Image & Text contributed by Anuradha Karmakar, Mumbai
My Dida (grandmother in Bengali) Bani Karmakar (née Roy) was born on October 5, 1926 in Shologhor, Dacca District in erstwhile East Bengal. She had a rather impoverished childhood as the eldest child of a large family with three sisters, two brothers and a host of extended family members. She witnessed, at close quarters, the horrors of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, where three million people perished.
Dida did not have much of a formal education as she was married off in 1944, at the age of 17 to Radhika Jiban Karmakar, a soft-spoken 28-year-old man from Gramwari, Dacca (now Dhaka). Radhika Jiban left home at the age of 16, worked in the Calcutta Film Industry as a lab technician and also learnt photography from Jatin Das, a well-known photographer in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He then migrated with Das to Bombay in 1940, leaving behind a young wife in East Bengal with his family, where their first daughter, Sudevi was born in October 1947. The horrors of the communal massacres during 1946-1947 were witnessed by Bani, as also during one harsh monsoon, the swollen river Padma, changed course and devoured houses and paddy fields, the only source of sustenance for many. These two unfortunate events forced the mass exodus of many Bengalis seeking refuge and the Karmakars were among the millions who were forced to leave everything behind in 1948, many of whom migrated to West Bengal.
After a short stay in West Bengal, Bani found herself joining her cinematographer husband in the hustle and bustle of Bombay, which was to be their new home in 1949. They stayed in modest houses in Andheri and Sion where their four younger children; Radha, Krishna Gopal, Meera and Brojo Gopal, were born. From a small village to living in Bombay, without much support and a growing family with a host of relatives, was a tough task for the young mother, which she handled to the best of her abilities.
Radhika Jiban (whose name was shortened to Radhu, on Mr. Raj Kapoor’s insistence) worked as a cameraman and subsequently as cinematographer with RK Studios (now R.K. Films). His work involved erratic work schedules and travel within and outside India and hence primarily Bani was responsible for bringing up five children. They lived a frugal life together as much of her husband’s meager salary was spent on their children and extended family. Her home was the first stop for a horde of relatives and others who would arrive to make it big in Bombay. There were times when there was no food left for her at the end of the day due to unexpected guests and she would have one roti with sugar to keep her going. The matriarch complained to no one.
She found the time to educate herself in English and pick up skills in handicrafts. She never attended the flashy movie premieres, filmy parties or social gatherings while her husband rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of Indian and International Cinema. She preferred staying at home and taking care of her family. Together, the couple witnessed many important milestones in life- graduations, heartbreaks, first jobs, marriages, promotions and the births of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My grandfather, Radhu Karmakar came to be known as one of the ’10 best Cinematographers in the World’ and much of his professional achievements and laurels can be attributed to the sage and timely advice of his wife and my grandmother. He had won many awards during his lifetime which we proudly display in our family home, but what my grandmother was able to achieve was intangible; besides being a great cook, she managed a warm home, raised self-reliant and educated children, and was a role model for all those who came in contact with her. Radhu Karmakar passed away on October 5, 1993 at the age of 77, in a car accident while returning from shooting the movie ‘Param Vir Chakra’. He was on his way back to Bombay (now Mumbai) to be with his wife on her birthday. Bani immersed herself in religion and spirituality, household work and doting on her grandchildren, to deal with the grief of her husband’s sudden demise.
My grandmother Bani Karmakar, passed away on May 14, 2015, at the age of 87, due to a prolonged illness. She had suffered a stroke, was battling Dementia and was just a shadow of her former energetic self. She loved being surrounded by us even when she could not recall our names. Sometimes she would revert to her childhood days in East Bengal, calling out names of friends and family who were long gone. Yet, that isn’t how I choose to remember my Dida. To me, she will always remain my strong-willed, stubborn, strict and very loving grandmother, a little rough around the edges, but a gem of a human being. During her last days, when asked what her last wishes were, Dida said that she would love to see me get married and then she could die in peace. She won’t witness my wedding ceremony, but the day I get married, I know she will be there to bless me, watching and smiling her cheeky smile.
