Meena Kumari to Milkha Singh: 10 Rare Pics That Capture India’s Glorious History

history pictures of famous personalities in science, art and culture

Art, science and sports would never have been the same without these personas. Through their contributions, they took India to the global stage.

There is a fascination of sorts with going back in time through the annals of history and observing how the past has shaped the present. 

These nuggets of history present us with a colourful account of the years that have gone by, along with pinpointing the iconic moments along the way. 

Here are a few interesting stories of people who made significant contributions to fields spanning science, art and sports, which have come to be celebrated worldwide. 

1. R K Laxman

R K Laxman and R K Narayan, the brothers who gave the world literature classics as well as drawings
R K Laxman and R K Narayan, Picture credits: The Better India

As a college student, R K Laxman illustrated his older brother’s stories in a leading newspaper. After college, Laxman also went on to make sketches for the television adaptation of Malgudi Days written by R K Narayan.⁠

While in school, Laxman was an avid enthusiast of drawing and is said to have made drawings on the floors, walls and doors of his house and even caricatures of his teachers at school.

2. Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy 

Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy, pioneers of candid photography
Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy, Picture credits: The Better India

While candid photography has become popular today, very few know of the two sisters who introduced the world to it. 

Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy were initiated into photography by their father Binode Behari Sen Roy, a school principal. During this time, staged photographs were very popular but following portable cameras becoming available in the market, the sisters began capturing their daily lives. 

⁠“After Debalina and Manobina got married, their photographic pursuits had to be accommodated within their growing responsibilities as wives and mothers amidst new households in Calcutta and Bombay,” Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre said in a release.⁠

3. Sports legends 

Sporting legends Major Dhyan Chand, Milkha Singh and Dara Singh
Sporting legends, Picture credits: The Better India

In this frame, sporting legends Major Dhyan Chand, one of the greatest field hockey players in history, Milkha Singh, the field sprinter who came to be known as ‘The Flying Sikh’ due to his speed, and Dara Singh, the Indian wrestler, can be seen. 

The three legends’ contributions to history and India’s sporting scene, both individually and cumulatively, have been celebrated through the years

4. A musical trio

The musical trio that won the hearts of the world, Mohammed Rafi,  Shankar-Jaikishan, Shammi Kapoor
The musical trio that won the hearts of the world, Picture credits: The Better India

Songs like ‘Yahoo!’ were sung by Mohammed Rafi, while they were matched by fast-paced compositions by duo Shankar-Jaikishan and electrifying dance steps by late actor Shammi Kapoor.⁠

⁠This brilliance of Shankar-Jaikishan coupled with Shammi and Rafi created magic onscreen with Brahmachari (1968), which landed the best performance Filmfare award.⁠

⁠While Shankar-Jaikishan have been associated with 125 songs for the actor, it was the golden voice of Rafi that reached his soul. Together, the trio impacted generations and people still reminisce and groove to Shammi Kapoor’s dance styles. 

5. Philomena Thumboochetty 

Philomena Thumboochetty, the daughter of the ‘Huzur’ secretary of the Maharaja of Mysore
Philomena Thumboochetty, Picture credits: The Better India

Philomena Thumboochetty, the daughter of the ‘Huzur’ secretary of the Maharaja of Mysore, was a musical genius. When she was just a teenager, she took the fellowship examination offered by Trinity College London and was awarded 98 per cent. 

The examiner admitted that he had some difficulty in refraining from giving her the full score. ⁠

⁠The Indian violinist went on to be chosen for admission to the famed Paris Conservatoire and was the youngest and the first from India to do so.⁠

Legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin once said to her, “You still play perfectly in tune”. ⁠

6. ⁠An epic film crew 

The film Sadgati based on a story written by Munshi Premchand
The film Sadgati, Picture credits: The Better India

The masterpiece ‘Sadgati’ (1981) was based on a story written by Munshi Premchand, adapted for the screen by Satyajit Ray, and featured two wonderful actors Om Puri and Smita Patil in the lead roles. 

The film was produced by Doordarshan and telecasted on television. Dukhiya, essayed by Om Puri, and his wife Jhuria, essayed by Smita Patil, are looking to get their daughter married. When Dukhiya goes to the village priest, the latter asks that he work for him for free. 

The film portrays the evils of untouchability and the caste system that were prevalent. 

7. The first Indian soap opera

India's first soap opera show, ‘Hum Log’
India’s first soap opera show, ‘Hum Log’, Picture credits: The Better India

India’s first soap opera show, ‘Hum Log’ was aimed at the middle class of society and the struggles they endured. 

Seema Pahwa, who played one of the lead characters of Badki, was quoted saying, “The honesty portrayed in these stories successfully reached people. The number of shots or the technology did not matter because the content was important, and that’s the main reason why people remember ‘Hum Log’ fondly to date.⁠”

8. The first women doctors 

 Anandi Gopal Joshi, Kei Okami and Sabat Islambooly – the first women doctors of India, Japan and Syria
Anandi Gopal Joshi, Kei Okami and Sabat Islambooly – the first women doctors of India, Japan and Syria, Picture credits: The Better India

In the frame are Anandi Gopal Joshi, Kei Okami and Sabat Islambooly – the first women doctors of India, Japan and Syria, respectively.⁠

⁠The three were alumni of the first women’s medical college in the world, the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), and became licensed doctors in the late 1800s.⁠

⁠But what stands out is Anandi’s story. 

Married at the age of nine to a much older husband, Anandi lost her child at a tender age to the unavailability of medical care in India. This incident made her decide to pursue a career in medicine.⁠

⁠Although she died at the age of 21, she was able to inspire more women to pursue healthcare in India. ⁠Sabat moved to Cairo after graduation, while Kei headed a gynaecology unit in a Tokyo Hospital. However, she chose to resign when the Emperor did not respect her enough as a doctor because she was a woman.⁠

9. ⁠Meena Kumari 

Meena Kumari, a veteran actress of Hindi cinema
Meena Kumari, Picture credits: The Better India

Described as ‘historically incomparable actress’ of Hindi cinema, Meena Kumari was put into films at a very young age, while other children were sent to school. 

Once she was asked about how she felt that since the age of four, she was working in films, she said, “I never chose it; I was pushed to choose it because of the circumstances. I wanted to go to school and study, become a doctor, lawyer, or something. But circumstances made me a film actress.”

⁠Meena Kumari’s career had her starring in over 90 movies. 

10. Johnny Lever 

Johnny Lever, a popular stand up comedian
Johnny Lever, Picture credits: The Better India

John Rao Prakash Rao Janumala was born into a family, where his father would find it difficult to earn enough to sustain the three children. 

⁠Johnny had to leave school when he was in Class 7 to take up odd jobs and earn something. He sold pens, danced on the streets of Mumbai and mimicked Bollywood actors. One day, his father took him along to Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL)’s annual function, where he mimicked some senior officials and this show earned him the nickname Johnny ‘Lever’.  

Soon, he became one of the most popular stand-up comedians in India. ⁠

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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