A Family History.

The Guptara family starts with Professor Murli Manohar Guptara (died 1957), who changed his name to "Guptara", from "Gupt" or "Aggarwal" (the two usual surnames for our previous family, though these names have various spellings nowadays in English, since English is a non-phonetic language).

He did this because he did not believe in caste (Gupt and Aggarwal are both caste-names). "Guptara" is a name with a meaning, from the original "Gupt" which, literally, means "hidden" and "Tara" which literally means "star". Thus, "hidden star". Professor M.M. Guptara was in reality a hidden star. As for the rest of us, history has yet to make a judgment.

Professor M.M. Guptara's father, Lala Ram Swarup Aggarwal, used to reside at 30 Beharipur, Bareilly. From that, we guess that the family originally comes from Bihar, which was once much richer than what became known as the Upper Provinces under British rule (or Uttar Pradesh now).

As far as we know, Professor M. M. Guptara is the first member of our family to have studied abroad (MA English, Oxford, U.K.). He was also the first person in our family line *not* to have been a businessman!

However, the business interest was re-established when his son, Professor Prabhu Guptara, established a consultancy in the UK (Prabhu Guptara Associates, which later transmuted into ADVANCE: Management Training Ltd.); and when Professor Guptara's son, Ranjeet, established King's Kurry, an Indian restaurant, in Zurich, Switzerland, with the vision of creating a chain of Indian restaurants across Europe.

Professor M.M. Guptara's first wife was extremely traditional, and he decided to separate from her as it became intolerable for him to live with her, primarily as she used to smash all the nice crockery if people outside the caste were home for a drink or a meal - as the utensils had of course become ceremonially unclean.

Professor M. M. Guptara's second wife, Chinamma Ninan ("Rani"), hailed from Pennukkara, near Chengannur, in central Kerala. She was descended from a line of Christians going back to the conversion of one of the 7 priests in one of the high temples in Kerala due to the preaching of St Thomas in the first century AD. That family history has been researched, and has been published in the Malayalam language of Kerala, south India. Efforts are being made to translate this family history into English.

Unfortunately, no family history on the Bareilly side of the family has been published or even researched. However, Professor Prabhu Guptara remembers, as a child, a visit to the family priests in the hills. The institution of family priests in our family collapsed in our family sometime in the 70s, I would guess - approximately when family priests also stopped in other Hindu families in India. According to one of Professor M.M. Guptara's brothers, just before he died in December 2003, the institution of family priests died out because of two parallel and very sad developments: first, "no one wants to be a priest nowadays, everyone wants to have a "proper" job"; second, "no family wants to pay its priests enough to make it worth their while to be priests" (traditionally, the system of payments was quite modest but was enough to enable a priest to keep body and soul together for himself and his family). Today, there are no family priests, as far as I can discover, except in richer of the erstwhile royal families of India. It was the job of the family priests to keep the genealogical records of the family. Theoretically, therefore, it is possible that the records relating to the family on Professor M.M. Guptara's side of the family exist somewhere.

Professor M.M. Guptara and Mrs Rani Guptara had 3 children. The eldest, Prabhu, is the person whose portrait this is. The second, another son, Raja, lives with his wife and children in Austria. The third, a daughter, Prabhi, finished her education at Delhi University, married and emigrated to the USA, and joined, by examination, the US Foreign Service. She was posted by the State Department to many countries, including the Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya, and Paris. She was killed in the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998. She is survived by her husband, the Hon. Howard Kavaler, and by two daughters, Tara and Maya.

Poems by Professor Prabhu Guptara

AN ALIEN, I . . .

I use your disguises:
close my mouth and ears
on every train and bus.

Occasionally, I break out,
wear gold and silk and khaddar ,

when you don't look at me
a little more energetically than usual

and the seat next to me
is always the last to be occupied.

Note: khaddar is hand-made cloth, made from cotton usually spun at home

Published in Masala ( South Asian children's anthology), edited by Debjani Chatterjee, Macmillan, 2005
_________________________________________

AN INDIAN IN BEATENBERG, SWITZERLAND

I saw her new engagement ring
she the photo of my children,
Roger, a grandfather, drew on a cigar.

We amble downhill as, there in the hotel,
a globe glitters silver to the light
red and blue, and crowded bodies
writhe to the smoky insistence of a dead rhythm.

I'd ordered a coke and fumbled
when the waitress returned my change,
not knowing whether to tip.

The night is still, the sky is vast,
The lights shimmer down there on the lake.
The air is crisp, it whispers in the trees.

"Speak!" says the voice in my heart.

But I am more silent than the night.

We talk of the peculiar "croikh" of footsteps on winter snow.

An airplane winks its way across the stars.

__________________________________________

Between Zurich and Goa*

"I can let go", he said,
"And that's the key to my success"

I can't, and that is mine.
I start at every Indian girl
About your height or face
Or build; long hair, I hardly stand;
Or red on forehead, sari, blouse,
your colour, dress or style.
And every teen, I see in you -
Though you'd be fifty now - each child.
That perfume on the air, the room;
The breeze!... and I'm undone.

The difference twixt us is
he knows his stuff, has won a lot
of cash, so much he hardly knows
his currencies and bonds,
his hedges, properties,
shares, futures, options, swaps,
territories or land.

He's won so much he doesn't see
how much he's lost by letting go;

he'll lose so much, and one day soon,
he won't see what he won.

I lost so much by knowing you, so much - in time;
But soon one day - past time - we'll live what we have won.

Prabhu Guptara

* 3 December is what used to be my sister's birthday. The poem was written in Zurich, while I was preparing to go to Goa for a family holiday. He was an invited speaker at a business luncheon, a bachelor about my age.

____________________________________________

BOASTING, ALL ROASTING

How large is my kingdom, said the Russian
Stretching half across the globe, all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

And how many there are in my kingdom?, cried the Chinese
One out of every four!

But mine is the richest, laughed the Indian
One of every three coins in the world is mine!

Come, come, said the American
I can get you all with my gun, don't you see
It fires faster and further than you can dream.

 (There is an Indian tradition of tales told in Hell ( naraka ), in which souls - though condemned - continue in their stupidity, indulging in a sort of boasting competition)

______________________________________________

COMMONPLACE

I passed by
blood on the road -
lots of it.

Out of the corner of my eye
I glanced at you:
but you looked past it all
as if there was nothing there.

They told us that a hundred and fifty feet further
the bus had been stopped by a wall.
Three schoolboys had been killed.
Two were in a coma.

An hour later
when I came that way again
the policemen had gone.
The crowd had disappeared.

There was not even
any blood
on the road.
____________________________________________

"Freeze!"
(Meditation on my father's funeral pyre, on his death anniversary, 25 March 2006)

Over is the game
when God blows the whistle
but the timing's always wrong

however long and late in coming
however tragically short:
the keeper's arm rising to the incoming ball
or the ball flying right for the goal with the keeper turning late

suddenly one sees each life
however strange and twisted

all the hopes, ambitions, fears, desires
instantly chipped out

chiselled into
revealing shape

the man, the woman, child
hale or hurt, privileged, differently-abled
black, blue, brown, yellow, red
or whoever beyond, between

inside-out or outside in

each motive, thought,
finally, now blazing clear
_______________________________________

Article and Poems Used with Permission

To read more about Professor Prabhu Guptara and his poems, please click:

Professor Prabhu Guptara website

Professor Prabhu Guptara blogspot