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21 Sep 2020 | SANDEE

Remembering Narpat S Jodha(1937–2020)

Kanchan Chopra

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N S JodhaI first met Dr Narpat S Jodha in the early nineties when he visited the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG). It was a brief meeting. I remember the first thing that struck me about him was that he was a man of few words and so very down to earth. I was, of course, familiar with his seminal 1986 paper on “Common Property Resources and Rural Poor in Dry Regions of India”, which provided strong empirical support to the contributions of common property resources to rural livelihoods. It provided evidence from 80 villages in 21 dry districts in India. The painstaking fieldwork in rural India which must have preceded that study was a great source of wonder and awe to some of us. At IEG, we had just completed a major fieldwork-based study on the commons. And we knew how backbreaking fieldwork in villages could be. But given our predilection for econometric work, we had tried to fit in the data with modelling of a kind. I am sure he did not approve. But he just smiled and we agreed to differ even while the commons continued to be a shared interest.

Later, my visits to ICIMOD brought us together again. I learnt a great deal about mountain ecosystems from him. Again, it was always difficult to draw Dr Jodha into a conversation. But if the conversation involved people and their experiences, his natural reserve was nowhere to be seen. Stories of what he learnt from his field trips would flow effortlessly. He had an immense understanding of the lives of people in disadvantaged circumstances, and he focused on fragile environments for most of his professional life. So it did not surprise me to find a volume of his collected papers, published by Oxford University Press in 2001, titled “Life on the Edge”. Each essay was one of a kind, characterized by depth and breadth – all told in his unique style.

Later, I was a bit sceptical when I learnt that Dr Jodha had accepted a World Bank assignment; I just could not imagine him being comfortable in that environment! And having read what Pranab Mukhopadhyay and Rucha Ghate recall of his own reminiscences of that period, I see how correct I was.

Apart from his professional accomplishments, his soft-spoken nature, his humility, and his gentle spirit left a deep mark on all who were privileged to meet him. He will be remembered both as a great professional and as a genuine human.

As time moved on, we lost touch with each other. I did learn, rather late in the day, that both of us had moved to the same town near Delhi after retirement. It will always be one of my regrets that we could not meet and reminisce about our common interests, and their convergences and divergences. He would surely be keen on those conversations.

Kanchan Chopra is a SANDEE resource person. She was the former Director and Professor at Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.

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