A tireless educator of Bhopal

Photographed in December of 1957, this is my mother Kaushalya Lakhani. She was adoringly known as Dadi Lakhani in the homes of Bhopal. Clad in gorgeous theatrical costume for a play, this portrait, one of the oldest in our family, is of a dynamic and versatile lady who had a lasting impact on hundreds of lives and destinies in Madhya Pradesh. The picture was taken by her husband, my father Vasudev Lakhani, an amateur yet ardent photographer.

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My Amma’s kaleidoscopic life

This image of my Grandparents, Om Prakash Gupta and his wife, my grandmother, Ramkali Gupta is one of the oldest photographs we possess. The original image was photographed and hand painted in a photo studio in Bhopal around 1975, right after the birth of their fourth son, Sanjay. While the original photo print was lost, a bigger duplicate still exists, framed and hung in a corner of our home. While my grandfather’s past exists in a few blurry anecdotes within the family, it is my grandmother who has really lived and witnessed a kaleidoscopic life.

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Families lost, found, and lost again

My grandfather belonged to a large family that was traditionally a land owning class and keepers of the crown’s land under the Dogra kings. After his matriculation he moved from his village Kalyal Bainsi (in distt. Mirpur, now Pakistan territory of Jammu) to Jammu city (now in Indian territory) to earn a living as a teacher. But his life was to witness a different plan, when his cousin filled out a form for him to enlist in army

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Guarding our families and land

This photograph is from the late 1990 at my paternal village near Sri Muktsar Sahib, a south west city in Punjab. I am not sure who took it, but it would have been developed in Muktsar. Here I am as a little boy in the arms of my uncle Jaswant. Ours was an agricultural family, who like many others or decades, if not centuries, had owned and tilled lands for grain. However, since the 1970s the Insurgent militancy in Punjab had begun to disturb the peace of the villages and towns, and by 1990 it was at its peak even though between 1987 and 1991, Punjab had been placed under the President's rule.

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My grandmother’s private past

My grandmother’s private past
My great great grandmother Ethel and grandmother Joan. Calcutta. (now Kolkata). Circa 1945

This is a picture of my maternal grandmother Joan Thompson (right) with her maternal grandmother Ethel Minnie McNair (left). It was taken in Calcutta (now Kolkata) around 1945. My grandmother Joan was born in Ranchi in 1930, illegitimately. Not much is known about the events surrounding her parentage though photographs in our family archives show her father Frank Thompson and mother Kathleen Chaplin, both in each other's company and with friends, as young people.Ethel, my great-great grandmother in the picture, was married to a British reverend Joseph Chaplin and had three daughters and a son including Kathleen and they lived in Calcutta. She was a matron at La Martinere and I remember my grandmother Joan saying that Ethel worked with midwifery too, since we also have photographs of her working with babies. Joan described Ethel as being born in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu and as half-caste which could mean she was Anglo Indian (Eurasian), but could also mean that she was instead of mixed Indian ethnicity who had adopted Christianity. I have been told that Kathleen always wore gloves and make-up to conceal her heritage.

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