A sepia-toned history of my family

Sometime back, I came across a fantastic blog titled The Indian Memory Project and instantly fell in love with the blog’s aim—to “trace the history of India, its people, professions, development, traditions, cultures, settlements and cities through pictures found in personal family albums and archives”. So, recently, when I came across some old family photographs, I thought, why not create my own family’s memory project and share them with you on this blog. So read on…

But first a little geographical background of my family to set the context—we are originally from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. My father’s side of the family is from Tharuvai, and my mother’s side of the family is from Narasinganallur—both villages in Tirunelveli district.

This family memory project begins with the story of my great-grandfather (my father’s paternal grandfather), T. Ganapati Sastri (1860–1926), a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Ganapati Sastri had very humble beginnings in Tharuvai—a place he left for Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in his 16th year for economic reasons.

Trivandrum, c. 1915: My great-grandfather, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. T. Ganapati Sastri

Ganapati Sastri was the Principal of the Sanskrit College at Trivandrum, as well as the first Head of the Manuscripts Library of the University of Kerala. He contributed extensively to research and writings in Sanskrit, and is best known for his discovery of the lost plays of Bhasa in 1912. He later edited and published these plays, for which he was awarded a Doctorate in Sanskrit from the University of Tubingen. In January 1922, the then Prince of Wales, Edward presented a gold medal to Ganapati Sastri for “literary eminence in Sanskrit”. For all these achievements and more, my great-grandfather was given the title of Mahamahopadhyaya by the Government of India.

My paternal grandfather, TG Narayanan (TGN) was the younger son of Ganapati Sastri. TGN (1904–1986), who grew up in Trivandrum, trained as an accountant. In 1931, he left Trivandrum for Bombay (now Mumbai) when he got a job with the Auditor-General’s Office of the Bombay Presidency. His family—comprising his wife (my grandmother, Meenakshi N), a son (my father, Ganapathi), and a daughter (my aunt, Lalitha)—also moved to Bombay with him.

Bombay, c. 1932: TG Narayanan, my grandfather, is seated extreme right. Note the symmetry of the seating arrangement with the ‘sahibs’ seated in the centre, and the ‘natives’ seated on either side. Also those seated on chairs are wearing a turban/cap.

In those days, Bombay Presidency covered parts of present-day Maharashtra, Gujarat and Sind (in present-day Pakistan). When Sind was separated from Bombay Presidency in 1936, TGN was transferred to the Auditor-General’s Office in Karachi, the new capital of Sind. The family shifted to Karachi and were there till the Partition of India in 1947.

Karachi, c.1939: Lalitha, my paternal aunt, is seated extreme left, while TGN (my paternal grandfather) is seated extreme right. My father, who was 10 at that time is seated to TGN’s right, while Meenakshi N, my paternal grandmother, is standing behind my father. I find it interesting that all the males in the photograph are dressed in Western wear, while all the females are dressed in traditional Indian wear!

Whenever my grandparents spoke about Karachi, it was always with a sense of nostalgia mixed with a deep sense of loss and pain—like thousands of other people affected by the Partition. Meenakshi N (1910–1989) always maintained that the years spent in Karachi were the happiest years of her life. Though they never voiced it to me, I always felt that my grandparents wanted to go back to Karachi.

Karachi, c. 1940. Meenakshi N is seated second from left. I can’t get over how casually and gracefully these women have worn their 9 yard Kanjivaram sarees and matched it with puff sleeved printed cotton blouses.

After returning to India, TGN found a job with the Ordnance Factory Directorate in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Transferred to the Jabalpur Factory in 1957, he eventually retired from active service in 1959.

Now, onto my mother’s side of the family. Unfortunately, I do not have any photographs of the maternal side of my family, except for the two given below.

My maternal grandfather, NK Raman (1906–1980) was a brilliant man, and a touch eccentric. His idea of life skills for children meant teaching them swear words! Needless to say his wife, my maternal grandmother, Meenakshi R (1919–1980) had her hands full!! NKR came from a very poor family and it was thanks to his brilliance that he got through school and college on a scholarship. He also gave tuitions to supplement the family income. An accounts whiz among other things, he first migrated to Madras (now Chennai) in search of a job and then to Bombay in 1938 to take up a job offer with the US Consulate. He retired from that job in 1968. His father N. Kuppuswamy was a teacher in the local school.

