One studio. Two photographs.
Two photographs that bookend a wedding and a retirement and life that happened in Bangalore from 1955 to 1979.
The most precious picture in our collection is the wedding photograph of the parents , Sheshagiri and Thulasi, who were married on July 20, 1955, in Nellore. A few days later, Sheshagiri brought his new bride to Bangalore, and they went to G.G.Welling Photo Studios , M.G. Road to have their wedding picture taken.
Because everybody went to Welling when they wanted to have their momentous occasions frozen in a frame, when Sheshagiri retired 26 years later, he ttook Thulasi to Welling again , for he was required to submit a picture of them together for his pension purposes. Though many momentous occasions happened in these 26 years, including the birth of their three children – aka My Big Brothers Subri and Bunty, and of course me, they were not frozen in frames at Welling’s, for reasons unknown. However, we have a treasure trove of memories between the two pictures- Leaving Mahadev Vilas on Ratna Vilasa Road after Grandfather Ramabrahma died, moving house three times, changing schools and starting college.
How many times have I sat down with Amma and pored over that album with all the photographs. Their wedding pictures, those of my aunts’, uncles and ants and cousins and the maternal grandparents in their Nellore home. But this picture, taken by Welling is the one that the eye lingers longest on. It holds a thousand stories, of nine little girls and their seven brothers , the weddings of the girls all of which took place in the house of their Ramayana writing father Mamidipudi Krishnaiah.
I’ve tried to imagine the colour of Amma’s saree- it was maroon, with a gold bordern, my aunt, Amma’s youngest sister Rohini tells me. The blouse, was pink, and the special lattice-work at the neck is the “jalebi neck” .
It’s five years ago that Amma went, and two years ago, it was their 60th anniversary. 1955 was the year named Manmatha, the God of Love, and Spring, and Colors, and everything beautiful, and in 2015 it had been again Manmatha Samvatsara, the year in which Appa was left with 57 years’ worth of memories.
In 2015, I asked Appa why his parents ( Ramabrahma Tatha and Venkamma Paati) are not to be seen in any of the 10 wedding photographs . “it was taken by Thambi Mama” he explained. That would be Amma’s eldest brother, M Venkatakrishnan, known as Thambi . I remember Thambi Mama, the bachelor uncle, chartered accountant who was well known in the Madras music and dance circle, for encouraging young artistes who needed an introduction into the Sabha circuit , and taking them under his wing.
Appa then said, ” may be you shouldn’t post the reception photo, don’t we look funny sitting far apart, almost hugging our corners of the two-seater”
Too late, I responded, we have already shared all the photos last year, and told the story of your wedding , of which I’m very proud.
July 20, 1955:- the wedding of Thulasi and Sheshagiri was celebrated at the grand residence of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, at Nellore. Appa, , told me that on July 18, 1955, when the groom’s family had arrived, the bride’s home was abuzz with wedding-related rituals, and the house was beginning to look like it was in Malgudi instead of Nellore, an elder know-all pointed out that the next day, the wedding eve when the groom is welcomed was going to be a day of Amavasya. No one had thought of this, and there was momentary consternation. But soon enough , someone suggested that the ritual could begin on 18th, and that’s exactly how it was done. Thanks to Amavasya, another day of wedding revelry came to be enjoyed by everyone!
Our mother, The bride of the day 61 years ago, is in Amma Heaven . Her absence has become a presence, and she talks to us in everything we do. Appa and I have pored over these photographs, and he remembers little nuggets about the wedding . His cousin Baba travelled with him from Madras I remember him telling us when Amma died, about what Grandfather Ramabrahma had said of the bride chosen for Sheshagiri- he had got the most beautiful one of the seven daughters of Ramakrishnaiah.
How simple,and yet grand, a wedding could be in those days! It’s just not fair that we never get to be at our parents’ wedding. I notice my mother’s bare feet at the reception, and how the bride and groom are seated as far away from each other as the two-seater permits! No visits to the beauty parlor, no make-up.
I remember playing wedding games , with Amma looking indulgently, and telling me the bride must sit with left leg folded up, and the left arm around it, and that’s what, I thought it took to be a bride!
Amma often told me about how the daughters of Ramakrishnaiah learnt of their impending marriage – suddenly, the house would begin to buzz with activity. A set of imposing parents would arrive and go into a huddle with the grandparents. The head of a party of wedding cooks would make several visits, a priest who conducted weddings would drop in and leave with horoscopes and return with list of auspicious muhurthams. The oldest un- married daughter would soon realize her turn had come to leave her parental home. The bride and groom would probably get to throw furtive, glances at each other.
Father it turns out, had seen his future wife much before their marriage was decided by the elders. At the wedding of his cousin in Madras, he was a dapper 21-year-old when he first saw her, a seven-year-old, running around in a little pavadai and blouse, with no idea whatsoever that she would wed this man 11 years later. She probably had no idea he was even there at that wedding, nor interested ! Glad to know she did marry him, for if not , this tale would never be written!
The retirement photograph caused much hilarity. Both of them had put on weight. “He couldn’t fit all of Amma in the frame, ” we said, and she had laughed, as she always did at the fat jokes. We’ll never know if it hurt, or offended, and the laugh was meant to hide her annoyance. She was just Amma, and took it all on the (double) chin.
THE G.G. WELLING STORY
The Wellings come from a place called Veling in Goa They have been in the photography business since the 1850. Srinivas Mahadeo set up the Mahadeo and Sons photo store in Belgaum. They manufactured and sold cameras, and other photography equipment . Appa, who spent his childhood in Belgaum, around 1935 , remembers Mahadeo and Co as one of the first photography store in the town, although Katti Studio came up later. Grandfather Ramabrahma,was Headmaster of Sardar’s High School at the time, and Appa remembers that the services of Katti Studios were engaged on a few occasions, since it was the new kid on the block.
The Wellings opened the Bangalore store in 1903. It was then owned by Gajanan Goving Welling, who decided to go back to their roots, and added their native village as the family name. IT must have been the second generation Welling in Bangalore who took the parents’ wedding photograph in 1955. I have taken two or three passport photographs at Welling’s. The last must have been when I was with The Times Of India, just a few doors away from G.G.Welling.