An Incredible Lineage of Stories and Songs

Romila had a gifted voice and though untrained, she would sing at all gatherings, school functions and weddings with incredible skill. In the 1950s, she was introduced to The Voice of America and All India Radio (AIR) studios by an employee and neighbour Kuku Mathur, and my grandmother began singing in childrens’ shows, and voicing for radio dramas scripted by B.R Nagar, a veteran broadcaster. Her mother tongue - Lahori Punjabi made her proficient in Punjabi folk songs, Urdu ghazals and regular film songs. Her pay was around Rs.50 for every ten programmes, and for those days it was a reasonable sum.

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The Cloth Merchants Of Ujjain

in August of 1990, Saddam Hussain, the president of Iraq, ordered an attack on Kuwait, and the country toppled into a state of emergency - everything came to a halt. Citizens from all over the world, including Indians were trapped in a country at war, and among the Indian community, the Bohras constituted a sizable proportion. My father was one of them.

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The Da Vinci of Assam

In the 1950s, the Assam Government cracked down on Communists, and my father became a 'Most Wanted Man' with a bounty of Rs. 10,000 Rupees on his head, dead or alive. My father kept moving from state to country lines under the radar across the region, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet and present day Bangladesh, hiding himself among the people, while also earning their trust and faith.

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The telephone operators of Assam

This photograph of my father Nomal Mech, at 19 years old, (bottom right) with his colleagues was taken in 1980 in the Assam Studio in Shillong, Meghalaya when they were enrolled in a three-month training program to become telephone switchboard operators. It was probably the first time he was getting his photograph taken. The shoes he wears here were his first pair, bought third-hand from a neighbour to protect him from the cold and wet Shillong weather. When I inquired about his uber fashionable clothes in this image, he said that everyone was wearing clothes inspired by Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, the cinema style icons of the time, even though he himself was not acquainted enough with Indian films. He simply wore what everybody else was wearing.

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