The Sikh Families of Assam

It seems that he went along on a trip with a transport contractor for the army all the way to Assam, and then simply began driving trucks. That his own uncle (chacha) was already working here in Tezpur, also driving trucks, would have helped. After working for a few years as a driver, he started a small kirana/gelamaal (grocery) shop in Tenga Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. He also founded a hotel that ran for around seven years. Eventually he got around to buying some trucks and built a transport business for himself - a few contracts with the Indian Army hastened the cause.

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Our Father Was Our In-House Photographer

Although he never practiced it professionally, my father was a talented photographer and was introduced to the craft by his childhood friend Balkrishna Kulkarni whose father owned a photo studio. My father would closely observe lighting techniques, the developing process of glass plates, making prints etc. Even after rolls of film became the norm, my father continued to make glass plates. Though he also learnt the process of developing film rolls from Laxman Gaikwad, a neighbour who lived with them in Kirloskarwadi and was a company photographer for the Kirloskar company and its manufacturing units.

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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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The curious life of my great-grandfather Balwant

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.

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