TEXT BY NEHA BERRY AND NAVDHA MALHOTRA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NEHA BERRY
New Delhi, India
We are nine grandchildren to my grandparents and I can happily claim that I was their most favourite. I spent the most time with them and by virtue of that heard a number of scintillating stories from them. Along with their stories, I have inherited my nana and nani’s token of love – a simple ring that spoke volumes of their love for each other.
My grandparents reached Delhi separately with their families in 1947 as refugees, but their love story had begun long before that. They had met in Bahawalpur, a city located in the Punjab province of what is now Pakistan. Both teenagers at that time, my nani was a little wary and shy of the flirty attentions from my nana. But the families knew each other, and there was no escaping the meetings and proposals that my nana continued to put forth in an innocently hopeful manner. In this innocent hopefulness, and with stars in his eyes, he did what he knew most British suitors to do – bought a ring with his meagre savings. He hadn’t started earning yet, so had to really convince his mother to contribute.
However, before he could present this ‘token of love’ to my nani, the horrors of partition took place. There were no more meetings, no more talks and no further opportunities to present the ring and say all that he held in his heart. Their families arrived in Delhi but nana was in a refugee camp and nani in her brother’s house. He thought he would never see her again, until he met Lalaji, her father who was screening the refugee camp, trying to find lost relatives. Of course, he was not going to be as forward as asking about her, but he did enquire about everyone’s safe arrival and heaved a sigh of relief when Lalaji answered in the affirmative.
Fate, it seems, had always had plans for them. They were meant for each other. Not one to give up easily, my nana still carried the ring around expectantly. As soon as he got himself a good job and moved out of the refugee camp, he visited nani’s family, hoping that she had not married anyone else yet. She hadn’t! And to top it all, her father was impressed with the speed with which my nana had managed to settle himself in life. He himself proposed that he would like nana to be his son-in-law.
Being on cloud nine would have been an understatement. Nana was on hundreds of them. He quietly slipped the ring to nani when no one was looking. Or so he thought! The incident remained a point of pulling my nana’s leg by all the relatives whenever they met. A product that was made in the lanes of Bahawalpur in Pakistan, had now found its rightful place on the delicate finger of a petite beautiful Indian woman.
My nani never took that ring off. A ring is not a symbol of marriage, love and faithfulness in the Hindu heritage. The Sindoor is. But my nana had always been way ahead of his times and he set a new trend for all to follow. And nani had revised her earlier opinion of him and fell madly in love with him. The ring stayed with them as their token of love for each other.
Nana often told me this story and I never tired of it. Nani would always second it. My first understanding of love came from the both of them. As I grew older with them, nani separated some of her jewellery and made it known to everyone that these would be passed on to me along with the ring. And I have worn the ring ever since she left us. Every time I look at it, I remember them and their simple, unaffected, long-lasting love for each other.