Sunday, August 19, 2012

My home town and family background


The North-Western side of my home in Jaipur
Most of my posts have been of an impersonal nature on topics such as trees, environment, food and the Lord. Perhaps it is time that I wrote one of a more personal nature for a few of my fans that are interested to know a bit more about my background. Yogis of the east rarely speak of their origins but I am no yogi but rather an academic who has tried to understand the world - both the manifest side of it and that which is not manifest.

My father retired as a colonel from the Indian army after a long and eventful career. Subsequent to a few years in private and public corporations, he came and settled in Jaipur, the city that I presently live in. Originally, the family of both my parents belonged to a part of India that has now become Pakistan. Since the family was a Hindu one it migrated to India along with millions of other Hindus during partition of British India into India and Pakistan.

Much of my father’s family lived between the cities of Bannu and Lahore now in Pakistan. It was an ordinary middle class family of North-Western India although belonging to one of the highest castes. Some of my relatives from my father’s side have done reasonably well in life whereas others are no good fellows  if I may so with candid frankness. Much of my mother’s family on the other hand lived between the two cities of Quetta, now in Baluchistan and Lahore. It was Lahore that was the meeting point where both families met and my parents were married on the second of October 1943 in Lahore. My mother ( Nand Rani Malhotra known as Nando) often told me privately that she was married into my father’s family by trickery. A relative of my father had lied  to my maternal grandfather that my mother liked my father. Moreover my father had a good job as an officer of the Indian Army and he was reasonably good looking. Marriages in those days were routinely arranged by fathers however those of modern bent of mind inquired independently if the persons to be married liked each other or not and honored that liking.

Nand Rani Malhotra, 1988 (nee Nand Rani Sahni )
My mother’s family was one of the elite families of North Western India.   It is rumored that either my maternal grandmother or great grandmother had some European roots. Such secrets were well guarded in those days since inter-community marriages were looked down upon by both the European and Indian communities. There is no way for me to uncover this family secretly now despite my extensive searches on the internet and elsewhere about the matter. However the European root theory has merit because my younger brother (as well as an older sister who is no more), presently a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army is fair like a European with blue eyes and blond hair as were two of my mother’s brothers and her own mother. My maternal uncle who became a very senior bureaucrat in India got by in life by declaring that his blue eyes were an outcome of ancient Greeks who had settled in India in ancient times at the time of Alexander the great. My mother though very fair with brown hair had brown eyes rather than blue ones.  However in later years when she began to dye her hair she just chose a cheaply available black dye because she was frugal when it came to expenses on herself. My mother (and an aunt) bore  resemblances to Queen Victoria, not just physically but also in morality and behavior.  Both were short and plump like Queen Victoria too and everyone in the family wondered where the shortness came from because everyone else in the family is much taller than average. My grandfather said that my mother had become short because she was wet-nursed by a short wet-nurse during infancy but that of course is not possible as we know from genetic science. She left this world in 1975 at the age of seventy five after leading an exciting and worthy life full of kindness for all she came across.

When my father first came to India in 1947, a large part of the family, including his mother settled in Jaipur. At that time Jaipur was one of the most beautiful cities in the world - a fairy tale city of sorts - and most important it had good colleges where his college going brothers and sisters needed to study. He himself being in the army was called to move from place to place within India and when he was asked to move to Nepal on an assignment in the early fifties he chose Nainital for his own family – my mother, brother and sister. Nainital too was a beautiful city (it still is) at that time. It was largely occupied by Europeans during British rule and when they left there were plenty of vacant homes available for others to occupy. It also had some of the best schools of India where my elder brother and sister began their schooling when I was still an infant. In 1955 my younger brother who is a General now was born in Nainital. It is a lush green part of the Himalayas and my early childhood was spent amidst this greenery. In later life until now I have missed this intoxicating beauty, whenever away from it.I may add that it is not just greenery by itself that is enchanting. There are forested areas I have visited in Canada that lack an undergrowth and are not as beautiful and there are the intensely green tropical areas with tall bushes and grasses that are difficult to penetrate and thus a bit irritating. Here in Nainital on the other hand the ground is covered by wild flowers, moss and low grasses amidst handsome trees of oak and pine and the area is full of lakes, springs and gushing rivers bearing sweet and pure mountain water of the best kind..

Since my father built a home and retired in Jaipur, in order to be close to his mother, who had a home here too, it was natural that when it came time for me to build my home I too found a plot to build on what was then the outskirts of the city. However, now that my older relatives have left the world and I myself am no longer young, I often wonder if it might not have been better if I had chosen Nainital as my final hometown instead. In recent years I have wondered if I should still do it but desisted for practical reasons. The first is that I built my present home over several years in small steps making it comfortable to live in a manner that I like. It was at a time when I had the energy to do it. At this stage though, that kind of energy is missing. Moreover, the area is a comfortable one and has come up in a modern way in part because of my contributions to it as a member of the local residential societies and partly because of the new globalization that has swept the world. I even got the opportunity to name the streets and did that on the North American pattern having lived in Canada for many years to practice my profession. My home is on Third Avenue presently. Essential facilities like shopping malls, banks, post offices, hospital, restaurants etc. etc. are all within comfortable walking distance. This kind of facilities would just not be available in Nainital. Moreover it is bitterly cold in Nainital in winter and the cold seems to bite more than heat as one gets older. Certainly though I continue to miss the green. Eventually though it is Karma that decides where a person lives and we as little mortals merely attempt to understand the workings of the Mysterious Hand.

Jaipur is not located in the greenest part of India. As a measure of compensation I have made my small urban lot very green. The attached photo is a picture of its north-western corner. A portion of my front porch is visible in the photo. However, I still go for short or long visits to Nainital on professional assignments and would continue to do so as long as I have the energy for it. The cover banner of this blog is a picture of Nainital.

5 comments:

ashok said...

I updated the cover photo and the photo of me at Raj Bhavan as mentioned in the post got removed. It is still there in the cover phto of my other blog at http://nainitalgoddess.blogspot.com

Sam said...

You have added a line about Love and Truth on top. Which of the two is more important?

and mentioned lakes too, what about areas that have too many lakes already like the great lakes area of America, or others that have too few but no rain or other water to create any like the Sahara?

ashok said...

Sam your first query requires a full blog post to address properly as does the second although certainly one does not need more lakes in the great lakes area but most parts of the world are not like that and the suggestions is for those areas.

Look forward to more posts on your query in the near future.

Thanks for following my blog so faithfully. Cheers

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

I read this post with much interest. The partition must have been tough for many families.

ashok said...

Thanks Keiko. Yes the partition was very tough on families. they lost their ancestral homes and properties and many relatives too. Long time friends were scattered.

My maternal grandfather was killed in the riots.