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
These are four images of an amusing and perhaps strange family tradition that our family has followed over decades and it continues until today.
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.
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.
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.