Time felt an alien concept in Jhansi,
especially at my grandparent’s sprawling home: 95 Mani Villa, a world of its
own, running on its own clock.
Jhansi beyond the railway station is a sleepy town with a grand history. Coming from Delhi and Mumbai is always a big shift, a big change in space and attitude. It is about slowing yourself down and unlearning the hustle.
My grandfather was a retired railway station superintendent who always went out of his way to help people. Spending time in Mani Villa was like watching a slow, silent film with character artists and their sidekicks dropping in and out. The protagonists were my grandfather Dhanji Anklesaria, my grandmother Mani Anklesaria, and their beloved companions, Gallant and Nikki; the set being their ancient British row bungalow with flower and fruit trees all around. The Anklesarias loved being surrounded by nature.
The past few years had been difficult for my grandfather, with the loss of my grandmother and the loneliness and responsibilities that followed, the distance between his only son, Farokh, and him, and his deteriorating health.
My parents, sister and I tried visiting him as much as possible. I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time alone with him. In those times I was able to observe sides to my grandfather's personality that very few had experienced.
In Mani Villa I often found myself restless; too much relaxation got to
me, maybe because I am much younger. Being a photographer, I was always aware
and I found myself photographing moments metaphorically representative of my
grandfather’s state of being at that moment in his life: alone, lonely, yet
independent and stubborn. During my frequent visits, I secretly dug for
beautiful things that Mani Villa had preserved: cards, old photographs,
memorabilia reminding us of the numerous live jamming sessions with renowned
musicians from around the city and country it had hosted.
It would be a lie if I said that I didn’t think of him as a subject. When I began documenting my grandfather, I realised there was a lot of distance between him and me in the photographs. That’s when I understood that if I needed to dig deeper into his life and his ways, I had to become the grandson who happens to be a photographer, and not the other way round.
It was over time and much experimenting with different formats that I realised I had so much on my grandfather. The slow, languorous passage of time at Mani Villa provided a lot of leisure for introspection. I would find myself thinking about my grandfather’s spirit, his experiences and his zest for life. His passion for music—something which has a lot of importance in my life—seems to have passed on to me.
I was brought closer to my grandfather, even as this became a tool of my expression.
Most of our time was spent in silence, because in our silence came his best moments. When he surrendered to music, he would sing classical ragas to himself, which resonated through the house. The image of this man was of a ferociously disciplined and strict human being who had sides that were as human as anybody else's.
He had seen life more than me, 60 more years to be precise, so he was rigid in many ways. I realised how similar we were. We were both actually sensitive but showed ourselves to be strong. We were both stubborn and transparent.
My grandfather was extremely independent, so when he fell sick, it was not his sickness that caused him pain, but the loss of independence. He never liked asking for help even though we wanted to make him comfortable.
He passed away on the Dec 7, 2012 in his sleep, instilling beliefs so firm that I know now that I can take on life without fear or uncertainty and live it fully, with satisfaction.