Nov 03, 2015 | Categories: 1947 India Bangladesh Partition, 1970s, Accolades & Awards, Arranged Marriage, Bengali, Birthdays, Bollywood, Cinematographer, Dementia, Dressed for an Occasion, East Bengal, Education, Food & Drink, Future icons from the Past, Hindu Muslim, House Wife, Indian Film Industry, Literacy, Massacres, Movies, Photography, Previous, Rains / Monsoon, Riots, Sarees, Silk, West Bengal, Western Clothes | Tags: 1947, 1970s, 1979, Accolades & Awards, Andheri, Anuradha Karmakar, Bani Karmakar, Bombay, cameraman, Cinematographer, Grandmother, Great Bengal Famine, Migration, Padma River, Partition of Bengal, Radhu Karmakar, Raj Kapoor, Refugee, RK Studios, Road accident, Sion | Leave A Comment »
Image and Text contributed by Paritosh Pathak
This image of my wife’s great great grandfather was photographed in a studio in Bulandshahr, then a part of the United Provinces in India. In those days there were only a few trained doctors in a city, and a civil surgeon was considered to be a ‘top medical practitioner’ as well as the last hope of anyone with an ailment requiring surgery.
Shambhu Nath Misra was awarded “Rao Bahadur” medal by the British government, the top civilian award of the time which was an equivalent of “Order of British Empire -OBE”. He wears that medal proudly around his neck in this picture. The medal has the British crown connecting the loop to the neck string. In the centre is a circular portion with etched words Rao Bahadur that is barely legible because of picture quality.
He graduated with a Degree in Medicine in 1899 from The University of Panjab located in Lahore of undivided India. (In 1956, the university was relocated to Chandigarh, Punjab, India). At the time of his graduation the university awarded an all-in-one degree- Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics. Today the three are considered separate medical specialties.
A very fashionable man, in this picture, he sports a bowtie, very western for an Indian in 1920s. His ‘Head Cap’, was common head gear for a man of stature, though unlike the kings and other royalty, it indicated status as a civilian. Completing his attire is a 3 piece suit, a silk vest, and I think a pocket watch which was specifically worn on the left pocket.
He was a very wealthy man, earning a salary of Rs 14,000 a month. And the ‘civil surgeon’ tag was important enough to get a letter delivered to him with only “Shambhu Nath Misra, Civil Surgeon, Bulandshahar” as the address. He supported many families of needy relatives and had significant real estate assets. He fathered 2 daughters and 3 sons, one of whom was the great grandfather of my wife. Two of his other sons emigrated to the United Kingdom. The family prestige and assets, both were gradually lost and it never regained the glory of his achievements. He suffered from diabetes and other common ailments, and passed away around the age of 70.
Feb 11, 2012 | Categories: 1800s, 1920s, 1950s, Accolades & Awards, British Reign, Certificates, Chandigarh, Degrees, Doctor, Documents, Elite, Fashion Accessories, Head Gear, Lahore, Landmarks, Medal, Men, Men's Clothes, Now Pakistan, Pakistan, Pre-1947 Indian Regions & States, Pre-Independence, Relocation of Spaces, Studio Portraits, United Provinces of Agra & Oudh, Uttar Pradesh, Western Clothes | Tags: 1800s, 1899, 1920, 1920s, 1950s, 1956, 19th Century, 20th century, Accolades & Awards, Agra, Attire, Bow-tie, British Empire, British Reign, Bulandshahr, Certificate, Certificates, Chandigarh, Civil Surgeon, Civilian, Degree, Degrees, Diabetes, Doctor, Documents, Education, Elite, Fashion & Trends, Fashion Accessories, graduation, Head Gear, Hinduism, Lahore, Landmarks, Medal, Medicine, Men's fashion, Migration, Now Pakistan, Obstetrics, Oudh, Pakistan, Pandit, Panjab University, Paritosh Pathak, Partition, Pocket, Pocket watch, Portrait, Pre Independence, Pre-1947 Indian Regions & States, Pre-Independence, Pundit, Punjab, Rao Bahadur, Relocation of Spaces, salary, Shambu Nath Misra, Silk, Studio Portraits, Suit, Surgery, United Provinces of Agra & Oudh, Uttar Pradesh, Vest | 1 Comment »
Image and text contributed by Sreenivasan Jain, Journalist, New Delhi
Some text is paraphrased from the Book – Civil Disobedience : Two Freedom Struggles, One Life, memoirs of my father LC Jain, noted economist and Gandhian.
This image was photographed in Delhi, shortly after my paternal grandparents Chameli and Phool Chand, got married. She was 14 and he was 16. It was unusual for couples in our family to be photographed, especially holding hands, which turned out to be an indication of the unconventional direction their lives would take. They were Gandhians and freedom fighters.
