Indulging fantasy avatars at a photo studio

My mother, Mohini Goklani, Pune, Maharashtra. Circa 1950

Image and Narrative contributed by Sunita Kripalani, Goa

In 1947, after partition, when my grandfather Nanikram Goklani and his wife Khemi migrated to India, along with their extended family from Karachi, Pakistan, they settled in Pune, Maharashtra with their 9 children. My mother Mohini, second of seven sisters, was just 16 at that time. Grandpa got a job in the Income Tax department and although times were tough, my grandfather made sure all the children received excellent education.

My mother and her older sister Sheela went to Nowrosjee Wadia College and my grandfather managed to procure admission for some of the younger children in reputed schools such as Sardar Dastur Hoshang Boys’ High School, and St. Helena’s School for Girls. The children studied well, they were voracious readers, and led a simple life.

During the 1950s, the sisters were well versed in household skills, especially the art of stitching and embroidery. They fashioned their own clothes, copying designs from magazines and the displays in the shop windows of Main Street. At home however, they maintained decorum and modesty, but ever so often, Duru, my mother’s younger sister, would coax her to go with her to a photo studio on Main Street called The Art Gallery to get their photographs taken. Duru would pack all kinds of stuff for both of them: ties and beads, scarves and skirts, hats and belts, not to forget some make-up, and the two of them would mount their bicycles and head for the studio where they indulged their fantasies, using studio props and their own accessories.

In the picture my mother is wearing “Awara pants”, a style made famous after the well known actor, Raj Kapoor’s movie by the same name. She is also very nonchalantly holding a cigarette, albeit unlit, between her fingers! The photograph is totally incongruous with her personality, for copying Nargis, the star actress of the time, was more my mom’s style whereas my aunt Duru was bolder and more tomboyish.

I don’t know if my grandfather knew what was going on, or if he approved, but he was not the kind of father who would scold any of his children. If he didn’t like something, he simply wrote a few words on a piece of paper and slipped the little note under that child’s pillow, which was enough to bring the rebellious offspring back on track… but that’s another story.

After college, my mother got a job at the Department of Cooperation, Government of Maharashtra. It was her first and last job. She retired in 1985 as Assistant Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Bombay.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. amita nayar bajaj

    I grew up in Poona betwn 1967 n 1975. I rem Mainstreet n Needlewoman the one-stop stitching n knitting store that also stocked women’s under-garments! There was Imperial Hosiery for school uniforms n sweaters etc, D Philips a kind of lifestyle store,Chandan stores for groceries n Apollo Music House with Budhanis Wafers in the cul-de-sac next to it! I studied n passed out of St Marys High School on Staveley Road n was the first batch of ICSE in 1974! I went to Fergusson College for Pre-Degree! Poona’s outskirts had Raj Kapoor’s famous farmhouse called Raj Bagh in Loni!And during weekends we saw Mrs Krishna Raj Kapoor shopping at Dorabjees a Tony super-market in Poona Camp!Poona was Enid Blyton’s sleepy English village n my school an Anglican one could have been Mallory Towers or St Claires!! My memories of Poona!

  2. Mahendra Ramsinghani

    The photograph sure is incongruous with her image, I remember Mohini Maasi (who is like a mother to me) telling me, while recounting her early life in Pakistan, that in school she was part of the ‘Gandhi Group’ – the students would assemble, chant slogans against the British, and often be taken out on parades, waving flags and banners. On one such occasion, they were chanting “Lal Pagdi Phenk Do, Hindustan Chhod Do” when they were all rounded up and taken to the nearest jail where they were detained till evening until their parents came and rescued them. She also fondly shares her stories of her first days at work at the Dept of Cooperation, where she was one of the first few women – in those days, it was certainly not a norm but she is a bold lady with a heart of gold and a spine of steel. A role model for our family!

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