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.
Here my aunt stands straight and bold, with her hands crossed, next to her elder sister (standing middle), Ramkrishna, whom she lovingly called Chamguru, as it was the name of the village she was married into. In the middle, seated is her eldest sister Seeban with her two daughters, Peetal and Dol. The little boy is their youngest brother Vimal. The awkward gentleman standing right most was their next door neighbour. Badi-mumma cannot recollect his name but says that Vimal had invited him to be photographed and he acceded. The photograph was taken outside their home by their bhatu (brother-in-law) Naru Toppo, Seeban’s husband. Naru was a local professional cameraman and a studio-master. His studio was located in one of the sectors set up by an Industrial corporation, HECL (Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited), not far from their hom
According to family knowledge, My great grand-parents, Balwant and Laxmibai’s relationship was considerably strained. Four years after their marriage, he married again, for the second time, to a lady named Kamalabai, because he thought that Laxmibai was not beautiful enough and that the marriage was arranged against his wishes. Consequently, Laxmibai’s life was riddled with difficulties and illness, compounded with eight pregnancies of which only three children survived. While Kamalabai would accompany Balwant in his travels to Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Delhi, and she attended to her husband throughout his life, Laxmibai had to stay home, and look after their kids. Ironically, the conspicuous absence of Balwant’s second wife, Kamalabai in family group photographs could be for the fact that she was unable to bear children. Both women suffered discrimination in different forms. Having said that, Kamalabai looked after her step-children as her own, even after he passed away.
This fading, tattered photograph carries in it the story of my Gujarati lineage’s courage and survival instincts - and how they came to call a south Indian city, Madras (now Chennai) their home - an antithesis to their familiar north Indian environment. This photograph taken by a professional photographer in 1952, is indeed the oldest family photograph we possess. While it is a rich a source of family memory, time has been harsh to it.
In 1910, seeking new work opportunities , my grandfather, a 17 year old, came to South Africa by ship along with two of his brothers. Ship records indicate that the journey from the Indian shores to South Africa may have taken about 40 days. After arriving in SA, my grandfather began working as labourer and in 1912, he married my grandmother Roshan Hashim. We don't know very much about my grandmother’s background, except that her family was from Rander, a district in Surat, and her father’s name was Hashim Rasool Sheikh.