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My Fundays 07-05-2008

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By Bhanu Athaiya She won an Oscar for costume designing in the acclaimed film, Gandhi. The only active Indian member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, her recent works include costume designing for the film Lagaan AS TOLD TO SMITA LALA
  • Published 7.05.08

I had a fairytale childhood. I grew up in Kolhapur, which was a princely state at that time, complete with all its pomp and pageantry. I often saw horses and elephants on my way to school.

I remember those magnificent processions, with elephants all dressed up, horses with uniformed guards on them and cheetahs. The maharajah would be at the centre of it all, followed by guards in all their finery walking behind his rath.

Though I was born into an orthodox Brahmin family, where everybody studied the ancient sciences, it was my father, Anna Saheb, who broke the rules by taking up fine arts. I lost him when I was nine years old. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around him. He painted portraits in oil in the academic style. When he would finish painting, he would call me to clean his brushes and palette. I loved the job and did it sincerely. Even now it is one of my fondest memories.

My family lived in a 300-year-old house with a huge courtyard and balconies surrounding it. It belonged to my ancestors since the time the great warrior Shivaji’s daughter-in-law founded Kolhapur. And — before you ask — no, there weren’t any ghosts in it. I guess the ruckus we seven siblings created scared all of them away!

On Sunday afternoons, all of us children, including the ones from the neighbourhood, would come together and watch dancing bears and monkeys perform tricks. Sometimes a man would show up with his magic box into which you could peep to see pictures of the Gateway of India and other images from the days of the British Raj, such as grand ballroom dances. While we watched, he sang: ‘‘Bodiya Bandar (as the Gateway is called in Hindi) dekho, raja ki rani dekho, rani ki naach dekho...’’ It was fascinating for us to watch European ladies dance in their gorgeous ballroom dresses. When the show would get over, we would clap our hands in glee.

To cut a long story short, I have had a beautiful childhood and the memories still linger on.

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