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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Jaya Mehta, 2015 December 16.
Inline Map:
Oral history with Jaya Mehta, 2015 December 16.
Mehta, Jaya, 1933- and Saleem, Sobia
Author (no Collectors):
Mehta, Jaya, 1933-, Saleem, Sobia, Saleem, Sobia, and Saleem, Sobia
Corporate Author:
California Humanities
Mrs. Jaya Mehta, nee Jaya Patel, was born in Vadodara, now known as Baroda, India on May 15th, 1933. Because her father was a businessman, her family traveled quite a bit with him between places likes Baroda, Bombay, and even East Africa, where Mrs. Mehta spent a few years of her childhood. Mainly, however, her family lived in Bombay. Hers was a unique family: they had seven siblings from three different mothers. Her father’s first wife had had four children before passing away in childbirth; then her father remarried, but his second wife passed away during the birth of their first child. Mrs. Mehta’s mother had two children and remained the mother for the youngest three-four children. Mrs. Mehta’s elder half sisters were already married by this time, and one had moved away from their family in Bombay to live in Baroda with her husband. Mrs. Mehta’s siblings got along so well with each other—despite their differences in mothers—that they became a role model family for her Gujarati community in Bombay. Mrs. Mehta cannot speak of her childhood without speaking fondly of her father, Mr. Somabhai Patel. When asked how it was that her various siblings got along so well with each other, without hesitating Mrs. Patel credits her father, in her words the man who helped shaped who she is today. He was a very commensensical and practical man. Every evening, he made sure the whole family had dinner together, and every weekend, he also made sure they went to a drive together either to the beach, which was not so crowded in those days, or to their farmlands, 11,000 acres of primarily cotton. Mr. Patel stressed the importance of an education to both his sons and his daughters, supporting two of his daughters in becoming practicing doctors. The environment in the Patel house was, also quite uniquely, one of morals but not religion, something unheard of in those days. However, because Mr. Patel was well-respected within their community, no one bothered him in hs ways, even when most of his children had small civil ceremonies rather than grand religious weddings. Mr. Patel also instilled a sense of independence and health in his children, telling them that even if they wanted a cup of water, they should fetch it themselves, and they shouldn’t eat street food, but fruits with thick skins only when purchasing food on the street. Mrs. Mehta herself was not so fond of studying and reading, so one summer, she took a vacation with her sister and Mr. and Mrs. Sevenoaks to Europe by sea to various countries like the United Kingdom and Austria, among others. She speaks of how, even at 19, she would get into amusement parks as a child because of her thin figure—however, she also speaks of how she would get carded when they went to an over-18-only place and would have to carry her passport accordingly. Mrs. Mehta’s hair was a incredibly long when she was young and even into her middle age—it would near reach the ground! She would turn heads wherever she went and catch people’s attention. One time on her European trip, when they were trying to cross the border, the two guards were arguing amongst each other before they approached her in the vehicle. “We can’t decide,” they said to her and her sister, “if you two are twins!” They couldn’t believe it! Mrs. Mehta’s sister’s hair also cascaded down at least to her knees. The Sevenoaks were kind to the girls, making sure to explain local customs to them, like kissing on the hands as a form of greeting, so that they wouldn’t be alarmed as they passed through different countries, like Austria. During the time of the Partition, Mrs. Mehta says that she herself was not very involved. Her father had a strict rule—education first, everything else after. Thus some of the younger Patel siblings, the students in her family, were even sent away from Bombay to Baroda by her father during that tumultous time to continue studing. Mrs. Mehta recalls though that her elder sisters, who were married and had already completed their studies, were somewhat involved as citizens and activists in the Partition. Following the news and advice of the Indian National Congress, they bought a spinning wheel to spin their yarn and threads to make their own clothing, like Gandhiji was encouraging people to do. They would make themselves simple clothes and wear them until they were tattered all in an effort to make sure they didn’t purchase the British’s mechanically produced cloth. Her sisters would also attend some of the protests and rallies. A few of those, Mrs. Mehta remembers, were right next to their home. The Britsh soldiers and militia would come and beat the legs of those who were injured quite badly. She remembers her father would open their home up to these injured rally and protest attendees and that her family would tend to them and care for them. Bombay had always been a cosmopolitan city and would always be one, according to Mrs. Mehta, so she didn’t feel that it changed very much after the Partition. The Sindhi population in the city increased, and with them, they brought their love for education and built universities around the city. They were also very good embroidery- men and women, and hence with the influx of their populations, Bombay’s embroidered and designed clothing and styles boomed. All in all, Mrs. Mehta says, the changes were small, but whoever migrated to the big city brought with them all the positives and good things about their culture and shared them with the city and its inhabitants. Bombay is where Mrs. Mehta has spent the majority of her life. As a child, she enjoyed attending the Kite Flying Festival on the 14th of January where the children would fly kites and eat sweets, like peanut and sesame brittle. She also loved celebrating Garba with her Gujarati community in Bombay. During Garba, Mrs. Mehta would be able to sing, a passion which naturally ignited in her from the tender age of four, and dance dandian, a two-stick spinning dance style; she also loved the little gifts of metal utensils they would receive at the event. Bombay was where Mrs. Mehta dated her husband for six years; it’s where she eventually married her husband; it’s where she sang on the radio and modeled saris; it’s where she had a her daughter; it’s where she decided to learn to sing formally by moving to Baroda to attending a five-year singing program; and it’s where she finally decided, after her husband passed, that she would give up her life in India to move to America to be with her daughter in 2003. However, Mrs. Mehta has not slowed down one bit since her move to the States. Because of the sense of independence her father instilled in her, she’s learned to adapt, begin new projects, and never be bored. These days, Mrs. Mehta is still quite active: she drives herself, cooks vegetarian meals for her family four days a week, gives the seniors at the India Community Center singing lessons, has a weekly bridge troupe, puts on fundraising Bollywood dance numbers in which she’s often center stage, and is working to collect various memories and stories in to compile her family’s history. Of course, she also manages to share her love with her daugher and two grandchildren.
Filmed interviews and History
Hindi, Urdu, and English
Physical Description:
4 video files
Publication Info:
Fremont (Calif.)
Fremont (Calif.), December 16, 2015
Filmed interviews