Here my aunt stands straight and bold, with her hands crossed, next to her elder sister (standing middle), Ramkrishna, whom she lovingly called Chamguru, as it was the name of the village she was married into. In the middle, seated is her eldest sister Seeban with her two daughters, Peetal and Dol. The little boy is their youngest brother Vimal. The awkward gentleman standing right most was their next door neighbour. Badi-mumma cannot recollect his name but says that Vimal had invited him to be photographed and he acceded. The photograph was taken outside their home by their bhatu (brother-in-law) Naru Toppo, Seeban’s husband. Naru was a local professional cameraman and a studio-master. His studio was located in one of the sectors set up by an Industrial corporation, HECL (Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited), not far from their hom
A few years before this photograph seems to have been taken, my great grandfather was due another promotion - to a Sub-Divisional Magistrate, but he was denied the opportunity on grounds of belonging to the Bania community, (generally a moneylenders or merchants community) the community to which the nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai belonged. Lala Lajpat Rai’s protests against the colonial British government had spread like wildfire in the early 20th century across Northern India, and led to a rise in anti-colonial sentiments within the community. Fearing disobedience, many Banias in the colonial administration were rejected for promotions. My great grandfather Nanak then retired to Kanpur with his family.
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.