It is unusual to see Bijoy clothed in a North Indian Dhoti (loose drape pants) because most young boys his age wore half pants. Apparently he had begun to dress like an adult to display his commitment to the independence struggle; perhaps he felt that serious work required an adult attire. And he was not alone in his commitment - several leaders of the Independence movement had recruited large numbers of young boys to act as secret messengers to deliver letters in nearby towns and villages. Whenever the policemen came around on suspicion and to arrest Bijoy (they would come around often) his proud mother Pareshwari Devi would instruct Bijoy - “If you sign any police papers for an early release, do not come back to this house”.
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.
According to family knowledge, My great grand-parents, Balwant and Laxmibai’s relationship was considerably strained. Four years after their marriage, he married again, for the second time, to a lady named Kamalabai, because he thought that Laxmibai was not beautiful enough and that the marriage was arranged against his wishes. Consequently, Laxmibai’s life was riddled with difficulties and illness, compounded with eight pregnancies of which only three children survived. While Kamalabai would accompany Balwant in his travels to Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Delhi, and she attended to her husband throughout his life, Laxmibai had to stay home, and look after their kids. Ironically, the conspicuous absence of Balwant’s second wife, Kamalabai in family group photographs could be for the fact that she was unable to bear children. Both women suffered discrimination in different forms. Having said that, Kamalabai looked after her step-children as her own, even after he passed away.
This photograph of my grandfather was taken around 1925 at a photo studio called Portraits Par Papers located at 23, Rue Boissy-d’ Anglas in Paris, France. I am not exactly sure what he was doing in Paris at the time, but it is possible that he went there on a vacation with some of his friends because we know that he also travelled to Austria and Hungary. We also know that he had by then discovered the delights of a camera and photography.
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.