential enough to manage incidents like these, and he used that influence to do good.” Babulalji would also be approached to give doctors’ references to help out people with medical issues.

He was well-known for running blood and eye donation drives. This was especially significant, because at the time, there was a lot of public superstition and fear associated with blood and eye donation. Having the support of someone as prominent and influential as Babulalji made these camps very effective.

The Rotary Club would usually be involved in the camps, and Babulalji would often be right there, filling forms for donors. For his father’s first death anniversary, Sunil Jain decided to honour his memory with a blood donation camp on 17th November, 1990, organised with the help of the Rotary Club and Inner Wheel Association. The group’s factory has been organising blood donation camps since 2015 and to date, has donated nearly a thousand units.

Babulalji was involved in several social and philanthropic initiatives and was a lifelong member of the Indian Red Cross Society and of the Bhartiya Samaaj Kalyan Parishad in Madhya Pradesh. He would also donate generously to social causes, and his youngest son Sunil Jain has followed in his footsteps. Eldest son Mahendra Jain ponders, “It was a tradition those days, for all prominent businessmen to be involved in social work, to give back to society in some way. It’s a culture that we seem to have lost today.”

Institutions

Babulalji supported the founding of the Sangeet Kala Academy, the first institution supporting classical music concerts in the city. Their first concert was held in Bhopal in 1953. He was also instrumental in establishing the Abhinav Kala Parishad in 1968, along with Subhash Vitthaldas from Mumbai. Founder Pt. Suresh Tanted, who was also a noted tabla player, has acted as secretary and managed its affairs since it started. It has grown to be a landmark cultural institution of Bhopal, and Sunil Jain continues to be a trustee.

Babulalji also held key positions in many institutions:

  • Worked with Shri Sunderlal Mathur for the Harijan Sevak Sangh 

  • Was Vice President of the Gandhi Rashtriya Smarak Nidhi, Bhopal branch

  • Was Coordinator of the Gandhi Shatabdi Samaroh

  • Helped establish the Madhya Pradesh Centre for Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan along with former Governor K.C. Reddy, where he was both treasurer as well as on the working committee

  • Was trustee and treasurer of the Bal Niketan orphanage for thirty-five years

  • Was Vice Chairman of the Bhopal Hindu Utsav Samiti

  • Was President of the Durga Utsav Samiti, Jawahar Chowk

Uptil 1947, Bhopal was an independent state of 18th century India. The Bhopal Hindu Utsav Society was formed after India’s independence to celebrate Hindu festivals in what used to be an Islamic state. The merger in 1949 was a cause for joy, and people now wanted to celebrate major festivals as a community.

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The Durga Utsav committee was founded by Babulalji along with the business community of Jumerati, and they held Bhopal’s first Durga Puja in 1949. This became a tradition and today, Durga Utsav celebrations are held all over the city. Similarly, the first Ramlila, a folk re-enactment of the life of Lord Rama, took place in Bhopal at Pipal Chowk, Jumerati where, as the vice president of the Hindu Utsav Samiti, Babulalji had a key role to play in its organisation and planning.

Leadership

Babulalji had been a member of the Bhopal Rotary Club since 1949 and became its vice chairman in 1970. He was also president of the Rifle Club. Enthused by his work, Badami Devi joined the Rotary Club through Inner Wheel and eventually became its president.

Although she was not comfortable speaking English, she was supremely self-confident and, breaking away from the norm, gave speeches in Hindi at international conferences, for which she was much admired.

She was also the president of the Mahila Mandal at the Mahavir Chowk Temple.

Babulalji was invited to all social, political and state functions of importance. Nawab Hamidullah’s palace was just one kilometre away, and he would be in frequent attendance at the Nawab’s court and later, at the Raj Bhavan.

From festivals such as Eid and family ceremonies such the khatana of Saif Ali Khan, who was the Nawab’s great grandson, to important military functions, Babulalji was always present at the Nawab’s palace in his role as a business and social leader. He was also a state guest at the wedding of Madhav Rao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior.

Reciprocally, all visiting dignitaries to Bhopal would visit Babulalji’s house. Every wedding in the family would be attended by the presiding chief minister and governor, whose homes he would also visit, often with his children.