The only visible reminder of her brush with the radical politics of the freedom movement was the milky cornea in her right eye, the result of an infection picked up in Lahore Jail where she had spent 4 months in 1932. Otherwise, she was Ammaji: gentle, almost luminous in her white saris, regular with her samaik (Jain prayer), someone who would take great pleasure, on our Sunday visits, to feed us dal chawal (rice and lentils) mixed with her own hands.
My grandmother grew up in a village called Bahadarpur in Alwar, about four hours south of Delhi, in a deeply conservative Jain family. The family was locally influential; they were traders in cotton turbans, woven by local Muslim weavers and sold in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. They also were moneylenders. As with much of rural Rajasthan, the women were in purdah. Within two years of their marriage, their first child, my father, was born.
Ammaji moved with my grandfather into the family home in the teeming bylanes of Dariba in Chandni Chowk. But he had developed a growing interest in Gandhi and the nationalist movement and soon broke away from the family business to join the Delhi Congress. In 1929, soon after the call for Poorn Swaraj at the Lahore session, he was arrested for the first time.
My grandfather’s stint in jail exposed him to even more radical politics. Along with his Congress membership, he also became part of the revolutionary Hindustan Socialist Republican Association which counted Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad amongst its members. (Azad, in an interview, acknowledged that he received his first revolver from my grandfather). He also became a reporter for the nationalist newspaper at the time, Vir Arjun, whose editor he had met in jail.
In 1932, Gandhi called for a major nationwide satyagraha against foreign goods. It was also the year a bomb was thrown at Lord Lothian, an act in which my grandfather played a role. When he told my grandmother that he was going to jail, she said this time she would go to prison first, by taking part in the swadeshi satyagraha. The household was stunned. Ammaji’s life had revolved around ritual, the kitchen and ghoonghat. Her decision led to the following heated exchange; witnessed by my father, age 7:
Babaji: “You don’t know anything about jail.”
Ammaji: “Nor did you when you were first arrested.”
Babaji: “Who will look after the children ?”
Ammaji: “You will.”
Sensing that things were getting out of hand, my great grandmother, Badi Ammaji locked both of them into a room. But my grandfather apparently fashioned an escape from the window using knotted dhotis and Ammaji, head uncovered, marched with other women pouring out of their homes towards the main bazaar. The crowd had swelled into hundreds. There were cries of ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’. As they began to move around picketing shops selling foreign goods, they were arrested, taken to Delhi Jail, and charged with four and half months of rigorous imprisonment.
Her arrest, not surprisingly, outraged the family in Alwar. Umrao Singhji, Ammaji’s father, came to Delhi and had a big argument with my great grandfather, accusing the in-laws of ‘ruining our princess’. But Ammaji found an ally in her in-laws, who refused to pay her bail out of respect for her satyagraha. Umrao Singhji then tried to talk his daughter out of it when she was being transferred to Lahore Jail. ‘Chameli, apologise, ask for pardon.’ But Ammaji asked him not to worry. ‘Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai’, she said, as she was being led away in a rickshaw along with the other prisoners. ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, responded her father.
She returned from Lahore four months later, a minor heroine. But there was also loss. Lakshmi, her daughter, five years old, fell from the balcony of the house and died when she was in Lahore jail. And there was the milky cornea – the loss of an eye. But her world had somewhat widened. She wore her ghoonghat a few inches higher. She gave her Rajasthani ghaghra choli away, and wore only hand-spun.
She spun on the charkha. She would attend meetings with other women on matters of community reform, like widow remarriage and also became more involved in the activities of the local sthanak, the Jain community’s prayer and meditation hall. She had, as it turns out, quietly fashioned her own blend of Jain renunciation and Gandhian abstinence.
In the years that followed, my grandfather retained his engagement with the freedom struggle. He would often go to sit in the family’s property agency in Model Town, but his real passion, which consumed most of his last 30 years was compiling a massive index of freedom fighters, a staggering 11 volume chronicle of the stories of countless ordinary men and women, who took part in protests, bomb conspiracies, went to jail, lived and died. For my grandmother, it was a gradual return to a more conventional domesticity.
But, that single action that morning in 1932 had opened up a world: a young woman from a deeply conservative family, who became the first Jain woman in her neighbourhood to go to jail, who was named on the day of her arrest in the Hindustan Times with all the other satyagrahis and who would return home to other freedoms, even if minor, like a ghoonghat that could be worn a few inches back.
