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  • Writer's pictureAkhil Kadidal

A Snapshot of the Past

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

I am astonished by this photograph, which fell into my hands almost accidentally.

The photo, taken at government house, from circa 1956, shows my grandfather (in black), surrounded by a rare constellation of accomplished humans. At the far left is the famed Russian artist Svetoslav Roerich. Next is K F Patil, a minister in the-then government, my grandmother who later became a well-known vernacular novelist, ...., then Lady Patil (who appears to be melting away into the background). Beside her, with the runoff from the sari covering the top of her head, is the educator and a hero of India's independence struggle, Aruna Asif Ali. On her left is Lady C V Raman, wife of the Nobel-prize winning scientist, and at the far right is the actress Devika Rani who happened to be married to Roerich.

Roerich's Painting of His Wife

I am told the Roerich's were friends of my grandfather, and as I write this, I am acutely aware of the distance of time and how everything fades. Svetoslav died in 1993, and Devika the following year.

The Roerich estate, outside the city, now stands empty, its grounds having served as hamlets for squatters. It is also a victim of a sloth-like government bureaucracy that lacks the willpower to turn it into a museum but announces grandiose plans whenever it is politically or economically expedient.

Portrait of the artists Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe, painted by his son, Svetoslav Roerich in 1933.
Roerich's painting of the elder Roerich

There are rumors that the house itself is haunted. Clearly preposterous but in a reality where it could be true, by whom? Roerich's? What would his ghost have to say to mortals who intrude?

I haven't the foggiest what happened to Minister Patil or Lady Raman, but they too have faded away into dust. Aruna Asif Ali died in 1996.

As for my grandfather, it happened that he too was a hero of the independence struggle, and at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, a legend in his time for his extreme devotion to morality and ethics.

His feats, which helped win India her independence from the British empire, saw him rise to become the third Chief Minister of the state of Mysore (as it was known then), equivalent to a Governor in the United States. It was at that time, that the above photograph was taken. In the years since his death in 1992, I find myself wondering about the sacrifices that he made to achieve his idealistic dream of free and progressive India.

Seeing the shenanigans of the modern political class, the bloat of excess and moral decadence that embodies the modern Indian government, I fear his life's work may have been in vain. I tell myself it is better to have dreamed and tried, then not having tried at all.

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