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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The Indian man in the concentration camp

The Indian man in the concentration camp
Cancellation of the look-out notice for A.C.N. Nambiar. 25 March 1938. UK

Cancellation of the look-out notice for A.C.N. Nambiar. 25 March 1938. UK Image courtesy Bombay Special Branch ArchivesNarrative points contributed by Vappala Balachandran, Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, India Facilitated by Gautam Pemmaraju, Mumbai This narrative has been rewritten and reformatted for the purpose of this archive. During the early 1980s I was posted in a western European station as a diplomatic officer with an added responsibility of covert security intelligence. Under diplomatic cover I had the usual consular duties but my real work was gathering information in a clandestine manner. One day my boss, the chief at RAW (Research & Analysis Wing/ Indian Intelligence) NF Suntook briefed me about an unusual assignment that was requested directly by the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. I was to ensure the well-being of a former anti-colonial activist, journalist and a personal friend to Nehru, ACN Nambiar who was based in Zurich. He was 84 and I was 43. I didn’t really know much about Nambiar, and an assignment with no intelligence agenda provided relief from my regular stressful duties. I met with Nambiar in his modest flat in Spiegel Gasse, two buildings away from Vladimir Lenin’s old residence. He was quiet, humble and a bit of a recluse and I struck a strong friendship with Nambiar. He was a treasure trove of information on European history, governance, security and power play of nations from the 1920s to the 1980s, and mentioned that he knew Subhas Chandra Bose well. Years after he passed away in 1986, in 2001, I happened to read a book by Rudolf Hartog that mentioned a rarely known “Indian Legion”, a small Indian Army in Nazi Germany…

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