A Gentle Life:
The Autobiography Of
Naimpalli Sita Shiva Rao
Edited by Pandrang Row
Gentle readers, we present to you a rather unusual chronicle of an Amchi family, originating from occupant of a manorial house in Mangalore, and stretching out through Chennai, Delhi, London, Sweden, UK and Europe and eventually back to Mangalore/Bangalore. "A Gentle Life" is an amazing autobiography of Naimpalli Sita Shiva Rao, transcribed wholly from her memory, and worked into print by a grandson and others.
What strikes a reader are the masses of relatives, friends, eminent personalities, political and distinguished persona who inhabit her mental 'stage'. In this age of nuclear families, the following statement would make for a lot of jaw dropping... " I have 36 nephews and nieces from my siblings. There were hordes of children in the house when I grew up, and couple of aunts as well..." The daughter of a noted family of Mangalore ,and married into another, Sita Shiva Rao vividly describes the life, food, festivals and ambience of days that exist today only in (fading) memories. Marriage into the Naimpalli family brought her to their large mansion/estate called "Shiva Baug"on Mercara Hill in Mangalore. This palatial hilltop structure often hosted visiting English administrators and grandees (before Independence) and eminent Congress leaders, civilians and military officials after 1947. Mahatma Gandhi stayed at the house, as did, later, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and other politicos of that era. The author narrates interactions with many of them.
Sita Shiva Rao's husband, a ranking official in the Imperial Tobacco Company (ITC), was one of the very few India-based functionaries in this pucca sahib company. Travels with him gave her many interesting experiences in Sweden where the couple happened to be on India's Independence Day (1947), in Delhi where they witnessed India's first Republic Day (1950) and in London on the Queen's Coronation day (1953). A truly global experience long before the word became so common!
Summing up her life, she thanks the Almighty for such an excellent memory, which gave her capacity to span the ages - from the bullock cart era to that of planes, cell phones, Skype and emails. The book shows the sociological flows in a community that has rapidly moved out of its landed-agrarian roots to the urban framework of living and thinking. That her life and times coincided with the rise of India's oldest political party, and some of its leaders, gives it a further edge. This unique blending of the traditional and modern is perhaps something that generically (and genetically) characterises the Saraswat community.
Generously peppered with photographs, the book is intersticed with parallel accounts by the successive generations of the Naimpalli family. We leave the rest to your curiosity and imagination!