 

Babulalji’s friendship with Nawab Hamidullah has given the family plenty of anecdotes to tell over the years. Sunil Jain relates one tale: “Chachaji and the Nawab would often have casual meetings to catch up on what was happening in the community. One day, the Nawab offered to get my father a licence for a rifle and a revolver. ‘And,’ he told my father, ‘I’m gifting you a cannon.’ My father laughed, ‘I’m a Jain baniya, what will I do with a cannon? I’m not planning to fight any wars. The licence will be more than enough.’ I often tell friends that had my father not refused that day, we would have had a real cannon in the house! The gun licence however, was issued in 1945, and I still have the revolver today.” Babulalji was a prominent leader and had considerable clout, but he never misused it.

Yet he was forthright when speaking to others in power, including those above him. Whether an issue was related to elections or to business policies, if he felt that a decision taken was wrong, he would think nothing of calling up even the chief minister and letting him know. He was known for his straightforwardness and respected for it.

In 1988, President Shankar Dayal Sharma felicitated Bhopal’s leading contributors to social welfare at an event held at the Gandhi Medical College auditorium. Babulalji, already afflicted with paralysis by then, attended the meeting in a wheelchair. As he couldn’t get onto the stage to receive the award, the president disregarded all protocol and went down to where Babulalji was seated to felicitate him. It was a gesture of respect, and it was valued by both men.

Business institutional memberships

As a leader, Babulalji advised and represented the traders and merchants of his time. For their benefit, he attempted to form the Bhopal Chamber of Commerce and Industry way back in 1953 or ‘54. However, it didn’t take off, and it would be another ten years before it would finally be established. Still, his presence as a mentor and organiser was widely recognised, as was proved by his many titles:

  • Founding Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Bhopal Chamber of Commerce

  • Founder, Chief Secretary and President of the Federation of Madhya Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry

  • Member of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry

  • Founder and Chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee, Bhopal

  • Nominated member of the Madhya Pradesh State Sales Tax Committee

  • Member of the Consumer Advisory Committee, Western Railway, Ratlam Circle

  • Chairman of Rotary 304, Consumer Protection (1985-86), Professional Services (1986-87)

Political affiliations

Babulalji was highly respected in political circles, and was sought after for his sound advice on policy and public matters. He was also a staunch Gandhian. The concept of nonviolence aligned deeply with his Jain ideals, and he wholeheartedly supported the Mahatma’s freedom movement.

He laughed off any attempt by his contemporaries to call him a freedom fighter, considering his contribution too small to be of significance, yet he was acknowledged as one by most.

Bhopal State did not merge with India till 1949. In 1947, Nawab Hamidullah Khan had decided to keep the state an independent unit,  and refused to participate in any of the festivities celebrating India’s independence.

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Brijesh Jain, elder son of Chandrakanta Jain, with his grandfather Babulal Jain, offering a rose to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in front of the Jumerati House, 1962
 

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Babulal Jain with Indian President V. V. Giri and then MP, CN Malviya

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Babulal Jain garlanding Vijaya Laxmi Pandit

he Nawab’s reluctance is evident in the fact that at a time when the national flag was being hoisted with pride on every street of a newly reborn India, Bhopal’s sky boasted only a single flag that nonetheless fluttered valiantly on the roof of the Jumerati post office building.

Despite the Nawab’s stand, the first elections were held in 1947 while Bhopal was still under his rule, and Babulalji was the chunaav prabhari or election-in-charge for the Congress. The entire proceedings were organised by him and that year, Chatur Narayan Malviya became the first chief minister of Bhopal. However, with resistance against his rule growing, and fearing a complete loss of power, the Nawab dissolved the elected cabinet in January 1949 and declared himself sole ruler. This led to a widespread agitation and a demand to merge Bhopal with India, and despite his history with the Nawab, twenty-five-yearold Babulalji stood firmly with his now independent country.

It is said that even Gomti Devi took part in the Vilnikaran Abhiyaan, or agitation of December 1948, and a photograph in Bhopal’s Minto Hall is a testament to this.

Babulalji continued to champion independent India’s cause over the next few decades, especially in his own state. In the first General Election of 1952, he was a Congress committee head and ensured their win on all four seats. In 1956, after Madhya Pradesh was formed, he was vice president of the welcome committee of the All India Congress workers’ rally. Once the country’s states had been reorganised and Bhopal state became Madhya Pradesh, there were discussions on how sales tax should be imposed. When it came to whether single point tax should be levied at the first or last point, Babulalji argued vociferously for it being at the first point, there being chances of tax evasion at the last one. He led the agitation and the satyagraha that ensued, forcing the government to eventually concede.

