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.
It seems that he went along on a trip with a transport contractor for the army all the way to Assam, and then simply began driving trucks. That his own uncle (chacha) was already working here in Tezpur, also driving trucks, would have helped. After working for a few years as a driver, he started a small kirana/gelamaal (grocery) shop in Tenga Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. He also founded a hotel that ran for around seven years. Eventually he got around to buying some trucks and built a transport business for himself - a few contracts with the Indian Army hastened the cause.
Although he never practiced it professionally, my father was a talented photographer and was introduced to the craft by his childhood friend Balkrishna Kulkarni whose father owned a photo studio. My father would closely observe lighting techniques, the developing process of glass plates, making prints etc. Even after rolls of film became the norm, my father continued to make glass plates. Though he also learnt the process of developing film rolls from Laxman Gaikwad, a neighbour who lived with them in Kirloskarwadi and was a company photographer for the Kirloskar company and its manufacturing units.