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The bittersweet legend of a family mansion

(Left to Right) My great-great grand-uncle Ata Husain, seated with his younger brother, my great-great grandfather Fida Husain and his five sons. Hyderabad, Hyderabad State, 1900. Image and Narrative contributed by Afnan Khan, New Delhi This is a photograph of my great-great grandfather Fida Husain (seated second from right) along with his five sons and elder brother Ata Husain. It carries within it our ancestral memory of amazing accomplishments and family legends. In 1715, my ancestor, an Afridi Pathan teacher Husain Khan migrated from Kohat (now Pakistan) to Qaimganj (now Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh). Kohat was mainly a tribal area and Qaimganj was closer to Delhi, the capital of the erstwhile Mughal Empire and may have offered him better employment opportunities. Family legend says he lived for more than a 100 years and was known as 'Bade Ustaad' (The Great Teacher). His next three generations (sons, grandsons and great-grand sons) chose to serve in the army. Husain Khan’s great-great grandson (see photograph) Fida Husain was fond of academics and would borrow books from a lawyer in the neighbourhood that triggered his interest in law. He took the law examination and graduated in first class. Fida Husain then moved to Hyderabad (then ruled by the sixth Nizam), established a successful law practice, and built a house in Begum Bazaar, Hyderabad. He would also regularly send money to his father Ghulam Husain to supervise the building of a family home, a haveli (mansion), in Qaimganj (now Farrukhabad, UP) that he could eventually retire in. The mansion came to be known as ‘Mahal’ which translates literally to ‘Palace’. The family legend about the mansion is intriguing - During construction, an unfortunate incident took…

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A family’s most prized and proud possession

A family’s most prized and proud possession
My great grandfather, Maganlal Mistry, Sidhpur District, Bombay Presidency (now Gujarat). Circa 1920

My great grandfather, Maganlal Mistry, Sidhpur District, Bombay Presidency (now Gujarat). Circa 1920 Image and Narrative contributed by Hemant Suthar and family, Mumbai / Ahmedabad This picture of my great grandfather Maganlal Mistry was taken in the 1920s and it is is one of the family’s most prized possessions - our connection to our roots. The photograph was taken to be sent to his brothers working in Ethiopia, Africa, and was hand colored with photo inks in 1937. It is interesting how the colouring is limited to his turban, we reckon it is because colouring of photographs was quite an expensive and sought after artistic skill at the time. My ancestors belonged to a village called Samoda in the region of Sidhpur (now in Gujarat) and they were exceptionally skilled wood carvers, in-layers and carpenters. The early 20th century was a time when many men (and women) from the Indian Subcontinent went to Africa to find work and make their fortunes. At first, my great grandfather Maganlal’s two brothers followed suit. They travelled by boat to the shores of the African continent and they found work as carpenters in the north east region of Africa, the Ethiopian Empire called Abyssinia at the time. The money was good, and they invited my great grandfather to join them there. However, Maganlal chose to stay on at home and began working as a government contractor building schools. Soon his work extended to several villages nearby. Maganlal, my great grandfather was not educated but he had learnt to write his name for signing building contracts. In his later years, he was made a member of P.W.D. (Public Works Department) Sidhpur office, and worked…

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“My family were pioneers of photography in the Subcontinent”

“My family were pioneers of photography in the Subcontinent”
My grand-uncle, Maharaja Birendra Kishore Manikya in his studio at Ujjayanta Palace, Agartala, Tripura. Circa 1910

