The Benegal Brothers
The story of a family and its times 1864-1975
A family may have one or two publicly distinguished members, but the subjects of this book are four equally noteworthy and extremely capable Chitrapur Saraswats, excelling in their chosen professions to impact social and political events in the India from late 19th century to mid 20th century. The "Benegal Brothers" as they are known, had an equally dedicated and large hearted father - Benegal Raghavendra Rao - a medical man, who, after a full career, made it his life's mission to do charity work in South Canara and elsewhere. That, then, makes it five!
The eldest, Sanjiva Rau, assisted by a government scholarship and sheer grit, completed a double Tripos in Mathematics at Cambridge, narrowly missed joining the Indian Civil Service, but succeeded brilliantly in the Educational field, was associated with several path breaking institutions such as the Hindu College in Benares, and later with colleges in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). With his wife, he worked for educational institutions for women in Allahabad, and at Rajghat, again in Benares. As a Theosophist, he was active in educational institutions started by the thinker J. Krishnamurthi.
The second brother, Narsing Rau, etched an equally distinguished career in public administration and the judiciary. A contemporary of Jawaharlal Nehru at Cambridge, he was the only Indian to join the ICS in 1909. He was associated in the creation of the Government of India Act 1935, which gave limited autonomy to Indian provinces, and later served as a conduit to the increasing Indian demand for 'Poorna Swaraj'. Appointed by the Constituent Assembly as its Legal Adviser to shape and create the Indian Constitution in preparation for Independence, he became a member of the pivotal committee (headed by the then Law Minister, BR Ambedkar), mandated to create this crucial document that is today the bedrock for a free, secular and sovereign India. Appointments as Representative of free India to the United Nations, and as a Judge at the International Court of Justice at the Hague followed. In each of these Narsing Rau gave his best, a true believer in equity and impartial rule of Law, an upholder of the best in all his actions.
The third brother, Rama Rau made his mark in administration. Also a civil servant, he gained expertise in finance, becoming the longest serving (to date) Governor of the Reserve Bank of India - 10 years - and also served as Deputy High Commissioner of India in UK, and Consul General for India in South Africa.
The fourth and youngest brother, Shiva Rau, a journalist and activist took up the cause of trade/labour unions in pre and post-Independent India, as also women`s education and livelihood (his wife Kitty, an Austrian, worked with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya) and to improve their status in a newly independent society. Shiva Rau was, interestingly, an elected member of the Lok Sabha (from Mangalore) and later nominated to the Rajya Sabha, in both capacities making definitive contributions to the working of democratic setups in our national institutions.
Brilliant and catalysing careers, sketched very competently and painstakingly by the author, Kanchan Karopady Bannerjee, who also embarked on her path of rediscovering her own community while researching the Benegals. The book is a lively read, replete with anecdotes and side stories, conversations with family members and friends, maps and photos - all giving a parallel picture of a confident and evolving community, of which the Benegal Brothers were avant garde members.