Social Scientist. v 13, no. 144 (May 1985) p. 65.


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OBITUARY

M J K Thavaraj

M J K Thavaraj was bom in an impoverished Christian Taim^ m a Tamilnadu village close to the Kcrala border nearly six decades ago. A meagre scholarship, combined with sheer grit and an ability to face hardships, saw him through his higher education in Madras, and he was ordained a Christian priest. What prompted this Christian priest of an obscure parish to undertake the journey to revolutionary Marxism is not known. One can only make a guess: perhaps the heady days of anti-imperialist struggle, perhaps a friend here, or a teacher there, perhaps a couple of books borrowed from the dusty shelves of a library or brought from some run-down bookshop in a back alley, pushed this young priest along the road to Marxism. But the visible counterpart of this intellectual journey was a change in career. Thavaraj moved to Delhi and enrolled at the Delhi School of Economics for a doctorate under the supervision of Professor K N Raj on the topic public expenditure trends in colonial India. His must have been among the first crop of successful doctoral dissertations from Delhi School. A long teaching stint at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, followed; around 1963 Thavaraj moved to the Indian Institute of Public Administration, where he stayed on occupying at the time of his death a Senior Professorship, with Financial Administration as his special subject.

As a teacher, Thavaraj was far from flamboyant, but he was thorough and meticulous. I was one of his students at St. Stephen's where he lectured to our undergraduate class on English Economic History. None of us in the class had any idea of what the course contents of the paper were: our conception of the course contents was derived entirely from a perusal of past question papers. Since the questions every year usually began with some aspect of the industrial revolution, we were initially impatient with Thavarafs copious lectures on the manorial system. But the very thoroughness of his preparation for the lectures was impressive, as was, paradoxically, the total absence of any "smartness" in them, in an ethos where "smartness" was generally at a premium. The appreciation of course grew as one came to realize that to understand the industrial revolution one had to go back earlier, and that, this particular teacher, therefore, was not preparing us just for the examination but was trying to tell us something about what happened in history.

As an economist Thavaraj wrote a great deal, which is hardly surprising; one of the professional hazards of being a radical economist in our country is that one is obliged to do so. But his major contribution was



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