My mother's paternal grandfather, my great-grandfather, N. Kuppuswamy, is seated in the centre. He is wearing an angavastram or upper garment. His wife and my great grandmother, Alamelu is standing behind him.
Tirunelveli. c. 1921: My mother’s paternal grandfather, my great-grandfather, N. Kuppuswamy, is seated in the centre. He is wearing an angavastram or upper garment. His wife and my great grandmother, Alamelu is standing behind him.
Bombay, c. 1942: L to R Padma (my mother), Meenakshi R (my maternal grandmother) and Baby (my aunt). The Kanjivaram saree and puff-sleeved printed cotton blouse theme continues.

As I read what I have written, I realise that my family history is one of migration—from my great-grandfather, to both sets of grandparents, to my parents. My mother, Padma, was brought up in Bombay. But after her marriage to my father in 1956, lived in many places in India as my father got transferred or changed jobs for better opportunities.

My two brothers and I have also lived in many places, and I guess that also makes us migrants. Today, one brother has made Pune his home, while another brother and I have made Mumbai ours. But this is one part of my family history that I think deserves its own post and, perhaps, even written by someone else in the family.

Maybe, the niece?

111 thoughts on “A sepia-toned history of my family

  1. Hi Sudhagee
    Love your blog. We connected sometime back through email. I am also TGS great grand daughter. I am Seshadri’s daughter. My Paternal Grandmother Meenakshi(everyone used to call her chitti) . She was another daughter of TGS . she was the immediate elder sister to your grandfather TGN. I fondly remember my father talking about your dad Gan. I remember chinna mama-chinna mami(your paternal grandparents). If I remember right, your grandfather had an elder brother who had daughters Chellamma,Subbalakshmi who lived in Trivandrum, ,one more daughter in Tiruchi who had a daughter named Geeta, Anandam (3/4 kids) and another daughter Padma ( 2 sons) in Tambaram and a son who lived in Trivandrum. Do you have any contact details of them or their kids?

    Raj, I remember you, Sriram-maya ,Ravi , Sarasi Athai and Balu Athimber. Hope you remember me.

    Kumar how are you and say Hi to Raji.

    If we talk to Raji periamma, she can shed more light on TGS. I vaguely remember my father mentioning a meeting between TGS and Tagore and the whole conversation was in Sanskrit.

    Sudha say hi to your brothers and namaskarams to your mom.

    My mother-in-law is also from Taruvai-pattamadai combination.

    Would Love to keep in touch with you all.



    1. Hello, good to connect again. Yes I do remember you and your mails. And while I do not recall your grandmother Meenakshi, I do remember refusing to sing when asked by her to do so ! I too have heard of this supposed meeting between Rabindranath Tagore and TGS, but haven’t found any literary reference to it yet.

      Regarding your query about other members of the extended family, I do not have any contact details. I have passed on your greetings to my brothers and can’t do the same to Amma for she passed away in February this year.

      Hope you are all doing well. Do let me know if you or Jayashree are in Mumbai; I would love to meet you both.


  2. Hi Sudhagee and Prabha. This is Hariharan called Hari the last son of Nagalakshmi ,the daughter of TGS my grandfather. How are you Prabha now after our meet in Bangalore.? Quite a long time.
    Very happy to see your blog today. Appreciate your I interest. You have given a valuable information about My Thatha whom I never met.

    Very happy to know more about him and the family. I I will keep in touch. You have made my day. It has taken me so long to take this initiative. I saw the website about TGS only today. Suddenly I felt the urge to do .so I am settled in Chennai with my wife Geetha


  3. Hello Prabha,

    I came back to Sudha’s blog site after almost 2 years and saw this post from you. Yes, I do remember you well and also your parents. Yes, both my younger brothers Sriram and Ravi are fine and so also their wives – Maya and Sudha. I will let them know about you. Where are you these days?

    @ Kumar, trust you are doing fine too?

    @ Sudha, enjoyed reading your blog again today, Just finished the recent one on the carving on the cliff face at Mamallapuram. A pity that a road runs past it now. Small mercy that they did not break down the rock and the relief work to make way for the road.

    Take care everybody in these Covid times.



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