‘Despite Partition, Only Love’: 90-Year-Old Revisits Childhood Home in Pakistan

75 years after she left her ancestral home, Reena crossed the Attari-Wagah border to return to revisit 'Prem Nivas.'

4 min read

Editor: Harpal Singh Rawat, Pawan Kumar

Senior Editor: Shelly Walia


(This story was first published on 21 July 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives to mark India's 76th Independence Day anniversary.)

Ninety-year-old Reena Verma's 75-year wait came to an end on 16 July 2022, as she crossed the Attari-Wagah border to revisit her childhood home in Pakistan's Rawalpindi. Her family had sent a 15-year-old Reena and her siblings to Solan in March 1947 – just a few months ahead of the partition.

At that time, neither her, nor her family had imagined that they would never return home.

"For at least 23 years, my mother used to say that we will go back home – 'Earlier, there was British Raj, now Muslims will govern us. It doesn’t mean that we won’t go back home.' Ever since I received the visa, or since I applied for the visa, basically, if anybody asks me, I have been living in Pindi, in my home. Those memories are returning. Of my family...of everyone," Reena Verma told The Quint.

Living by herself in Pune, she took a walk down memory lane, ahead of her much-awaited trip to Rawalpindi.

Growing Up in 'Pindi'

Reena grew up as 'Toshi,' with three sisters and two brothers – in a mixed-culture environment, music of Talat Mahmood, and lots of books. Her father was in government services and the family spent their summer holidays in Mari, a hill station now in Pakistan, and winter holidays in Lahore.

"My father had very progressive ideas. He never differentiated among my siblings. Be it studies or any other matter... My elder sister lived in a hostel in Lahore and completed her BABT teacher's training in 1937. Our father never stopped us. He wanted us to study as much as we wanted. He was very ambitious. He wanted to send one of us to Shantiniketan because at that time he was a huge fan of Rabindranath Tagore."
Reena Verma

'Riots Started in February, March'

But the partition changed a lot for families like Toshi's. While she and her siblings were sent to Solan in March 1947, her parents joined them in July.

"Riots started in February-March 1947. People were quite scared. Seniors knew that something was going to happen. We were kids, so we did not know. On our road, everybody used to be ready all the time. Turn by turn, at night also, people used to be on watch duty," Verma told The Quint.

"There was a big house, and we had cleared space. Everyone was given instructions that if anyone hears a bugle, everyone has to gather in that space. We used to be ready even at night – in case we might have to go (to that house) as we were just kids. My mother once got stuck outside. She went out when riots broke out. Our tailor, who was Muslim... His name was Shafi. He quickly hid her in his shop and gave her shelter there. She stayed there for six hours. After the riots ended, he dropped her home."
Reena Verma

'My Education Was Affected by Partition'

Partition also meant that it took their family time to come to terms with the fact that they would never return to Rawalpindi – their homeland.

"It took some time to figure out that we are never going back. Our parents suffered a lot. My father had already retired when the partition happened. And after coming here he couldn’t work. The pension was really low. The money he had in all three bank accounts was lost."
Reena Verma

"Because my brother was in the army, we got lodging. That is why I say we did not face horrific conditions that many others did. But my studies were heavily affected. I had finished my metric there. Therefore, at least I finished school. However, in 1946 I did my metric and after that in 1956, I graduated college," Verma recalled.


'People Of Pakistan Are Just Like Us'

Despite everything that her family went through, she had no hatred for anyone – because she was never told that "certain people were bad."

"When Pakistan was established, despite everything we went through as a family, I was told that people are not bad. Whatever situation comes you must handle it as it is," she said.

"The people of Pakistan – they are just like us. They also want to meet us. We also want to meet them. Now the government only knows and religious people know, why do they do this? It should not be done like this. We should respect each other’s religion. Only then we can live together."
Reena Verma

It was also the people of Pakistan, who made the trip possible for her.


How a Facebook Group Helped Her Find Her Childhood Home

Ever since she came to India, Toshi wanted to visit Pakistan. She made attempts several times, including in 1965, almost two decades after she arrived in India, when she got a special India-Pakistan passport but did not take the trip due to personal reasons.

In 2022, she joined the India-Pakistan Heritage Club – a group on Facebook – and posted about her desire to find her ancestral home.

"Mr Sajaad Husaain from the group told me that if I tell him where my house used to be, he will find it. And finding my house was not difficult at all because it is surrounded by a lot of landmark buildings. I explained to him clearly and he located my house and sent me pictures."
Reena Verma to The Quint

She immediately applied for a visa, but it was rejected in March 2022. She, however, did not lose hope. In May this year, the Pakistan High Commission in India issued a three-month visa to the nonagenarian after a video story of Reena Verma, done by the Independent Urdu, went viral on social media.

"I have the courage to travel all alone to Pakistan in this age, because the people there have shown me so much love. I genuinely feel like I am going back home," Verma told The Quint.

When she crossed the Attari-Wagah border on 16 July, members of the Facebook group not only welcomed her, but travelled with her to Rawalpindi, to help the 90-year-old relive old memories, and create new ones.

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