Life Back Then

Youthful days in India

John Feltham


John Feltham

John was born in East Yorkshire, England on 21 August 1937. After studying in India, he became a Cadet Officer in a well-known shipping company, the British India Steam Navigation Company. He migrated to Australia at the beginning of 1969. He retired as the Head of Computer Studies at an all-boys High School in Townsville, North Queensland, where he now lives. He last visited India in 2001.

Editor's note: This story is based on materials on John Feltham's website, which are reproduced here with his consent.

Before WWII broke out, my father was an apprentice "loom tuner" at a factory in Marfleet, Hull, East Yorkshire, England owned by Fenner. When the War broke out, many of the men at Fenner's joined up, and my Dad was promoted to Foreman for the duration of the war.  When the War ended, some of these men returned, and Fenner's told my father that he would no longer be a Foreman.

Raman family by Meera Balasubramanian

Meera Balasubramanian


Kerala, Singapore, Madras, 1957

Meera Balasubramanian


Meera was born and brought up in Madras, Tamil Nadu. She graduated from Stella Maris College with a BA in Sociology, and got her MBA from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila. She has enjoyed living in Manila, Istanbul, and Bethesda, MD., a suburb of Washington, D.C. She is currently in Hong Kong with her husband, while two sons are students in the U.S.


This is a portrait of the Raman family taken in a studio in Singapore in 1957. Seated at the centre is Lakshmi Raman, my mother, who was about 33 years old at that time. In the photo, we have her children (from left to right): Balu (sixth oldest), Vimala (third oldest), Leela (oldest), Lakshmi Raman, Kamala (second oldest), Savithri (fourth oldest), and Chandra (fifth oldest).

Raman family

World Bank Loan to Air India 1957

World Bank


Editor’s Note:This is a World Bank document prepared to provide a loan to Air India in 1957. Excerpts from the full document (available as the attached pdf file) are provided below.








February 19, 1957



1) Rupees 4.80 = U.S. $1.00

2)   1 £ sterling ...U.S. $2.82


Air India the Indian-flag carrier on world routes, is enlarging and modernizing its fleet by the purchase of long-range jets. The company is arranging dollar loans to help finance the foreign exchange costs of the project. The Bank has been asked to participate in this financing.


Air India International Corp. (Air India) is the successor by nationalization, effective August 1, 1953, to Air India International, Ltd., which started operations in June 1948. Operations have grown from a single weekly frequency between Bombay and London to 11 services a week along routes from India to the UK and Continental Europe via the Middle East and Near East, to Southeast Asia and Japan, to British East Africa, and to Australia.

How Dalda mesmerised us in the 1940s

M P V Shenoi


Shenoi, a civil engineer and MBA, rose to the rank of Deputy Director-General of Works in the Indian Defence Service of Engineers. He has also been a member of HUDCO’s advisory board and of the planning team for Navi Mumbai. After retirement he has been helping NGOs in employment-oriented training, writing articles related to all aspects of housing, urban settlements, infrastructure, project and facility management and advising several companies on these issues. His email id is


Introduction to Dalda - 1940s

In the early 1940s, my family lived in Mysore in a complex known colloquially as Nanju Malige (shops built by Nanju).

Nanju, a wholesale grains merchant, had bought a triangular plot and enclosed it with shops at the front and houses at the back, with a huge open area serving as inner court. One road defining the triangular plot was a macadam (non-tarred) highway leading to Manandavady in Kerala, which was known for the tropical forests surrounding it and the forest produce such as timber and honey. The other was a new tarred road from the city to Chamundipuram, leading ultimately to Chamundi hill.

A Time of Wonder

Vijay Padaki


Vijay is a theatre educator. He has been a life member of Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT) since its inception in 1960. He has written over 30 plays, produced widely in India and abroad. In addition, he has adapted and translated several Indian plays into English. By professional training, Vijay is a psychologist and behavioural scientist, and has vast experience in management consultancy, policy research and training in the areas of Organization and Institutional Development..


It was Platform No. 1 of Allahabad Junction on the East Indian Railway. The year must have been 1945.

"Hello, sonny, want a bite of chocolate?" It was a Tommy (a British soldier), seated on a wooden crate, a kit bag next to him and a great big smile on his face. Which little boy of six would decline a chunk of chocolate? A fat bar of dark chocolate in a black wrapper with silver lettering. "Hard rations", the Tommy explained, offering the whole bar if I cared to have it. He had lots more in the kit bag, he explained. I shook my head, not able to make conversation in English, but taking a piece anyway from the bar held out.

Weddings among the Patidars

Gangaben Patel



Editor's Note: This article is in Gujarati. It was originally written in 1964. It has been scanned from વીસમી સદીનું ગુજરાતી નારીલેખન ("Vees-mi Sadee-nun Gujarati Nari-lekhan", 20th Century women's writing in Gujarati). Nikhil Desai has provided this brief description of the article.


Gangaben Patel (1890-1972) wrote this essay "Dharmaj" (a village) in 1964. She describes how a young bride was brought to her new home, what she brought with her, and the customs of greeting her. She says she was only nine when she came to Dharmaj, implying that's when she got married. She describes various jewelry pieces in detail.

Toward the end, she writes "Because of these customs, if a girl arrived in a poor home, she was just returned. A quarter's worth of opium, and she went from the womb to the earth."

