The bittersweet legend of a family mansion

(Left to Right) My great-great grand-uncle Ata Husain, seated with his younger brother, my great-great grandfather Fida Husain and his five sons. Hyderabad, Hyderabad State, 1900. Image and Narrative contributed by Afnan Khan, New Delhi This is a photograph of my great-great grandfather Fida Husain (seated second from right) along with his five sons and elder brother Ata Husain. It carries within it our ancestral memory of amazing accomplishments and family legends. In 1715, my ancestor, an Afridi Pathan teacher Husain Khan migrated from Kohat (now Pakistan) to Qaimganj (now Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh). Kohat was mainly a tribal area and Qaimganj was closer to Delhi, the capital of the erstwhile Mughal Empire and may have offered him better employment opportunities. Family legend says he lived for more than a 100 years and was known as 'Bade Ustaad' (The Great Teacher). His next three generations (sons, grandsons and great-grand sons) chose to serve in the army. Husain Khan’s great-great grandson (see photograph) Fida Husain was fond of academics and would borrow books from a lawyer in the neighbourhood that triggered his interest in law. He took the law examination and graduated in first class. Fida Husain then moved to Hyderabad (then ruled by the sixth Nizam), established a successful law practice, and built a house in Begum Bazaar, Hyderabad. He would also regularly send money to his father Ghulam Husain to supervise the building of a family home, a haveli (mansion), in Qaimganj (now Farrukhabad, UP) that he could eventually retire in. The mansion came to be known as ‘Mahal’ which translates literally to ‘Palace’. The family legend about the mansion is intriguing - During construction, an unfortunate incident took…

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Portrait of a debutante

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My maternal grandmother, Monica Guha (née Roy Chowdhury). Calcutta, West Bengal. 1925

My maternal grandmother, Monica Guha (née Roy Chowdhury). Calcutta, West Bengal. 1925 Image and Narrative contributed by Aparna Datta, Bangalore This is a picture of my maternal grandmother, Monica Guha, (née Roy Chowdhury). The photograph was recently gifted to me by my aunt, my mother’s first-cousin. My aunt had found this classic studio portrait, complete with potted plants and painted canvas backdrop, amongst a collection of photographs belonging to her late father, Monica’s brother. On the reverse of the photograph is a rubber stamp with a date '3.11.25', with ink that hasn't yet faded. The photograph had been taken at Dass Studio, P 21/A Russa Road North, Calcutta. The rubber stamp stated “Copy can be obtain at any time. Please quote the number.” Endearingly, there is also a name “Monu”, her family nick name, hand-written in Bengali. While looking at the photograph I noticed she wore no bindi and no sindoor - symbols that a married woman would wear. Laden with jewellery, top to bottom, this simply had to be a rite-of-passage 'portrait of a debutante', a matrimonial image, intended to be shown to prospective grooms and their families. As a time-honoured ritual in arranged marriages, the significance of such a photograph, as a cultural artefact, was inescapable. 

I call this picture the 'Barefoot Princess'. The picture and the date-stamp had a rabbit-hole effect on me, drawing me in, coaxing me to contextualise the image. My mother had passed away, so I dredged the recesses of my mind, trying to recall bits of family history she had shared with me over the years. I spent weeks tracking down near and distant relatives all over India, picking up strands to weave into…

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