By Vijay Phanshikar :
HIS large pictures and posters are still found in Government buildings and institutions of agricultural studies in Mexico. Colourful murals depicting him while distributing bread to poor Mexican people also adorn halls and auditoria in that country. Back home in India, however, Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje is remembered only by a handful few -- while the larger society just does not know anything about the man who is revered in Mexico as a modern God. Of course, ‘Loud Thinking’ has had him as a subject earlier as well. But this scribe feels morally compelled to recall this great man’s great story once again as part of the current series on Indian scientists who have done the country -- and the world -- proud. Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje is certainly a bright, shining star of that great galaxy. He was born in Wardha (Maharashtra), 70 kilometers from Nagpur, in a family of moderate means but high values. For his high school studies, the little boy came to Nagpur -- where he realised that the British rulers were aliens and had to be thrown out. Even as he pursued his studies, Pandurang -- fondly called Bhau by the family -- started gathering friends around him with an idea to launch an armed struggle against the alien rulers. His under-cover activities reached such a level that the British administration felt disturbed and wanted to put him behind the bars.
The young man, still in his teens, escaped their dragnet and also managed to escape out of the country. For a few years, he lived in Germany and made frequent trips to Russia in the throes of the Communist uprising, all the time trying to build resistance forces in India. During these years, Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje moved to Afghanistan and became one of the leading lights of the underground Ghadar Movement aimed at liberating India from the British yoke. In a short while, the Ghadar forces liberated parts of Afghanistan from the British control, and started looking for the moment of attack on the rest of India. Ghadar’s military might fell short of the required consolidation. Yet, Khankhoje -- under an assumed name -- led the depleting forces with great valour and made life hell for the British armies. He also became a diplomat par excellence and helped a royal to make a successful trip to England as his close associate Subsequently, Khankhoje found conditions unsuitable to him in Afghanistan and escaped to the United States, where he took his Doctorate in agriculture from the Washington State College (now University). He continued his association with the Ghadar Movement all along, in the process getting noticed by the British who had a pact of friendship with the Americans. That forced Khankhoje to escape to Mexico and work as an agricultural labourer. Through hardships that saw him go to bed hungry for days, Khankhoje found his way up to get noticed by the right people. He worked as a Professor of Agriculture.
The American University, too, was kind enough to grant Dr. Khankhoje a well-deserved Ph D. The rest is only a matter of glorious detail. Dr. Khankhoje rose in ranks of Mexican scientists by creating systems of having fast-breeding, high-yielding varieties of maize, corn and brought agriculture out of its pauper status. Subsequently, Dr Khankhoje was chosen to be the country’s Director of Agriculture -- in which capacity he revolutionised the lives of farmers in a stunning manner. That made him Mexico’s national hero, a household name, a man whom even street urchins saluted and ran to hug him. During those years, Dr. Khankhoje found his life partner in the wonderful Jean from Belgium. The couple lived a happy life, bore two beautiful daughters, and then wanted to travel back to India after Independence. But India was a strange place, not the one Dr. Khankhoje knew. The Government refused the Khankhoje family the permission to come to India. And the reason was that the British rulers had blacklisted him. That is one irony very difficult to digest -- not just in this case but many like this one. Years later, the ban was lifted, and the Khankhoje family moved straight to Nagpur. However, the India of that time did not recognise Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje -- the hero of Mexico by every account -- as a man worthy of whatever attention. There was no recognition to his worth as a world-class agricultural scientist.
He did find an employment in Nagpur all right. He also took certain interest in public affairs. But the larger society was indifferent. He was revered by only a handful few, who really adored him until he passed away on January 22, 1967. His family lived on in Nagpur for a while, before different members found their way out in their individual pursuits. Most unfortunately, Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje’s story is never, never, never told anywhere -- in homes, in schools, and in colleges. One really does not know if it is told in agriculture universities or colleges ever. Then one ugly thought starts haunting -- is the current-day Indian society suffering in agriculture because we did not respect the field and its leading lights enough! That is a disturbing thought!