Our Father Was Our In-House Photographer

My newly wed parents with my maternal family. Poona, Bombay State (now Maharashtra) 1942

Image and Narrative points contributed by Balkrishna Talwalkar, Pune, India

IMP Research Intern : Priyanka Balwant Kale, Pune

This photograph of my ancestral maternal family was taken in a studio in Poona (now Pune) after my parent’s marriage in 1942. A marriage was and still is, an important occasion to photograph at the studio. My parents Chintaman and Kamla Talwalkar are the young couple seated in the middle, and are surrounded by my maternal family. To the right of my father, in a rather domineering position, is my maternal grandfather Ramchandra Pandit and my grandmother Sita. My grandfather Ramchandra Pandit was a highly respected person in his hometown. To the extreme left of the photograph is my great-grandmother Gangabai who wears an alwan– a full-drape red-coloured saree that was worn by widowed women of our community. My uncles (Left to Right) B.R.Pandit, Vasant Pandit, Madhav Pandit  and my aunt Padmaja dressed in Parkar-Polka standing at the back. 

My father’s family was from Satara, a thriving city near River Krishna, in the south western state of Maharashtra, where they were care-takers of the famous temple – Shri Gora Ram mandir. My grandfather Shankar was a deep spiritualist and believed in the power of prayer. Influenced by a Swami in the small township in Gujarat called Bilimoria, he moved along with his family to the Swami’s ashram, and so my father came to be educated in a Gujarati medium school. In order to reside in the Ashram, everyone had to follow strict disciplinary regulations but my father was not interested in either spiritualism or obligatory regulations. And so one day he left the Ashram and returned to Satara. 

He was more or less penniless, doing odd jobs such as painting a house for Rs. 2/- when he came across an advertisement of a company known as the Kirloskar Brothers who were looking for a translator well-versed in Gujrati and Marathi. Founded in 1910, Kirloskar Brothers is one of India’s earliest Indian engineering businesses who manufactured and supplied agricultural equipment, and later specialised in industrial products. Most of their reports and orders would come from customers who were Gujarati merchants and traders. My father began working as a translator for the Kirloskar company and soon moved into their employees’ quarters in Kirloskarwadi. 

Kirloskarwadi was one of the oldest  industrial township established by its founder, Laxmanrao Kirloskar and it was an incredible place in itself. It comprised a community of people from different castes and religions, working and living together, in harmony – relations between people were informal, helpful and friendly. It is rare to find such industrial townships in today’s digital age, for it truly is an era bygone. My father had taken so many photographs in Kirloskarwadi that most of my childhood memories are only of that place. Many years later, when the Kirloskars moved their headquarters to Pune in 1968, our family moved in tow too.  

Although he never practiced it professionally, my father was a talented photographer and was introduced to the craft by his childhood friend Balkrishna Kulkarni whose father owned a photo studio. My father would closely observe lighting techniques, the developing process of glass plates, making prints etc. Even after rolls of film became the norm, my father continued to make glass plates. Though he also learnt the process of developing film rolls from Laxman Gaikwad, a neighbour who lived with them in Kirloskarwadi and was a company photographer for the Kirloskar company and its manufacturing units. My father would experiment a lot with his help. I remember him mixing chemicals in a bowl and developing film at home. Our home didn’t have space for a dark room so my father would shroud himself under a huge dark shawl and develop the images in its shadow. 

My elder brother was born in 1945 and I was born in 1948, and my father was our ‘in-house’ photographer. He took hundreds of photographs of my older brother and me,our friends, and our families – documenting our usual and routine daily activities. It might be an exaggerated memory, but I don’t think there was a single day when my father did not take a photograph. He even organised his photographs like a natural archivist. Each photograph was carefully dated, and neatly organized in bundles and categories, or in photo-charts. Everything about my father was led by methodical curiosity to see and learn something new. He continued to photograph the family, including his grandchildren and also spent considerable time researching and creating our family tree. Then, when he was much older, he taught himself to read and write the Modi script– an older script used to write Marathi, by studying our old family papers.

In 1969, I too began working for Kirloskar Brothers in Pune but obviously it was not the same. In the city life, our networks were more formal, and I missed the bonds people developed in the closed industrial township. My father, the incredible artist, and our very own in-house photographer and archivist, passed away in 2007. We still cherish the hundreds of negatives since the 1940s he left in our care. He led an ordinary life but his artistic explorations are for our family are truly note-worthy and a phenomenal legacy for his future generations.

The addition of this Photo-Narrative to the archive has been made possible due to the generous consideration towards Research Internships by Nazar Foundation, New Delhi.

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