As influential and astute a politician as he was, it came as no surprise when Babulalji was offered a Congress MP ticket to stand as a candidate in the election, but Gomti Devi would not hear of it.

With a young family to raise and just one pair of hands at the time to run the business, she made it clear she could not afford him taking on added responsibility. She would encourage him in his social work and in supporting the party, but she drew the line at his standing for election.

Babulalji was usually called on to join in any ceremony or outing with visiting political guests to Madhya Pradesh.

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Vilnikaran Abhiyaan, or agitation of December 1948

The new Vihara at Sanchi, towards which Nawab Hamidullah had made a huge donation, was inaugurated in November of 1952. The ceremony saw the arrival of several distinguished guests, both Indian and foreign, for a Buddhist conference, including Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister Shigeru

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Babulal Jain with Indian President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

Yoshida of Japan and Prime Minister U Nu of Burma. Babulalji was a part of the welcoming party, and joined Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and others on an excursion to the Sanchi Stupa along with his two eldest daughters, Chandrakanta and Indrakanta.​​

As a co-founder of the Rashtriya Smriti Sansthan, Babulalji organised a memorial on Jawaharlal Nehru’s 22nd death anniversary on 27th May 1986, where Chief Minister Shri Motilal Vora was the chief guest and gave a speech.

Despite always being ready to help others out by using his connections, Babulalji never took advantage of his considerable political influence to enhance his own business or his family’s fortunes.

Key contemporaries and associates

Though Babulalji was a part of the prominent circle in Bhopal, he also had a social circle of friends from Gwalior, Indore, Raipur and Bombay with whom he kept in regular touch.

  • Rai Lala Mulkraj, father of well-known radio sports commentator Rajendra Malhotra, was a close friend and business partner of Babulalji.

  • Chatur Narayan Malviya was the first chief minister of Bhopal state in 1947, before it merged with India. Babulalji and he were close associates, and the former was instrumental in ensuring the chief minister’s win. After the merger, Chatur Narayan Malviya served as an MP from Bhopal from 1951 to 1956.

  • Bhagwantrao Mandloi, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh from 1962 to 1963, would often drop by the shop in his car to have a chat with Babulalji. Unlike today, there were no security protocols then, and a minister’s visit was not a complicated affair.

  • Babulalji was on good terms with several chief ministers, such as  Shyama Charan Shukla, Prakash Chandra Sethi and Motilal Vora.

  • Narendrabhai and Ranjitbhai Vitthaldas of Permali Wallace were family friends who offered their support when Sunil Jain was being treated for polio.

  • Rajkumar Singh Kasliwal, the son of Seth Hukum Chand Jain Kasliwal of Indore, was a close friend of Babulalji. Whenever he visited Indore, Babulalji usually stayed at Seth Hukum Chand’s mansion, Sheesh Mahal.

  • Usha Ram Kasat, whose family had a long association with the Congress party. Her son, Nitin Mehta was the head of A.I.R., Bhopal

  • Hari Vijay Varghiya, a banker and astrologer

  • Rajmal Pawaiya, an eminent Jain philosopher

  • Paras Gangwal and Dr.Virendra Gangwal, industrialists from Gwalior

  • Shakoor Ali Khan, a communist leader

End of an era

In 1985, Babulalji suffered a heart attack from which he luckily recovered. However, he was advised to slow down. In 1987, he suffered a paralytic attack that left him bedridden, but he continued to play a central role in business, social and family matters.

In 1989, the government had decided to celebrate the janma shataabdi or birth centenary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and though it was well known that he would be unable to participate, Babulalji was nominated to serve on the state level committee as a representative of the trader community. The invitation was addressed ‘To Babulal Jain 501’. Three days after the event, he passed away.

Dr. Anjali Jain recalls the unfortunate day of his demise: “It was 17th November, 1989. My father had been paralysed for a while by then, but he was still such a presence in our lives. We had had a special bed made for him, which was placed by a window overlooking the road. We would sit on his bed and look out of the window, and describe whatever was going on outside to him. The day he passed away, Motilal Vora was the chief minister, and he visited to offer his condolences. A policeman came up the road to announce his arrival. For a minute, I forgot that my father was no longer alive, or that the chief minister was coming to pay his last respects. Turning towards the bed, I said, ‘Chachaji, Motilal Voraji is here’. I looked at his face and it was at that moment that it actually struck me – my father was no more.”

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