Magic in the heart - 'Jeo'
Updated: Apr 26
“Give me your hand please.” “I wanted to say thank you”, and he softly planted a kiss on Nanima’s hand.
Such moments of endearment, love and respect were scattered throughout their lives and inherently through ours. My maternal grandparents, Nanima and Wade Papa, were poles apart in their personalities and yet I can imagine them with no one else. It is often beguiling to see the rich web of experiences the two of them built together.
My grandfather was the eldest of four children and he loved aeronautics. He was training to be a pilot when his mother had a nightmare of him dying in a crash. He decided to change ‘course’ by training to be an aeronautical engineer instead. He completed his education in England and during his studies, he found a new passion of shooting. He was regarded as a great shot and he often went shooting with princes and maharajas of the world. He was a handsome man, and coupled with his charm, he was THE man. However, he was very clear that he would do as his family told him to when it came to marriage. His faith as a Sikh was strong and he wanted to be able to live by the principles of his faith throughout his life. He was looking for a life partner that would help him achieve that, and lo and behold, he found my grandmother.
My grandmother was the eldest of three children and she was fortunate to have a family that supported her studies. Born in Lahore, she had built a life with her family in Patiala after the Partition. Her mother was a strict figure, who told her daughters to not smile for photos because men will cut the photos to put in their wallets later. Principles and discipline were a way of life for my grandmother, and she proudly upheld them. One day when she was leaving her college in Patiala to walk back home with her friends, a man asked her –“Are you Sardar Dharam Singh’s daughter?” She remembered her mother’s advice and with a respectful yet stern voice, she said, “Yes, I am. How can I help you?” She couldn’t help but notice the handsome yet shy man behind him and wondered what this could be about. “Could you please take us to your home? I am here to meet your father.”, he said. Six weeks later, my grandparents were married.
From the get-go, it was clear to my grandmother that her life in Patiala was very different from the life in Hyderabad, where my grandfather was working. He had societal norms he needed to follow in his line of work and she rose to the occasion with grace. This did not go unnoticed by my grandfather and he made sure she knew his appreciation. He encouraged my grandmother to complete her education, taught her how to drive, how to shoot, how to manage societal obligations and she did so with aplomb. She in turn taught him Gurmukhi and took him through scriptures of Sikhism to fortify his faith.
My grandfather was working for the Indian national airline, Air India, and that took the entire family across the world. They called Australia, Zurich, Cairo and Tehran their homes over a course of many years. During this time, my grandparents transitioned into globetrotters and they travelled as a couple and as a family as often as they could. Looking back at pictures of this time, you can see how my grandmother blossomed into an independent and charismatic woman. She was so put together and elegant that I aspire to achieve that poise till today.
A woman wearing a salwar kameez with a woolen coat, leather gloves, and a leather handbag at her elbow eating Gelato in Switzerland cut quite an amazing figure. She would often quote Marilyn Monroe that “Your clothes should be tight enough to show that you’re a woman but loose enough to show that you’re a lady.” Her fashion evolved a lot over the years, but her sense of style was consistent. Style is a deeply personal expression and it is all about attitude. Her style was crisp, clean, adaptable and fuss free. When she was going skiing, she was wearing ski pants with a faux fur coat and boots, and when she was at an embassy function, she was wearing a printed chiffon sari. My grandfather understood her style soon and in fact a lot of her heirloom pieces were bought by him for her. Her attitude towards fashion also enabled her to maintain her pieces in an amazing condition over the years.
Once they retired in Kasauli, life slowed down but their unswerving love and respect for each other continued. I often wondered what a love like theirs feels like and in my naivety, I posed this question to my grandfather. He quoted Henry Ward Beecher saying “Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable.” Both of them are no longer with us to cherish in person but the memories they have left behind can be woven into an heirloom itself. That one word is enough to help weave the magic in my heart – 'Jeo'.