Sunday, July 8, 2012

Rama Rau Battas from down South

Daughter: Santha Rama Rau spent most of her life defining and explaining India to the world. A citizen of the free world.

Mother: Dhanvanthi Handoo Rama Rau, founder and president of the Family Planning Association of India, fought for women's reproductive rights in India. First Kashmiri girl to marry outside the community. A citizen of free India. 
Grand-mother: A just about five feet tall imposing woman who lived in India but held on to the age-old beliefs of Pandit creed. A woman who worried about finding a suitable 'Pandit' boy for her tall grand daughter. A woman of old world pre-occupations, old world biases, and at times old world charm and wisdom. A citizen of imagined Kashmir. 

In 'Cooking of India', Santha Rama Rau had this to say about her mother's side of the family:

"In all of this, their fierce sense of origins, their strong feeling for the "Kashmiri Brahmin community," remained undiminished even though they were exiled in uncomprehending, if not hostile territory. So intense was this feeling that it never allowed them to realize that their food, like their manners, language, even in some cases their dress, had been strongly influenced by centuries of Muslim rule in Kashmir and later in Allahabad. Unlike most Brahmins they ate meat (though not beef); on the rare occasions when they served rice it was in the form of pulaus (imaginative variation of the Persian polo, or pilaf). They delighted in serving an iced sherbet like mixture of fruit juices, a drink they had adopted from the Moghul courts of North India."


To my collection of Kashmir travelogues, I add Santha Rama Rau's description of Kashmir visited in 1939 when she was sixteen. Santha Rama Rau's Home to India (1945):

The diary I kept of the summer Premila and Mother and I spent in Kashmir was entitled romantically. Journey into Limbo. The reason which suggested the title is obscure, but in retrospect it does not seem inappropriate, for it conveys the timelessness of that summer.On the route to Kashmir you can go by train only as far north as Rawalpindi. From there the hourney has to be made in one of the cars on hire at Rawalpindi station. The stockily built Mohammedan driver of our battered Fiat, with his gaudy turban, knew he was a "character". He warned us before he left the station that he was always sick on this trip, but if we would let him stop the car every forty minutes or so, things could be managed very neatly.
All the way up to Srinagar he used one hand for steering and the other for holding the door on. While Premila, with remarkable imperviousness, slept through the entire journey, the driver talked to me about the good done by the Congress Party for the peasants and small shopkeepers in this part of the country. He said too few people realized how far-reaching the influene of the Congress was in the princely States. Certainly there was a great deal of work still to be done, but while the Bristish protected the Maharajas the people were bound to remain oppressed. I was surprised at his fluent use of political phraseology as he discussed representative government needed in the States which the Congress wanted, and hoped to institute in time, when the power of the Princes could be broken. We of British India, he said, under-estimated the force of the people themselves in the States.
When I asked him why he wasn't afraid to talk to us so freely, he became excited. "Tell the officials if you want to! Tell the Maharaja himself! We will fight them and the British. Wait and see, we'll fight!"
I asked him what he would fight the British with - guns? machines? I reminded him that we had not been allowed to produce armaments in the country.
"Machinery!" he said, and tool his hand off the steering wheel to dismiss the industrial age with a flourish."If we have it, good. If not, still good."
"Then what will we fight with?"
He looked at me with scorn."What we really need is to exploit our unity. If every Indian were to spit once, we could drown the British!"



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You can read the complete book here.

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Probable clues to what Pandit writing would read like in a few decades from now when fresh blood will start describing their world, and the world of their parents and grand-parents. And when they will describe their visits to The One Great Limbo of their lives. 
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