N. R. Pillai

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N R Pillai
1st Secretary of the Cabinet
1st Cabinet Secretary of India
In office
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
Preceded by Null
Succeeded by Y.N.Sukthankar
Personal details
Born Narayanan Raghavan Pillai
(1898-07-24)July 24, 1898
Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Died March 31, 1992(1992-03-31) (aged 93)
Nationality Indian

Sir Narayanan Raghavan Pillai, of Elenkath[1] KCIE, CBE, ICS (N R Pillai) (24 July 1898 - 31 March 1992) was an Indian civil servant who was the second Secretary General in the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as the first Cabinet Secretary in independent India, a post he held from February 6, 1950 until May 13, 1953.[2]


Sir N R was born in Trivandrum, Travancore State (now Kerala) on 24 July 1898, in the ancient Nair family of Elankath. He was the son of M.C. Narayana Pillai. Elankom Gardens in Trivandrum was where the family tharavad existed. He took a B.A. in English with first-class honours in 1918 from Madras University, subsequently receiving a government scholarship to study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. There, he took the Tripos in Natural Sciences in 1921 and a Tripos in Law in 1922, both times with first-class honours.

Joining the Indian Civil Service in 1922, Pillai initially served in the Central Provinces as an assistant commissioner and as an officiating deputy commissioner from March-November 1927.[3] During his career with the ICS, Sir Raghavan was appointed to various secretarial positions in the then United Provinces. He successively served as an assistant collector of customs at Chennai (December 1927-May 1929) and as deputy director of commercial intelligence at Kolkata (May 1929-March 1932). He was promoted to deputy secretary in March 1932, joining the Commerce Department.[3] He was advanced to temporary joint secretary (June 1934) and to joint secretary (officiating) in February 1936, being appointed collector at Karachi in April 1936.[3] From April 1937, he was an officer on special duty with the Commerce Department, and was appointed as a deputy commissioner in July. He was promoted to joint secretary in the Commerce Department in April 1938, to additional secretary in February 1941 and finally to full secretary in October 1942.[3]

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1937,[4] a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in the 1939 Birthday Honours[5] and was knighted as a KCIE in the 1946 Birthday Honours.[6]

In 1928, he married an Englishwoman, Edith Minnie Arthurs (d. 1976); the couple had two sons.

Following his service as the first Secretary of External Affairs of an independent India, Sir N R served as the Commissioner General for Economic and Commercial Affairs in Europe until 1953, residing in Paris. He received an honorary doctorate from Kerala University in 1953. He was a founding member of the first Governing Body of NCAER, the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi,India’s first independent economic policy institute established in 1956. Pillai was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1960 and was made an honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall, his old college, in 1970. During the 1960s, he served as managing director of two business firms in New Delhi, after which he emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1968.

In his last years, he resided at 26 Hans Place in Kensington, Knightsbridge. He died on 31 March 1992, just short of 94.

Nisha Pillai, the former BBC presenter is his grand-daughter.[7]


  1. ^ Dewan Nanoo Pillai by K. R. Elenkath, Trivandrum, 1982 see chapter titles family members
  2. ^ Kapur, Harish (2009). Foreign Policies Of India's Prime Ministers. Delhi: Lancer Publishers. p. 444. ISBN 9780979617485. 
  3. ^ a b c d The India Office and Burma Office List: 1945. Harrison & Sons, Ltd. 1945. p. 301. 
  4. ^ "SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE,29 January 1937". HMSO. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  5. ^ "SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 6 June 1939". HMSO. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  6. ^ "SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 4 June 1946". HMSO. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Pillai, Nisha. "Tandoored Legs". Outlook Magazine. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 

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