TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI JAIN
My grandparents celebrated their 63rd anniversary on 4th December, 2017. We were all thrilled – partially because I forced them into doing the varmala again but more so, because we all understood how rare and beautiful this occasion was. While I clicked a million pictures that day, baba, my grandfather, brought out an old briefcase filled with old black and white photographs and photo albums. That evening, while sifting through all the 2×2 inch black and white photographs, the entire family took a trip down memory lane over chai and namkeen.
We went back to the time when a 6-year-old me practically lived on my favourite guava tree and when I was only 2 years old and my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in Bikaner because of communal riots in Jaipur. One of my favourite parts about my grandparents are their names – Vimal and Vimala. I often ask them jokingly if that’s how they chose to get married. It is only on their 63rd anniversary that I actually heard the story of how they met from daadi, my grandmother…
“I was born in Karauli. My ‘father sahab’ was a famous doctor. One day someone from Bundi visited and told him about his elder brother – a cloth merchant who was seeking a bride for his son. My father accepted the proposal and I got married. We didn’t see each other until we got married. During the ceremony I had a long ghoonghat- I couldn’t see even if I wanted to. The ‘baraat’ came to Karauli – we got married and left for Gangapur station because there was no direct train from Karauli to Bundi. My father had booked us a coupe. It was only when I lifted the ghoonghat after we settled down that I first saw your grandfather. We were both sitting there like ‘gudda-guddi’, a pair of dolls. I remember a foreigner coming up to us and asking if any seat was available and your baba telling him that we’re newly married – he congratulated us and left.”
I giggled as this sounded like Bollywood movie plot. I asked her why she didn’t want to see him before getting married…wasn’t she worried that her father may have picked someone who may have been good according to him, but not her? She said, “We didn’t think like this. In those times we firmly believed that no parent would wish bad for their children and we trusted them enough to let them take such decisions for us. There was no concept of -my definition of good and their definition of good. We just believed them.”
After their wedding, they made frequent trips to Jaipur and finally shifted to the Pink City in 1956. Daadi remembers that era more clearly than anything. Every photograph that I held up, she remembered the year, place and what they were doing. Her favorites are of course her solo pictures which were clicked by baba and photographs of their picnics are a second favourite. There was a sense of pride, joy and excitement in her voice when she shared how they would go to picnics regularly. They’d carry their picnic basket, mat, playing cards, their gramophone and records. The picnics were mostly in parks near Amer and Ramgarh and they usually comprised of a big group of family and friends and their children.
My daadi remembers the day I came to live with them really well. She was waiting in the car for baba to make their return journey to Bikaner from Jaipur- and unexpectedly and completely unplanned, he returned to the car with me. She was ecstatic. I lived with them for about two and a half years and even though I was only two years or so at the time, I remember some things very clearly. Daadi would pack ‘ladoos’ for my lunch at school everyday and they would be eaten up by a child named Lallu. I think that really was his nickname. Visiting the zoo with a packet of peanuts to feed the bear with baba was a daily ritual. I remember spending summer nights sleeping under the stars listening to my dadi telling me stories. She had to get quite creative because I was a very demanding child and hated listening to the same story twice. Me, a born nocturnal would listen to her stories while gazing at the stars- forming images in my head as she narrated. I can safely say that I am their favourite grandchild.
It was such a strange yet warm and fuzzy feeling looking at the photographs while celebrating their anniversary. The comfort in knowing and understand simpler times and the pain of realising the chaos is irreversible. Until that day, I didn’t know much about their lives from the 1950s, before they became my grandparents. I had only seen old Hindi films with wide roads, clean cities and characters who were very fashionable and always wondered how living in that era would have been. Then I saw these photographs of my grandparents with my daadi wearing pants and her lovely sarees; baba and his friends dressed up neatly in such smart gentlemen type clothes; their picnics with the gramophone; posing for photos at their get-togethers! Hearing my grandparents narrate incidents from their lives made me feel like I was and am somehow a part of it. They genuinely enjoyed every moment. They tried every fad and trend, be it in clothes, music or food. I am genuinely impressed. They didn’t think of their lifestyle as cool or uncool- they just lived and enjoyed every single moment!