In India, People & lifestyle

1914, the year my Grandmother was born

This year my Aita ( grandmother in Assamese) turned 100. She is not in the best of health and remained largely unaware of this historic moment. After the initial excitement and all the ‘ wow to live to be a 100’ tapered off , I was curious to know what India was like in 1914, what had happened that has left a mark today, events etc.


Images of rural Indian girls taken in 1914. Photographer unknown



Kaikhusrau Jahan, Begum of Bhopal 1901 to 1926

From Aita I had learned that life in the village as she was growing up followed a slow pace where traditions were passed down the generations and followed, the patriarchal head ruled over all the members of the joint family and men outranked women. Most of the population of Assam were Vaishnavite Hindus and members of a local devotional center called “nam ghar” or “the house of names” (of God) . People gathered here to chant the names of god though not a religious place of worship but more a place of learning .The caste system, although it exists, was not as prominent as in other parts of India. The most important social and cultural celebrations were the three Bihu festivals were a lot of merry-making and feasting happened and the whole village joined in.


A woman working on a loom similar to the one used by my Grandmother

She went to a Pathsala, an educational institute run by the local Panchayat (village administration) and stopped once she attained puberty. Instructions were given in Assamese and Sanskrit. The Christian missionaries were yet to set up schools in Assam. As kids growing up with her cousins, they were dimly aware of the British but the presence of the Raj rule was not felt in their daily dealings in the village till later.  At home she was taught to weave using fine silks and cotton , creating intricate designs on a simple make shift  loom. She self-taught herself to use a graph paper to draft her patterns. There were many chores to perform around the house, helping in the kitchen and obeying elders.


Sikh soldiers in Europe during World war 1


Newly arrived Indian soldiers , World war 1



Under the Imperial rule and as part of the British colony, troops from India were sent to participate  in World war 1 against the Germans. A quote from Wikipedia – ”  The Indian army during World War I was the largest voluntary army in the world, contributed  to the European, Mediterranean and the Middle East stages of war in World War I. Over one million Indian troops served overseas, of whom 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded. In total at least 74,187 Indian soldiers died during the war “.


Postage of British India


Postage of French India


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, after participating in the civil rights movement in South Africa, returned to India in 1914 and the following year spearheaded the Indian Independence movement.

gandhi--621MUYx414 edit3

The British convoked a conference at Simla, India to discuss an agreement concerning the boundaries of India and Tibet. The conference was attended by representatives of the Britain, the newly founded Republic of China, and the Tibetan government at Lhasa. A boundary between Tibet,and British  India was drawn on a map later known as the McMahon line and reference to in the treaty – THE SIMLA ACCORD , that was signed by India and Tibet. The representatives of China rejected the accord and withdrew. Both the governments of Tibet and India then made a note denying China any privilege under the accord. Even today China continues to reject the accord and claims that a part of what is now Arunachal Pradesh ( a state in India) belongs to them.


The Pamban bridge

Efforts were taken for the construction of the bridge as early as the 1870s with the British administration planning to expand trade connectivity to Sri Lanka, then known as  Ceylon.
However, the construction of the rail line commenced only by 1911 and it was on February 24, 1914 that the rail bridge was commissioned. The Pamban bridge was the only link between Rameswaram and the mainland until 1988 when a road bridge, running parallel to it, was built.


Packaging from 1914


1914 cigarette packet


Label for a beer , 1914


1914 John Morris, India’s first fire engine for the Nizam ‘s Railway


                               image and source courtesy –;;


9 thoughts on “1914, the year my Grandmother was born

  1. Deepali Kosta says:

    Hey Julie,
    What an amazing piece of writing…absolutely solid research. I am from Bhopal…but this was the first time I had a glimpse of Begum of Bhopal. Regards to your Aita!
    Please do keep writing😀

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