Chhaju Ram was born in the year 1861 in an ordinary Jat farming family of Alakhpura village in Bawani Khera tehsil of Bhiwani district, Haryana. His father Ch Salig Ram Lamba along with his two brothers had shifted to Alakhpura from the village Dhani Mahu. Chhaju Ram was the only boy of his village who got enrolled in the primary school of Bawani Khera, five miles away from his native village. Being a keen student he always secured good marks. In 1877 he got scholarship in his 5th class and got admission in Government Middle School, Bhiwani. In 1880, Seth ji joined the Government High School in Rewari.
He passed his matriculation in 1882. Being a quick learner, he gained proficiency in Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Urdu and Mahajani. While studying in Rewari, Chhaju Ram worked as a tutor earning Rs 6 per month. In search of a job Chhaju Ram left for Calcutta in 1883, the second capital of the British empire. In Kolkata Chhaju Ram came in contact with the Marwaris. Apart from teaching their children, he worked as their Munshi during his spare time. Marwaris had flourishing businesses in Calcutta, hub of jute industries at that time.
The Marwaris then hardly had any knowledge of English. Chhaju Ram, being their Munshi, wrote business letters for them in English. As a result, he came to know their trade secrets, and in 1893 became a broker. This was a turning point in the life of Chhaju Ram. Remembering his old days, spent at Calcutta from 1883 to 1893, he used to say, "I had nothing with me except the rail fare when I left for Calcutta for the first time. For years to come, I remained hand to mouth. I had to borrow money from someone to visit my village. Then the return journey would be made with money borrowed from some villager!"
After spending nearly a decade, working first as tutor then as munshi, a day came when Chhaju Ram became known as Seth ji. By 1928-29, Seth Chhaju Ram owned 21 kothis in posh areas of Calcutta — 14 in Alipur and 7 in Bara Bazaar. Besides, he had a haveli in his native village Alakhpura and a farmhouse in the nearby village of Shekhupur near Hansi town. The capital of his firm crossed Rs 40 million. Seth Chhaju Ram was one of the richest brokers of the country, and the only Indian who had 21 palatial buildings in Calcutta. Seth G. D. Birla had been a tenant of Seth Chhaju Ram. In 1922-23 Chhaju Ram suffered a great loss in business. He come out of it successfully and refusing all help, paid off all his creditors. This show of character earned him great respect from his peers.
Seth Chhaju Ram's first wife was from Dhohka village in Charkhi Dadri tehsil (Bhiwani). She bore no child, and died of cholera. Chhaju Ram married again in 1899 with Laxmi Devi from Bilawal village in Charkhi Dadri tehsil. The couple was blessed with five sons and three daughters, but sadly five of them met with an untimely death in their childhood years. Only three of his sons survived, Sh Sajjan Kumar, Sh Mahender Kumar and Sh Pradumman Kumar.
Sajjan Kumar got married to Comola, an Anglo-Indian lady. She was the sister of Tara Ali Baig. It was a big blow to Chhaju Ram when his eldest son Sajjan Kumar died at the age of 36. Seth Chhaju Ram never really recovered from the shock and died five years after the death of his son. Like his father, Sajjan Kumar had been elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Council from the Non-Mohammadan Rural Constituency, Hissar. Seth Chhaju Ram was elected in 1927, while Sajjan Kumar was elected twice in 1930 and 1934.
Seth Chhaju Ram spent several lakhs of rupees in construction of numerous schools like Jat schools of Rohtak, Hisar and Sangaria (Rajasthan); Arya Kanya Pathshalas of Hisar and Calcutta; D.A.V. School of Hisar; and the rural schools at Alakhpura and Khanda Kheri. Besides schools, he extended monetary help to D.A.V. College, Lahore; Indra Prastha (Women) College, Delhi; Benaras Hindu University; Gurukul, Hardwar; Vishwa Bharti, Shanti Niketan etc. He also financed deserving students for higher education.
Seth Chhaju Ram got the Lady Hailey Hospital built at Bhiwani in 1928. Here, the medicines were given free of cost to the patients. Seth Chhajju Ram got it constructed in the memory of his daughter Kamla (1908-23). This hospital was subsequently merged with General Hospital, Bhiwani.
Apart from getting several wells and dharamshalas built, Seth Chhaju Ram established the Arya Samaj Mandir in Calcutta. He also offered monetary help to various Arya Samaj institutions in the country. His beneficiaries ranged from common villagers to national celebrities like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Besides being a danveer, Seth ji was an excellent host. Lala Lajpat Rai often became his guest. Many Arya Samajis, those hailing from Punjab and often Haryana stayed with him in Calcutta. Certain revolutionaries took refuge in his house. Bhagat Singh reached Calcutta from Lahore in December 1928 after killing Saunders. He hid himself in the kothi of Seth Chhaju Ram where Sushila Bahin, a lady of revolutionary leanings, was residing as a tutor of the Seth’s daughter — Savitri Devi.
Seth Chhaju Ram & Sir Chhotu Ram: They met by chance at the Gaziabad railway station. After doing FA, Sir Chhotu Ram was going to Lahore to seek employment as he could not continue his studies due to economic compulsions. Seth Chhaju Ram was impressed with the young man and offered him financial help so that he could continue his graduation studies. Seth Chhaju Ram again came forward with monetary help when Sir Chhotu Ram passed his Law degree. It is said that Seth ji loaned Rs 30,000 to Sir Chhotu Ram for building the 'Nilli Kothi' in Rohtak as his residence.
Seth Chhaju Ram died on April 7, 1943, in Calcutta. Having been born in a farming family he went on to become a rich and successful businessman. And after his success he immersed himself whole heartedly in public welfare and charity.
Note: Our thanks to Sh Shiva N. Malik who has written Seth ji's biography 'Seth Chhaju Ram - a life with a purpose'. Sh Malik has provided us with invaluable help, information and some of the photographs used here.