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PUPUL JAYAKAR (1916-1997)

Pupul Jayakar was a writer and cultural impresario. She was born Pupul Mehta into a cultured and liberal family. Her mother was a Gujarati Brahmin and her father was a senior civil servant. She went to Annie Besant’s school in Varanasi, then lived in Allahabad from the age of fifteen. There the family became friends with the Nehru-Gandhis, and the young Pupul became deeply attached to Indira. She left to study journalism in England before marrying and settling in Mumbai in 1937 when her first child was born. When she was seven months’ pregnant with the second in 1939, she was bitten by a dog with rabies and was given the full course of injections of anti-rabies toxoid. She lost the child, developing high blood pressure and losing her sight temporarily. The experience devastated her. Shortly after this she met the spiritual leader Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was to become her guru. She worked as an assistant to the Congress activist Mridula Sarabhai (q.v.). She had an abiding interest in handicrafts which she believed would be the salvation of rural India. She headed the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation. In 1945 she became pregnant with her third child, but it was born deformed and died shortly after birth.

She dabbled in Socialism and the Co-operative Movement. In Independent India both the Congress and the Socialist party offered her a ticket, but she declined and left politics to work for the Krishnamurti Foundation. When Jawaharlal Nehru and T.R. Krishnamachari asked her to help sort out the handloom sector and update it for modern times, she extricated herself from evenings of bridge at the Willingdon Club, and set out to teach herself about the business of textiles. She was a significant factor in making khadi and handicrafts fashionable among the smart set. Later she founded the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), interested foreign designers such as Pierre Cardin in using Indian fabrics, and put Indian textiles on the world map. She was active with the Krishnamurti Foundation in India until her death.

Her best known books are her two biographies J. Krishnamurti: A Biography (1988) and Indira Gandhi: An Intimate Biography (1992). She also wrote The Earthen Drum, a book on folk arts, and The Earth Goddess, a survey of myths and legends.
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