The Nizam, as we all know, was well known for his passion for jewels and gemstones. As the richest man in the world, his tryst with jewellery had led to creating the largest royal jewellery collection in the world. However, his government had no choice but to mortgage a large number of jewels from the royal collection and from noble families, to financing firms (such as my great great grandfather’s). The firms then sold the jewels at a high profit to other traders who sold them to European and American elites and aristocrats. Jewellery from the princely state of Hyderabad rose in demand and this is the point where my great grandfather recognised an opportunity and began honing the trade of precious gemstones, and craft of exquisite jewellery. Seth Nanuram, the fourth generation of my family migrants, went on to master the jewellery trade and integrated the long association of his financing firm with an additional role - to join the Royal Panel of Jewellers of Hyderabad.
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.
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 Poona, his linguistic proficiency got him the job of a Marathi typist at the newspaper office of Dnyan Prakash (a formerly popular newspaper) and he learnt to type in Marathi and English fluently. It was rare for government jobs to be advertised in newspapers; social contacts were the only means to receive information about employment opportunities but while typing out some material, my father chanced upon an advertisement for the recruitment of a police sub-inspector that promised a better earning. My father, blessed with a good physique, imposing personality and height, sent in his application and it was accepted.