She also describes how sometime in the 1860s her caste group had passed, under her grandfather's lead, some reforms limiting the cost of marriage to a girl coming from a particular "six village" grouping (and presumably marrying in those villages). Then she mentions how this in turn led to some families looking for brides outside those six villages and collecting more money than they were allowed under their caste group's rules.

A few months ago, I heard my mother say that in the caste group we belong to, "Girls could marry into the village, but not could marry out." I asked her if this was because of a shortage of girls. She said, "Who knows? Back then, people wanted to keep an eye on their daughters after they were married, and make sure they were treated well or else complain to the caste council."

Women in the Partition

Kamalaben Patel




Editor's Note: This article is in Gujarati. It has been scanned from વીસમી સદીનું ગુજરાતી નારીલેખન ("Vees-mi Sadee-nun Gujarati Nari-lekhan", 20th Century women's writing in Gujarati). Nikhil Desai has provided this brief description of the article.

This untitled essay by Kamalaben Patel (1912- ) is excerpted from her writings in 1977 and 1985 under મૂળ સોતાં ઉખડેલા ("Mool sotan ukhadela", pulled from the roots). The story is about one of the most painful aspects - recovery and repatriation of women left behind - of the Partition of India and Pakistan.

She was with the Indian government on the Punjab border at the time, guiding the women social workers who were recruited to work with the police in repatriation of women, and occasionally went back and forth, working with the Pakistani authorities as well.

Sisters, daughters, wives, and mothers were lost, kidnapped, or simply fell behind when families ran from one side to the other. The author mentions an incident where a village well was filled with bodies of dead women who had jumped in to avoid assault and rape. She also mentions how in the midst of then ongoing war in Kashmir, tensions were high on both sides and made the repatriation work more difficult.

Some related articles selected by Nikhil Desai:

Gireesh J., "Gendered Violence, Nationalism and the Hegemonic Projects of Modern Nation States: A Reading of Kamalaben Patel's Partition Memoir Torn from the Roots". Samyukta, July 2009.

Aparna Basu (1996) Rebel with a cause: Mridula Sarabhai. Oxford University Press. Excerpt at

A peek into the future

Shantabahen Gandhi



Editor's Note: This article is in Gujarati. It was originally written in 1948. It has been scanned from વીસમી સદીનું ગુજરાતી નારીલેખન ("Vees-mi Sadee-nun Gujarati Nari-lekhan", 20th Century women's writing in Gujarati). Nikhil Desai has provided this brief description of the article.

This essay -  ભવિષ્યમાં ડોકિયું ("Bhavishya-man doki-yun", a peek into the future) ­- is taken from ગુજરાતણને પગલે પગલે ("Gujaratan-ne pagale pagale", along the footsteps of a Gujarati woman). It is notable for the ambition of an educated urban (Ahmedabad) woman just after India's Independence.

She enthusiastically notes that the new Bombay Government (the erstwhile Bombay State included parts of current Gujarat, including Ahmedabad) has formulated laws to outlaw polygamy and permit divorce, and that the issue of  bride/groom payment is also under consideration in the state legislature. She is proud that Indian women are being sent to international conferences to represent the women of India, and that new authors and performance artists are emerging, though they are still just a few in number.

Family crisis

Sharada Mehta



Editor's Note:This article is in Gujarati. It was originally written in 1938. It has been scanned from વીસમી સદીનું ગુજરાતી નારીલેખન ("Vees-mi Sadee-nun Gujarati Nari-lekhan", 20th Century women's writing in Gujarati). Nikhil Desai has provided this brief description of the article. .

This memoir - કૌટુંબિક આપત્તિ (Family crisis) - is by Sharada Mehta (1882-1970), who was one of the first Gujarati women college graduates in Ahmedabad. The memoir begins with her circumstances in 1901.

The author's wedding had taken place, but she had continued to stay with her parents to complete her last college examination . Just then, her mother-in-law passed away, leaving behind two sons studying in England (one of them the author's husband), a daughter, three young children including a four-year old daughter, and three other children. She mentions how her mother-in-law was enthusiastic about her going to college, and her father-in-law insisted she complete her college examinations before moving in to help with the young children.

She also describes her experience with running a remedial class for a year or so for girls who had dropped out of school, before moving to Vadodara (former Baroda) when her husband returned. She found the Vadodara environment more conservative than in Ahmedabad. She and her husband were unusual in going out for walks together, and even the king seemed to have not been favorable to it initially. She does mention, however, that within a year, a lot many more couples had started taking walks together near the Race Course.

The bicycle of my dreams

Subodh Mathur


Subodh was born in Alwar, and educated in Jaipur, Delhi, and Cambridge, USA. He taught economics for one year at Rajasthan University, Jaipur, and now teaches at American University, Washington, D.C. He was an independent consultant for nearly two decades. He lives with his wife, Anuradha Deolalikar, and two children in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In his spare time, he is an avid gardener, and the editor of this website.

I got my first bicycle in 1960 when I was about 10 years old. More accurately, Ashok, my older brother, and I got our first shared bicycle at that time.

It's a story that sticks in my mind, and also of some other family members. Our other older brothers - Prakash, Kailash and Subhash - already had a cycle each. I don't know how much of a blessing it was for Subhash to have a bicycle, as he often had to lug his two younger brothers, Ashok and me, on his cycle all the way to our school (St. Xavier's, Jaipur) in the evenings for a swim!

Well, Ashok and I wanted our own ‘wheels' - with them would come freedom to roam and grown-up status.


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