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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?