Monday, January 31, 2011

I should have been in my seventies now !
-- [Guest post by Yashoda Joshi]

Sometimes I wish I were born in the 1930s. Why such a stupid wish, one might ask. Given that there were no cell phones, no computers, no Internet, no television and not even enough cinema halls, coffee shops, or bars around. Well perhaps those might well be some of the reasons for an anachronistic wish like that. But the main reason would be the people, the people who made up the social structure in those days.

Society was more liberal. Men and women were more confident in their own skin. And it was a free society. I know at this point you are staring at me, and thinking that this woman is MAD. But think again. We were not influenced by so-called Western culture. We were colonised and the same colonisation led to freethinking and the need of freedom. People could say / write / perform anything they wanted and not have this constant fear of what anyone might say or do to them.

There was no Shiv Sena, no Ram Sena, no RSS, no Islamic fundamentalism. People were sensible in the way that they were both liberal and conservative. Education was the most important thing. People aspired to be sensitive; sensitive towards the country, their surroundings, their neighbours, and in general, the environment. They were more tolerant and generous. It was easier to be vocal; through cinema, through newspapers, through painting, sculpture, and art. (Small caveat: The British, of course, arrested those who spoke against British Rule; but people lived without being scared.)

The photograph below tells the story of a few people who lived life on their own terms without paying heed to the stigmas of society and culture.

Mudholkar Family in 1937. Vatsala Aaji is standing to the extreme right.

My grandmother, Vatsala Aaji, had seven sisters and three brothers. She was the fifth child in the family. Her father Srikrishna married Aaji’s mother a year after his first wife passed away. This was in late 1927. Vatsala Aaji was born on 5th June 1928. Aaji’s family believed in education and the independence of every family member.

Aaji was the most beautiful, independent, and strong-willed woman I have ever seen or known. She was a great singer, and appreciated and encouraged a lot of young musicians. She inculcated a love for music and life in all her children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces. A very enthusiastic woman, she loved travelling; collecting and wearing beautiful sarees was her passion. At the age of fourteen, she started singing on radio. She used to travel alone to Hyderabad (Nizam state in those days) to perform at radio concerts. She met my grandfather, Ajoba, for the first time, when she was 14 or 15. They fell in love, but since Ajoba’s family opposed their union, they could not be together. In 1949, Ajoba returned to Pune for work. He and Aaji met again and were now working in a Kannada play. By this time Ajoba was already married. But both Aaji and Ajoba had such great passion and love for music that they could not but be in each other’s company. In May 1951, my grandparents got married. Aaji did not care about what people would say. She chose to be with a person who was already married and had a family because of love and a common passion. Ajoba and Aaji settled in Pune and lived together for 56 years till Aaji passed away in 2005.

For me this is the most adventurous story ever. Living a full life without any social and cultural fears. And yet both my grandparents were religious, not in a ritualistic way but in a more spiritual way.

Am I trying to make any anthropological / sociological statement with this story? Of course not. I just wish that I could have been born in India in the 1930s, when being your own person was more important than being scared of what others might say or do. I still dream of being in the company of such people, some of who walked on this very land, which now is inhabited by hypocrisy and intolerance.

Vatsala Aaji with my father Jayant in Darjeeling around 1957. Photographed by Ajoba.

[Yashoda Joshi pontificates loudly as she tries to discover the ways of the world. She is an architect, a teacher, a brisk walker, and always knows what to say, even if it won't make you happy. In her own words, she is "an awesome person". Read more here...]