The untouchable Brahmin who saved Gandhi’s life

The untouchable Brahmin who saved Gandhi’s life
My Great-grandfather, Krishnaswamy Iyer with Mahatma Gandhi. Palakkad, Kerala. June 1945

My Great-grandfather, Krishnaswamy Iyer with Mahatma Gandhi. Palakkad, Kerala. June 1945 Image and Narrative contributed by Govind Mohandas, Bengaluru This image of my great grandfather Krishnaswamy Iyer with Mahatma Gandhi, was photographed at the Sabari Ashram in Palakkad, Kerala.  Although an ignored statue with a broken nose stands in a park in Kerala and a book has chronicled him as the Untouchable Brahmin, my Great-grand father Krishnaswamy Iyer is a forgotten hero. Born in 1890, he was brought up in a very orthodox Brahmin family and he soon found himself in the epicenter of the freedom struggle from British rule. He courageously started displaying his social responsibility by educating and initiating Dalits (untouchables) into Brahminhood much to the fury of the elders in the community. When he showed no signs of listening to their advice, Krishna was ostracized from his community. It was a huge deal, but Krishna was undeterred. He continued his service for the untouchables through the Sabari Ashram that stands even today, which is committed to the cause of educating Dalits. Mahatma Gandhi knew and adored Krishna and always paid him a visit during each of his tours to southern India. There are anecdotes which mention an incident when Krishna saved Gandhiji from riots by stopping a train and taking Gandhiji to a safe place before the train reached the station. He was the 'untouchable Brahmin', yet he garnered a lot of respect from few members of the Brahmin community, among them being my mother's family. Once the alliance between my mother and father was recommended to my maternal great-grandfather, there was no doubt that she had to be married to Krishnaswamy Iyer's grandson. Krishnaswamy Iyer passed…

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A 100 years ago, she stepped into a world no widow had dared to

A 100 years ago, she stepped into a world no widow had dared to
Chennagiri Family Photograph. Tumkur, District Karnataka. Circa 1901

Chennagiri family photograph. Tumkur, District Karnataka. Circa 1901 Image and Narrative contributed by Laxmi Murthy, Bengaluru This picture is thought to have been taken in Tumkur, State of Mysore, immediately after the marriage of my great grand parents Chennagiri Amba Bai, 12 years old (standing top right) with Sreenivasa Rao, then 18 (middle row, sitting right most), with Amba Bai's paternal family, the Chennagiris. I must thank my aunt Prabhamani Rao for all the help in identifying the people of my ancestral family found in this image. Born in 1889 into an orthodox Brahmin family in the erstwhile Mysore State (now in Karnataka), she was widowed at the age of 24 with three children. Sreenivasa Rao, Ambi’s husband was in the Police. He was also a wrestler and a champion swimmer. He died suddenly in 1913, caught in a whirlpool while swimming in Kempambudi Lake (now a sewerage collection tank) in Bangalore. Amba Bai whom we fondly called Ambi, triumphed over her tragic destiny by empowering herself with education. She defied conservative society to educate herself through college, become economically independent, and went on to become the principal of Vani Vilas Girls School in Bangalore. Nothing short of a saga of grit and determination, Ambi's story serves as an inspiration to women who face oppression till today. In her determination to break away from the shackles of social customs, which heaped on a widow the most inhuman treatment, she had the support of her enlightened father, C Krishna Rao, fondly called Rayaru, and his colleagues. With their encouragement she managed to step into a world where no widow had dared to tread. Ambi's father Rayaru (middle row, third from left) was the head of the…

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Leaving everything behind in Scotland to an unknown future in India

Leaving everything behind in Scotland to an unknown future in India
My Gradndmother, Sydney Gorrie, on her wedding day. Lahore (now Pakistan). December 1923

My Grandmother, Sydney Gorrie, on her wedding day. Lahore (now Pakistan). December 1923 Image and Narrative contributed by Janet MacLeod Trotter, UK This is a photo of my Scottish maternal grandmother, Sydney Gorrie (nee Easterbrook) on her wedding day in December 1923. She and my grandfather, Robert Gorrie, were married in a cathedral in Lahore (now Pakistan). She looks beautiful but perhaps to me, also slightly apprehensive. This may be because she hadn’t seen her fiancé in over a year and had just travelled out by ship with her parents from Edinburgh, Scotland to get married. For some time their home was in Lahore (now Pakistan) which my grandmother enjoyed. Robert Gorrie fondly called Bob, a veteran of the World War I and survivor of trench warfare, had secured a job with the Indian Forestry Service, as a conservator of forests. Sydney was an only child and had left behind home and extended family in Edinburgh, Scotland for an unknown future trekking around the Himalayan foothills with her new husband. Bob was enthusiastic about trees and conservation and became an expert on soil erosion. He worked all over Punjab and the remote foothills of the Himalayas, and my grandmother would have to plan and organise camping trips for a month or so at a time. When my mother was born, she was taken along too; her pram hoisted onto poles and carried along jungle paths. According to his Work Records, Scottish Bob was “a tiger for work” but was impatient with the bureaucracy and criticised for being outspoken. My granny would sigh that she was constantly having to ‘smooth the ruffled feathers’ of the administrators. He was also based at…

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The day my father committed to marrying my mother

The day my father committed to marrying my mother
My father, Ranjan Sarkar, Västerås, Sweden, 1970

My father, Ranjan Sarkar, Västerås, Sweden, 1970 Image and Narrative contributed by Jaydeep Sarkar, Mumbai This picture was taken a year before my parent's marriage. My father, Ranjan Sarkar, had moved to Sweden from Calcutta, in 1968, with his first job as an Engineer with ASEA.   The first child from his generation to work outside of India, my grandmother was particularly concerned about his single life and urged her elder children to find a match for my father. At that time, he was thirty, and only a thirty year old bachelor in the family could be a cause for such 'epic concern'.   Pictures of prospective brides would be sent to my father by mail, for his consideration. Unsure about committing to marriage, he would resist taking a decision on any of the pictures.   Finally my eldest aunt (my father's eldest brother's wife) sent him a letter loaded with melodramatic words of emotional blackmail, urging him to get married, for his "own sake and that of the family". With the letter, came another set of five pictures. My father's friend photographed him here on a Sunday with his Minolta camera, as he went through the letter and the five photographs that came with it. One of the pictures was that of my mother's, Jayshri Sengupta. Probably the one he is looking at in this image, or not. But it was on this day, that my father decided he was ready to commit to marriage.   A year later, my parents got married. They met each other for the first time, on the day of their wedding, at the 'mandap'.   The day was also momentous for another…

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The Fashionable large nose ring

The Fashionable large nose ring
My father, T. P Pathak with my grandmother, Hira Pathak. Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. 1956

My father, T. P Pathak with my grandmother, Hira Pathak. Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. 1956 Image and Narrative contributed by Paritosh Pathak, India. In this image my father was 6 years old and my grandmother was 34. My grandmother was a educated woman who had attended high school and could read and write. A rarity in rural Uttar Pradesh's heartland. She was assertive, fashionable and a strong woman. Notice the large nose ring (Nath) in fashion at the time. She home schooled my father for a while. My father excelled at academics and joined the UP, State Civil Services. He retired recently after his last posting as Commissioner of Jhansi division in UP. He always credited his success to the education he received at home from my grandmother. My grandfather & his brother were orphans and raised themselves. He was married late in life to my grandmother and his brother never got married. My grandparents had two children, the older one pictured above is my father. My grandmother is now 95 and suffers from many age related ailments. She cannot recall the picture occasion, most likely it was a village fair where the picture was developed on old plate based cameras in Mirzapur, UP.

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