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.
In September of 1945, two months before they left for Nyasaland (now Malawi), East Africa, my parents Mangal and Madhav Thorat got this photograph taken in a photo studio in Poona (now Pune) by a photographer named Patwardhan. As the photograph may reflect, my parents liked to dress up well. What it also holds is a story of their unusual pasts, and future together.
It seems that he went along on a trip with a transport contractor for the army all the way to Assam, and then simply began driving trucks. That his own uncle (chacha) was already working here in Tezpur, also driving trucks, would have helped. After working for a few years as a driver, he started a small kirana/gelamaal (grocery) shop in Tenga Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. He also founded a hotel that ran for around seven years. Eventually he got around to buying some trucks and built a transport business for himself - a few contracts with the Indian Army hastened the cause.
In Poona, his linguistic proficiency got him the job of a Marathi typist at the newspaper office of Dnyan Prakash (a formerly popular newspaper) and he learnt to type in Marathi and English fluently. It was rare for government jobs to be advertised in newspapers; social contacts were the only means to receive information about employment opportunities but while typing out some material, my father chanced upon an advertisement for the recruitment of a police sub-inspector that promised a better earning. My father, blessed with a good physique, imposing personality and height, sent in his application and it was accepted.
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.