A serious family photograph

My father’s family. The Datta family. Location either Delhi or Simla. Circa 1940

Image and Narrative contributed by Saugato Datta, London

This photograph of my father’s family was taken in the courtyard of my grandfather’s government house on Irwin Road (now Baba Kharak Singh Marg,Delhi).

Seated in the middle are my grandparents, Sailendraprasad Datta (1898-1956) and Bibhabati Datta (1906-1977). My grandfather was a civil servant and moved to New Delhi from Calcutta in the early 1920s. My grandmother was a housewife. She grew up in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

To the left of my grandfather is their eldest child, my aunt Uma Datta Roy Choudhury (1926-2009). She was a statistician, joining the Indian Statistical Service when it was founded after Independence, which was also the year she got her MA from St. Stephen’s College. She later consulted for UNDP and lived for many years in the then Czechoslovakia (Now Czech Republic and Slovakia) and later in Zimbabwe. To the right of the my grandmother, is my oldest uncle, Kalyan Kumar Datta (1928-1998). He was a pilot for Indian Airlines and lived in Calcutta.

The little boy on the left is my father, Kamal Kumar Datta (born 1938). He studied Physics at Presidency College, Calcutta and Brandeis University in the US, and was a professor of Physics at Delhi University till he retired earlier this decade. The other kid on the right is his brother, Saroj Kumar Datta, (born 1936) who was also a Stephanian. He worked for many years in Air India, and has been with Jet Airways since it was founded. he currently works as Jet’s Executive Director. He’s still working, though he recently turned 75.

The two youngest kids are apparently beaming because they were given books to entice them to sit still for the photographer – or so I’ve heard. The others seem to have taken the whole “look serious for the camera” injunction very literally. People didn’t normally smile for photos back in the day, did they? I guess it was considered a formal affair, having a photographer over and all.

BECOME A PATRON : Work on Indian Memory Project takes time, money and hard work to produce. But it is necessary work because parallel views on our histories matter. If you like the project, admire it, and benefit from its knowledge, please consider awarding us an honorarium to make the future of this project robust and assured. You can support Indian Memory Project for as little as Rs. 500 or more


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Debabrata Bhattacharjee

    Oh my God!!
    This must be the Kamal Dutta who was my class friend at Presidency College between 1953-1955. I left Presidenct in 1955 to study engineering at BE College Shibpore and Kasmal continued studying Physics at Presidency College. He was a brilliant student and I thing he stood second or third in the ISc. exams in 1955. I distinctly remember his face though I have not seen him for 58 years. If anyone knows his whereabouts let me know. I think we stayed together at the Hindu Hostel behind the Baker Laboratories.Kamal most probably we recognize me as Debu Bhattacharjee.

  2. Sarah Figge Hussain

    Hi Saugato,

    I am working with Brandeis University and am trying to contact information for your father Prof Datta. We only have his Delhi University information, which is no longer correct. If you don’t mind, could you please email me – at seoutreach@hotmail.com.

    Thanks so much,


    p.s. great photo!

  3. Ishar

    Hey Sugato

    That’s great.


  4. Saugato

    I meant point out, not find out. :)

  5. Saugato

    Hi Ishar, There’s in fact no further need for detective work: my uncle went to Union Academy. And since as you rightly find out he is in uniform it would have been term-time, so definitely in Delhi. Thanks for picking up on this!

  6. Ishar

    I think it won’t be difficult to find out if it was Shimla or Delhi. The boy on the right is most probably wearing a school uniform. The school badge is visible on the buckle of his belt. In Shimla of those days there were only a handful of schools. To rule out or confirm Shimla as the location, we just need to check out the buckle/badges/uniforms of those schools and compare. As for Delhi, we can find out the schools which were closest to Irwin Road at that time and compare the school-belt buckles or for that matter the uniform itself. If, some day, i get time, i would definitely like to take up this detective work.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.