And for that, she would one day have an award named after her. The Chameli Devi Jain Award.
Jan 22, 2011 | Categories: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1947 India Pakistan Partition, Accolades & Awards, Alwar, Arranged Marriage, Assassinations & Attempts, Bomb Blasts, Books, British Reign, Business-man / Business-woman, Chandani Chowk, Child Marriage, Cotton, Cultural Attire, Decor, Delhi, East India Company, Elopement, Freedom Fighters, Future icons from the Past, Gandhian, Head Gear, Hindu, Hindustan Times, House Wife, Imprisonment, India, Indian Clothes, Indian Clothes, Indian Politics, Interiors, Jain, Jewellery, Journalism, Lahore, Love & Romance, Madhya Pradesh, Men, Men's Clothes, Model Town, Most Popular, Pre-Independence, Rajasthan, Research, Revolver, Sarees, Satyagraha, Vir Arjun, Wartime Separation, Women, Women Empowerment, Women's Clothes | Tags: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1943, 1947 India Pakistan Partition, Accolades & Awards, Alwar, Arranged Marriage, Assassination Attempt, Assassinations & Attempts, Bahadarpur, Bhagat Singh, Bomb Blasts, bomb conspiracies, Books, British Reign, Business-man / Business-woman, Chameli Devi Jain, Chandani Chowk, Chandni Chowk, Chandrashekhar Azad, Charkha, Child Marriage, Chronicle, Civil Disobedience, Civil Disobedience : Two Freedom Struggles, Congress, Cotton, Cotton Turbans, Couple, Cultural Attire, Dariba, Decor, Delhi, Delhi Congress, East India Company, Elopement, Freedom Fighters, Future icons from the Past, Gandhian, Ghoongat, Handspun, Head Gear, Hinduism, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, Hindustan Times, House Wife, Imprisonment, Independence Struggle, Indian Politics, Indore, Interiors, Jail, Jain, Jain Community, Jains, Jewellery, Journalisim, Journalism, Journalist, Lahore, LC Jain, Lord Lothian, Love & Romance, Madhya Pradesh, Mahatama Gandhi, Men, Men's Clothes, Model Town, Moneylenders, Muslim Weavers, Nationalist Movement, nationalist newspaper, One Life, Phool Chand Jain, Poorn Swaraj, Pre Independence, protests, Purdah, Rajasthan, Research, revolver, Rural, Samaik, Sarees, Satyagraha, Satyagriha, Spinning Wheel, Sreenivasan Jain, Traders, Veil, Vir Arjun, Wartime Separation, Widow remarriage, Women Empowerment, Women's Clothes | 12 Comments »
Image and text contributed by Sheetal Sudhir, Mumbai
This picture of my grandfather Manjerikandy Ramchandran was taken when he was 16, just before he set sail for Dar-es-salaam for the first time. He came back to India 5 years later and won the All India Heavyweight Wrestling and Weightlifting championship beating several champions including the Sri Lankan heavyweight wrestling champion in 1937.
His son Sudhir Ramchandran is my father who was born in British Tanganyika and retains his British Citizenship until this day. My grandfather was also responsible for building gymnasiums in Cannanore (Kannur) and in Tanzania. There are several tales of how he used to be called to handle African robbers, who existed in plenty those days. His happiest life was in Dar-es-salaam.
After he retired in 1968, he moved back to Cannanore, India to build a house but passed away the same year of cancer. My dad believes that I have adopted his no-nonsense approach to life and loyalty to friends.
Oct 19, 2010 | Categories: 1920s, 1960s, Accolades & Awards, Achievements, Body Building & Fitness, Business-man / Business-woman, Champion, Dar es Salaam, Future icons from the Past, Kannur, Kerala, Men, Men's Clothes, Migration, Professional Training, Ship, Sports, Studio Portraits, Tanzania, Wrestler | Tags: 1920s, 1960s, Accolades & Awards, Achievements, Africa, All India, Body Building & Fitness, British Citizenship, Business-man / Business-woman, Cancer, Cannanore, Champion, Commonwealth, Dar-es-salaam, Eight pack, Gymnasium, heavyweight, Kannur, Kerala, Manjerikandy Ramchandran, Men's Clothes, Migration, Pre Independence, Professional Training, Robbers, Sheetal Sudhir, Ship, Sports, Sri Lanka, Studio Portraits, Sudhir Ramachandran, Tanganyka, Tanzania, Wrestler, Wrestling | 2 Comments »