Arvind Panagariya pens his father’s extraordinary life


In 1946, Baloo Lal Panagariya, then 25 years old, arrived in Jaipur to join the editorial staff of the newspaper Lokvani, devoted to exposing the excesses of the British and princely rulers of Rajputana. Though unremarkable in itself, the story behind this event is one of the triumphs of the human spirit over adversity.

Baloo Lal was born in a remote village in Rajasthan, in a family that could not scrape together two full meals a day. He lost his father at five and mother at fourteen. The village lacked even a primary school. Yet, thanks to the wisdom and sacrifice of his mother and his own perseverance, he completed his education, went on to serve with distinction as a civil servant in the newly formed state of Rajasthan and, after retirement, wrote the first definitive book on the history of the freedom movement in Rajasthan.

In a very real sense, Baloo Lal’s journey from the village of Suwana to the city of Jaipur was a long and arduous one, much more so than that of his own son, decades later from Jaipur to Washington, DC. His success led to more milestones in the next generation, with two of his children being honored with Padma awards and another with a presidential award.

Arvind Panagariya’s “My Father: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Man” (HarperCollins), adds a new dimension to the history of India. It is a reminder that post-independence India was built not just by a handful of leaders working at the top but numerous ordinary citizens who shaped its many contours from below.

“A simple, charming, old-fashioned tale of a decent man who struggles to rise from poverty into the middle class, from a pre-modern life to modern life. Such a person’s life, honestly captured, is not only unique but the only certain data of history we possess,” says author Gurcharan Das of the book.

Arvind Panagariya is Professor of Economics and Jagdish N. Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is also the Director of the Deepak and Neera Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies at Columbia. He served as the first vice-chairman of NITI Aayog from January 2015 to August 2017. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton University.

He is the author of 20 books, among them “India Unlimited: Reclaiming the Lost Glory”. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 2012.