I’ve spent my journalistic career gathering people’s stories, and never bothered to record my own family’s. My grandmother, Sheela Rani, passed in the first lockdown. I never had the chance to say goodbye. Afterwards, I found comfort in cobbling together her story from my family.
Sheela Rani was abandoned at birth by her father, for the simple crime of being born a girl. Her mother was sent away for daring to create a girl child. We know this to be commonplace in India, it doesn’t just happen to other people. Sheela was lucky enough to be adopted by her grandfather, but grew up without either parent. The ‘Rani’ in her name, a poignant reminder of a father unwilling to give her his last name.
She went on to marry a man crazy for her, and together they made a large family, with seven grandchildren who too, were each crazy for her. Despite her tragic start, she was anything but tragic. Hearty, kind, curious, and always a sport, she’d reclaimed the ‘Rani’ as our chosen matriarch, the centre of our orbits.
Strangely, it transpires that her estranged father was also a jeweller, which might be why she took such great pride in the idea of me making jewellery. And so, I wanted to make something for her. The lyrical Firoza (turquoise), besides being her favourite gemstone, is a gem that’s particularly reminiscent of her time, and significant in our traditional Punjabi jadau. It’s accompanied by Nagine, as she called diamonds, and Moti (pearls). I cherish every piece of jewellery that she passed down to me, all Punjabi jadau, and for this collection, they were my guiding star. ‘Rani’ is a capsule of three pieces, a crown for my queen.
And as I said, my Dadi's story is quite commonplace in India. There are scores of little babies and children left in hospitals, railway stations, parks, alleys. I'm grateful that my grandmother's grandfather adopted her, but I kept wondering, what if he hadn't? All proceeds from Rani will go towards Bal Asha Trust, a Bombay-based home for abandoned and lost children. Bal Asha Trust provides food, shelter, care, education, and often, specialised medical care, for its children. They try to unite children with their biological parents, or help them find an adoptive family. Because what is childhood, but a place to call home.