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My mother’s family photo 1942

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Amit Shah is a retired publishing executive and owner of Green Comma, an editorial services company. He lives in Lovell, Maine, with frequent stays in Somerville, MA.

Back: Middle Ma (age 22) and her two sisters, both younger. On left is Purnima (21) and right is Ira (16)
Center: my grandmother (Didu). On ground is my mother's brother, Pradip (11). Calcutta 1942

Susan Sontag, the cultural essayist with a laser-sharp pen, wrote in On Photography: "A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what's in the picture. Whatever the limitations (through amateurism) or pretensions (through artistry) of the individual photographer, a photograph -- any photograph -- seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects."

As with all objects of the past, the interpretation of the viewer is the most important. In this case, the photograph, probably taken by my father in the fall of 1942 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) is a frozen moment of my life.

1942 was the year my parents married, in August. My mother was the oldest child. She was eleven when her father passed away suddenly in 1932. Her youngest sister, Ira, was only five or six and refused to go the burial ground. My uncle hadn't been born and was a posthumous birth. My grandmother, Didu, became a widow in her thirties with four children.

My grandmother taught sewing at St. John's Diocesan Girls School, only steps away from where the family lived at Mullen Street, off Landsdowne Road (now Sarat Bose Road). All the girls went to that school.

Ma was sent to college, Bethune College, so that she, as the eldest, would be able to get a job and support the family. However, she received a marriage proposal from my father. My grandmother, according to family lore, told my father that she would agree to the marriage if my father would promise to look after the family. Which he did.

My youngest aunt, Ira, was married in the early 1950s, and I was an usher (at age three or four). Her children, Abhijit and Arpita, are my closest cousins still alive in India.

My oldest aunt, Purnima, was a straight-talking, fiercely independent woman, who worked secretarial jobs all her life. Never married, one day in the 2000s, she walked out of the door in Kolkata, never to be seen again.

My uncle, Pradip, was a naturally gifted musician. He could play any instrument. He was like my older brother when I was a kindergartner. He'd come and pick me up from school on his bicycle, and I'd ride side-saddle on his crossbar. We'd stop for lassi. He also has the dubious record (according to me) of getting a double Masters from Columbia and Vanderbilt universities.

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© Amit Shah. Published July 2019.

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