My grand-uncle, Maharaja Birendra Kishore Manikya in his studio at Ujjayanta Palace, Agartala, Tripura. Circa 1910 Image and Narrative points contributed by Vivek Dev Burman, Agartala & Kolkata While clearing a godown in our house in 2015, I chanced upon a wooden box with a sliding cover. On close inspection, it contained ten 10”x12” B&W glass negatives photographed between c. 1897 to 1910, covered in cobwebs and fungus. It turned out to be part of my grandfather’s photographic portfolio. My grandfather, Maharajkumar Brajendra Kishore Dev Burman of Tripura was an avid photographer and a gadget freak. Up until now only few prints of my grandfather’s early work existed and had never before been seen or mentioned outside of immediate family. But discovering these negatives revealed a whole different level of quality and scope than what we had seen before. Later I discovered 36 more glass negatives, dated c.1890-1925, in cupboards wrapped up in newsprint, albeit not in very good condition. This is a photograph of my grand-uncle Maharaja Birendra Kishore taken by my grandfather, his brother, Brajendra Kishore, a year after my grand-uncle became the King of Tripura. They were both 24 years old. My grand-uncle was born in 1883, just 3 months before my grandfather (their mothers were sisters). He was a gifted painter, singer and songwriter. The painting you see on the left,‘The Hermit’, was his adaptation of Job (1880) by Léon Bonnat, an Italian painter. In those days it was quite usual to copy other artists works, and family stories tell us that the painting was sent to Paris, France and won a prize for the best copy. Several of his paintings now hang the palace…

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The Maharanis of Travancore

The Maharanis of Travancore
The Maharanis of Travancore. Sethu Lakshmi Bayi (right) and Sethu Parvathi Bayi (left). Travancore (now central and Southern Kerala, India). c. 1905

The Maharanis of Travancore. Sethu Lakshmi Bayi (right) and Sethu Parvathi Bayi (left). Travancore (now central and Southern Kerala, India). c. 1905 Image contributed by Jay Varma, Narrative by Manu S. Pillai, New Delhi This narrative is an edited version to suit the format of this archive. It was in the fall of 1900, that the Maharajah of Travancore adopted the two girls in this photograph (taken in c. 1905), as his Maharanis — and as his 'nieces’. For in Kerala, queens were never wives of monarchs, but their sisters. Under the matrilineal system of succession, ranks and titles passed in the female line; the Maharajah was a ruler not because his father was king before him, but because his mother was queen. The Maharajahs of Travancore (now central and Southern Kerala, India) inherited the crown from their mother’s brothers, and thus power passed in a topsy turvy fashion from uncle to nephew, down the generations. Naturally, then, the sons of kings from their own wives were not seen as princes, but were only exalted nobles of the realm, fated for oblivion after the deaths of their royal fathers. Instead, princely dignities were granted to sons of royal sisters, and it was these boys who were considered heirs to the throne. In 1900, however, the Maharajah had no heirs through his sister, and so the two girls seen here were adopted. They were cousins, and granddaughters of the famous artist Raja Ravi Varma. Sometime before the princesses were born, their mothers had journeyed to Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu) on a pilgrimage to pray for the birth of daughters to them. Legend has it that the deity appeared to them in a dream and promised the…

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From Karachi to Bombay

From Karachi to Bombay
My mother Indra's family. Karachi (now Pakistan). Circa 1930

My mother Indra's family. Karachi (now Pakistan). Circa 1930 Image and Narrative points contributed by Roma Mehta, Taipei Volunteer Assistance : Myra Khanna, New Delhi This is one of my favourite photographs of my mother Indra’s family. It was taken in front of her family’s home in Sindhi Colony in Karachi, almost a decade before the partition of India and Pakistan took place. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date but I estimate it was the 1930s. It is possible this photo was taken on the occasion of my uncle (mother's brother) Moti’s wedding but I cannot confirm it. Sitting in the middle are my grandfather, Gaganmal Jhangiani whom we fondly called Baba and grandmother, Laxmi Bai whom we called Ammi. Around them sit his children, his brother’s children and a relative-in-law. Baba was a tall and dark complexioned man, and Ami was petite and fair. To me, they seemed like ebony and ivory. Ami and Baba used to play together as children and when Ami turned 12, the families got them married. It seems that my grandmother had basic elementary education but like most women of the time, she became busy with domestic matter and household duties. My grandfather was an architect by profession and had studied in England. I have been told that he was instrumental in designing and planning the Sindhi Colony in Karachi. Life was good for the family : they had a lovely home, a horse carriage, and a great love of music and culture. Each one of them knew how to play an Indian classical music instrument. The family would even sing together on many occasions. My mother, Indra always told us stories…

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