The Adventurous Mr. Goel of Hyderabad

Our parents Prahlad Rai Goel and Sumitra Goel. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Circa 1980

Image and Narrative contributed by Kamal Goel with the help of Ritu Goel, and Snehlata Gupta, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

IMP Research Intern : Aayushi Gupta, Jindal School of Art & Architecture

Ever since we can remember, every year on Ganesh Chaturthi (Lord Ganesh Festival), the Agarwal Shiksha Samiti of Hyderabad (a community based educational club) would organise a play, and the ticket would cost a Rupee or two. In 1980, the year this photograph was taken, a play based on the Ramayana was performed by all volunteers in the organisation and my father Prahlad Rai Goel, played the role of Raja Dashrath (Lord Ram’s father) -his costume was hired from a local costume shop. The lady standing next to him in a Chiffon embroidered saree is his beloved wife, and my mother, Sumitra Goel.  

My father Prahlad Rai was born in 1929, to Mamchandji Goel, a first-generation migrant merchant from Rajasthan. Almost all Rajasthanis, including the Agarwals who migrated to Hyderabad in the early two decades of the 1900s, bought themselves land, settled into the city and established themselves as reputed traders and merchants. In our community, trade and commerce was, at the time, considered more important than education. Our family’s business was trading in Arrack, an alcoholic drink made from coconut or sugarcane. While the family expected him to join the business, my father was instead devoted to the quest of knowledge and education. In the late 1940s he completed his B.Sc to pursue medicine from the Government City College of Hyderabad. Unfortunately the fee to study medicine was far beyond the family’s means, and my father decided to pursue an LLB instead to become a lawyer.  

In 1945, when my father turned 16, his marriage was arranged with someone in the community, but a few weeks after his engagement, he saw a 14-year-old girl named Sumitra at a temple site and fell head over heels in love. My father insisted that his parents get him married to Sumitra instead. It couldn’t have been easy on the either of the families, moreover it was a challenging ask, because my father’s family was economically less privileged than Sumitra, my mother’s much wealthier family (of Ghansi Bazaar). My father’s pursuit of an LLB degree came handy for it meant that he had a bright future, and so my maternal grandparents agreed to the match, and my parents were married. At the time of their wedding, my mother was still of minor age and so as custom was, she remained at her maternal home until she turned 17, and only after her gauna (ceremony to mark adulthood in young brides) did she join my father. People used to say she was a little plump, but to my father she was the most beautiful woman – she was his everything. My parents’ marriage was, by all standards, quite good. They complimented each other in their likes and dislikes. We never heard them raise their voices at each other. I can even say that despite coming from a conservative community, my father was rather liberal and ahead of his time. He believed in equality and empowerment of women – the respect with which he regarded my mother, was rare. 

After his LLB, my father agreed to the family’s requests and participated in the Arrack business, but he himself never touched liquor nor did he visit any clubs. Instead as he witnessed the end of Nizam’s rule, the Police Action of 1948, and a radical shift in politics in a rapidly reforming nation; he was driven to offer himself to social service (while running the business). Since politics in that era was synonymous with social work, he became involved with politics and began working with the Congress as a local volunteer and worked his way up to become become the City General Secretary. My father also played a significant role in setting up various social welfare organisations, clubs and banks – such as the Rajasthani Association, Agrasen Co-operative Bank and Mahesh Bank. He hosted Poetry festivals (Kavi Sammelan), and was also responsible for establishing the Dampatti Sammelan (Couple’s festival) –  a get-together for married couples, who in that era, had no place to go out by themselves. He adopted the orphanage Anees-Ul-Gurba for some time, and in 1964, he helped build the renowned Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple in the old city area of Hyderabad to fulfill his father’s dying wish – it was one of the fastest constructions at that time and took only eight months. In 1967, my father who had begun to command high respect in the city was appointed the Honorary Magistrate, a title granted to select citizens by the state, for their public achievements.

At home, my father was generous with himself and his family. In 1971, as a senior member of the Hyderabad’s Lions Club, my father was invited to the Lions Club International Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, and he decided to include a world tour along with my mother. I remember my grandmother begged him not to go since my sister was only two years old at that time, but he was adamant on showing the world to his wife. Their trip lasted two months and covered Europe, USA and the far East. I remember that I was told the tickets cost Rs. 7000 each, which is an equivalent to a several lakhs in 2023. Upon their return to India they landed at Madras Airport (now Chennai), and our maternal family flew over to welcome them with garlands. In 1972, my father equipped his bathroom with a bathtub; and people from across the city came to see it.

My father’s curiosity for knowledge and life was simply unmatchable. He read everything he could get his hands on and owned hundreds of books. Famous Book Stores like A. A. Hussain would notify him as soon as a new book was available.
He was also quite attached to every interesting object he purchased and collected, such as radios, pens, watches, pencils, postcards, first day release coins, souvenirs, postal stamps, international currencies, perfumes and even toys – these curios would be displayed in a showcase cabinet of his room. The radio, always at his side, kept him informed of current affairs and we remember when Kaun Banega Crorepati (Indian version of the TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’) came on television, he could answer every single question (except on sports) – and would reward his grandchildren with Rs. 5 for every question that he answered correctly. 

My father was indeed an adventurous spirit and his business leanings were not as ambitious as many of his peers, but he wasn’t bothered by it. He believed in, and lived a comfortable and content life, preoccupied with the quest for knowledge, and experience. Curiosity and adventure are two of the many values that he imparted to us, and his descendants – our worlds stand elevated and enriched because of who he was.

The addition of this Photo-Narrative to the archive has been made possible due to the generous consideration towards Research Internships by two persons from USA, who have chosen to remain anonymous.

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