My first association with Manorama Savur dates back to 1978 when I joined the Bombay University Sociology Department as a MA student. We took an immediate liking for each other. She was the only professor who did not use her/his notes to teach and engaged with students in a dialogue linking the learning to the reality around us. That’s what I liked about her but many of my classmates, used to rote learning, did not like her pedagogical approach. In contrast I hated to attend the lectures of my other teachers because they taught from their notes (and as I learnt later, year in and year out they used the same notes) and would not tolerate questioning. Given my fondness for her I spent a lot of time with her discussing, questioning and getting clues to enhance my learning and understanding of the subject matter of Sociology. Our discussions were never limited to the subjects she taught and went much beyond to understand the society and political economy we lived in.
I soon got associated with Manorama Savur on one of her research projects on corporate sector involvement in rural development. This was the critical moment in my intellectual development because at that point without knowing then my arena of intellectual pursuit was taking shape. In that project I was assigned to look at the tax expenditures which were being offered under section 35cc of the Income Tax Act which provided a full tax rebate on investments made by corporates towards rural development programs. Working on this project I got great insights into Savur’s thinking and intellect.
Two things drove her theorizing, one the centre-periphery relations in development (Paul Baran, Samir Amin etc..), of how the centre appropriates the surplus from its periphery – her favourite example was how Bombay had developed by exploiting its periphery, the Konkan region, especially the original Ratnagiri district, which was kept underdeveloped to facilitate the growth of Bombay, wherein a surplus labor situation was created in Konkan which would force migration into Mumbai and keep wages low in Mumbai. The second theory she pursued vigorously was the “conspiracy theory”. While many intellectual peers would not agree with her on this I think because of this belief a lot of serendipitous findings emerged. For instance, in the rural development study she pushed us to believe that there was a conspiracy in the involvement of business houses with rural development programs. This led us to associate the business house’s (Mafatlal in this case) links to the government’s rural development program through which they promoted markets for its core agri-business and consequently expropriate huge surpluses. The findings revealed that the adivasis and other rural communities hardly benefited from such investments of Mafatlal but the latter’s agro business interests got a huge boost through market expansion besides the tax expenditure benefit, as well as subsidies to farmers to procure fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation pipes etc produced by Mafatlal companies making the latter’s profits zoom. My contribution to this study was the analysis of the tax expenditure element and in retrospect I now realize that this collaboration with Manorama Savur defined the pathway for my own intellectual pursuit that took me into the arena of public finance and budgets albeit within the public health framework.
Manorama Savur’s intellectual career began with the publication of her doctorate work “Freud on Man and Society” (Popular Prakashan 1965), a social psychological enquiry. But she soon changed her trajectory of work to engage with labour issues. In 1967 a 3 part series on Social security in India was published by her in the Economic and Political Weekly, which I discovered recently when I was engaging with the same issue focusing on social security budgets which I published both in the EPW and the medico friend circle bulletin. In 1969 she published her second book “Management and White Collar Relations” (Popular Prakashan) in collaboration with Prof SD Punekar, followed by a study of labour productivity in the tea industry in 1973 which brought out sharply how female labour was exploited to expropriate maximum surplus, and later in 1988 her contribution to the ICHR series Labour Movement in India (Vol 17 1937-1939) was another great contribution to the cause of the working classes.
In the meanwhile by mid-seventies Manorama Savur had shifted to engaging with Rural Sociology, a subject she taught me, and in this pursuit consolidated her theoretical framework of centre-periphery relations and the element of conspiracy associated within such development processes. The rural development study in Gujarat and the Konkan-Bombay studies referred to above became her benchmarks to take this thinking ahead into her magnum opus research work she pursued post-retirement in 1987 from Bombay University.
Interestingly Manorama Savur’s initial academic training was in life sciences, specifically botany, before she came to Sociology. She took on a huge project under IDPAD where her training in botany helped to combine with political economy analysis to look at the disaster that was happening with the bamboo forests across the country.
The two volume “And the Bamboo Flowers in the Indian Forests: What did the Pulp and the Paper Industry Do?” (Manohar Publishers, Delhi 2003) turned out to be her magnum opus wherein her theoretical framework of centre-periphery relations as well as her political stance of a conspiracy flowers in full bloom. This study explores not only how and why the pulp and paper industry (PPI) caused the death of the bamboo forests that were an inexhaustible source of its raw material; it also investigates the impact that cultivation of alternate raw material has had upon the forest eco- system. In this context the negative role of the prestigious UNFAO which promoted the plantation of an exotic species like Eucalyptus in place of bamboo is emphatically explored. This destroyed both the natural and social history of the forests affecting adversely the sustainable lifestyles of the adivasis and other forest dwellers. The political economy of the forest-based industry has made the study many layered, into which is woven the intrigues of the FAO and other foreign agencies and the nexus of the pulp and paper industry and the ply and veneer industry with the forest department. This book explores the destruction of natural forests for promotion of timber commerce across the length and breadth of the country from colonial times upto the present.
Her research contributions had huge policy implications. The rural development study exposed the misuse of tax expenditures by corporates and this was acknowledged by the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukhejee in the early eighties and strict regulation of this tax expenditure followed. Her book on Bamboo Forests has exposed the forest departments and their sell out to foreign agencies and calls for a review of forest policy. On this she took cudgels with CP Thakur Minister for Development North-East Region to stall his plans to clear fell bamboo forests in North East India .
Having made these stellar contributions, surviving cancer early in the new millennium, she continued to engage with research right until she passed away at the age of 86 years. Her last piece of work (perhaps unfinished) was on document the contributions of the Bombay School of Sociology. Her death on 14th March would have made her feel happy as she goes into history sharing her death anniversary with her intellectual mentor Karl Marx.
Manorama Savur was humble, very friendly, assertive on her perspective, loved plants, egged her students to independently find their own paths and was a very responsible citizen. She willed to donate her body to a medical college for research and use of her organs to benefit others. Her body was sent to the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune to fulfill her wish. Hers was a life lived to the full and she enjoyed every moment even when on occasions in the last decade she would be in hospital. Apart from the legacy of her creative and impactful work she leaves behind many of her students who she mentored and who work towards taking her legacy to new heights.
 Manorama Savur, 1987: Involvement of Business Houses in Rural Development – A Case Study, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXII No. 22, May 30, 1987
 Manorama Savur, 1982: Ratnagiri – Underdevelopment of an area of reserve labour force, Sociological Bulletin – Journal of the Indian Sociological Society No. 31
 Manorama Savur, 1967: Social Security Legislation in India, Economic and Political Weekly Vol 2 Nos 39 (Sept 30, 1967), 40 (Oct.7, 1967) and 41 (Oct 14, 1967)
 Manorama Savur, 1973: Labour and Productivity in the Tea Industry, EPW, March 17, 1973
 Manorama Savur, 2004: Rule of Foreign Agencies in the Environment, EPW, Oct 23, 2004