This fading, tattered photograph carries in it the story of my Gujarati lineage’s courage and survival instincts - and how they came to call a south Indian city, Madras (now Chennai) their home - an antithesis to their familiar north Indian environment. This photograph taken by a professional photographer in 1952, is indeed the oldest family photograph we possess. While it is a rich a source of family memory, time has been harsh to it.
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.
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.
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
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.