Reena Verma was only 15 years old when she left her childhood home 'Prem Nivas' in Pakistan's Rawalpindi. Her family sent her siblings and her to Solan in March 1947 – just months ahead of the partition.
On Sunday, 16 July, more than 75 years after she left her ancestral home, Reena crossed the Attari-Wagah border to return to revisit 'Prem Nivas.'
"I am beyond thrilled. All my life I dreamed of this. I wanted to return to my home, the street," Reena Verma, who now lives in Pune, and has travelled to Pakistan by herself, told The Quint.
"For at least two-three 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 mom. Those memories are returning. Of my family...of everyone."Reena Verma told The Quint
How a Facebook Group Helped Her Find a Home
Reena, also known as 'Toshi', attempted to visit Pakistan several times in the past. In 1965, almost two decades after she arrived in India, she wanted got a special India-Pakistan passport but did not take the trip due to personal reasons.
Earlier 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 visa but was rejected in March 2022. But she did not lose hope. In May this year, the Pakistani High Commission issued a three-month visa to the 90-year-old after a video story of Reena, done by the Independent Urdu, went viral on social media.
Growing Up in Pindi & Partition
Growing up, Reena was surrounded by a a mixture of cultures, music of Talat Mahmood, and lots of books. She shared her childhood with two brothers, four sisters, and friends from all religions.
"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."
But the partition changed a lot for families like Toshi's. While her siblings and her came to Solan in March 1947, her parents joined them in July.
"Our parents suffered a lot. My father had already retired when the Partition happened. After coming here, he couldn’t work. The pension was really low. The money he had in all three bank accounts was lost. But because my brother was in the Army, we managed lodging in Pune."
"That is why I say that we did not face horrific conditions that many others did. But my studies were affected. I had finished my metric there. Therefore, at least I had finished school. However, in 1946 I did my metric and after that in 1956, I graduated from college,"
'People Of Pakistan Are Just Like Us'
But despite everything that her family went through, her family had no hatred for anyone – because her family always maintained that never told her 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,"
"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 to The Quint
"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."