The Fathers of our family

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. 

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The Guardians of our language

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.

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A supernatural legacy

A supernatural legacy
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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.

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The Creative Police Officer

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.

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The telephone operators of Assam

This photograph of my father Nomal Mech, at 19 years old, (bottom right) with his colleagues was taken in 1980 in the Assam Studio in Shillong, Meghalaya when they were enrolled in a three-month training program to become telephone switchboard operators. It was probably the first time he was getting his photograph taken. The shoes he wears here were his first pair, bought third-hand from a neighbour to protect him from the cold and wet Shillong weather. When I inquired about his uber fashionable clothes in this image, he said that everyone was wearing clothes inspired by Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, the cinema style icons of the time, even though he himself was not acquainted enough with Indian films. He simply wore what everybody else was wearing.

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