My father, Ai Lot Hailowng, was born in 1951 in Namphake Village in the Dibrugarh district of Assam to a Tai Phake family. Tai Phake is a small tribal community of about 2000 people scattered across Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. The Tai Phake first migrated to Myanmar (formerly Burma) from Moung Mao, (South China region). Migrations from south east asian regions were due to conflicts between erstwhile kingdoms and around 1775, many people in search of newer grounds, found and formed new settlements in what is present-day Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Maya’s childhood was spent in luxury. Initially she studied in Ahmednagar, and then moved to Pune to complete her matriculation exam from Ahilya Devi Holkar school and then BA in Marathi from S.P.College. Her friend circle was vibrant with friends and classmates such as the famous actor, Jairam Kulkarni. Life at home was also orthodox and comfortable, with some modern surprises - when her father bought a car and no one knew how to drive it, she was asked to learn driving.
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.
On one such general visit to Imphal (Princely state Manipur’s capital), during the 1930s, he was informed that the queen of Manipur was quite sick, and the King - Maharaja Churachand’s staff were looking for a healer. My grandfather was roped in, only to find himself cornered with a conundrum : if his queen healed, the Maharaja would reward my grandfather; if she did not, he would be beheaded.
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.