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HomeGo To PakistanRawalpindi reunion—Pakistan is celebrating 90-year-old Pune woman's homecoming after Partition

Rawalpindi reunion—Pakistan is celebrating 90-year-old Pune woman’s homecoming after Partition

Reena Varma had been trying to obtain a visa since 1965 to visit her Rawalpindi home. Finally, now her dreams have come true thanks to social media.

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New Delhi: From behind the dark brown sunglasses, 90-year-old Pune resident Reena Varma reconciled images from her childhood with the narrow lane in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi, which she walked down for the first time since Partition. She came to a halt at the entrance of a three-story building—her ancestral home—and traced its walls with her fingers, and stood on its balcony, misty-eyed. Her 75-year-old dream was being realised. She was home.

In a video shared by Pakistani journalist Shabbir Dar on social media, Varma could be seen walking down her “childhood street”—Rawalpindi College Road— “Premgali”, on Wednesday but she was not alone. People swarmed around her—the residents, those who came to witness the rare reunion, bystanders, passers-by who were drawn to the sound of dhol, which, for Verma’s frail and petite frame, might as well have matched the loudness of her beating heart. She was smothered with hugs and kisses, and in return, could only join her hands in reverence.

Reena Varma had been trying to obtain a visa since 1965 to visit her Rawalpindi home, where she had lived for the first 15 years of her life till she had to leave in 1945 due to Partition. During the pandemic, she expressed her desire to revisit her home on an open group on Facebook called Punjab Heritage, which aims to unite the people of Punjab from both sides of the border. Her story was noted by one Sajjad bhai from Rawalpindi, who sent her pictures of her house after tracking it down.

For Varma, it brought back memories of her childhood before Partition. “They were a family of eight, with six siblings. She moved to Solan during Partition and her mother hoped that they would go back. But that never happened,” Varma’s daughter Sonal was quoted as saying in The Indian Express.

She went on to add that at the time, her older brother was in the Army and the family moved with him to his postings. “After my mother lost her last sibling, she started to reminisce about her home, her family and her childhood. She had started to recall the minutest of details—the number of rooms in the house, the names of her neighbours there,” said Sonal.

Also Read: An ‘out of Pakistan’ solution for population control—produce kids in non-Muslim nations

A social media success

It took a heartfelt plea on social media for Varma’s dream to visit her home in Pakistan to materialise. Her request for a visa was again turned down earlier this year in March, after which she decided to make a video appeal that went viral in Pakistan.

Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, took cognisance of this event and instructed the Indian High Commission to grant her a visa on 16 July fulfilling Varma’s most “cherished dream.”

Since then, several videos of her journey have also surfaced, where moist-eyed Varma can be seen crossing the Wagah-Attari border with her daughter and interacting with her family and friends in Rawalpindi.

Also Read: Global CEOs losing confidence in Pakistan. Even business hub Karachi has a security problem

‘Make border crossing easier’

Pakistan Observer covered her return and the “rousing welcome”, after which she “went to every room on the second floor of her ancestral home and refreshed her memories.”

“She sang while standing on the balcony and cried remembering her childhood,” the news report added.

The Express Tribune also wrote about the 90-year-old Indian woman reminiscing about her bygone days in her birthplace. “When someone got married, all the children of the street, including me, used to run and there was happiness everywhere. Now, once again, the heart wishes to remove the hatred between Pakistan and India and start living together again,” quoted Varma in the report.

Dawn also published her story emphasising her desire for an easing of visa regimes to facilitate people on both sides of the border. “The visit of the Indian nonagenarian to her ancestral three-storey home tucked away in the narrow alleys of the garrison city has opened a new chapter for the authorities to facilitate citizens of India and Pakistan on humanitarian grounds,” the report said.

In the recently released In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition, oral historian Aanchal Malhotra writes: “A story begins when a memory of Partition is bequeathed from one person to another, or one generation to the next.” Reena Varma is a rare success story of a Partition survivor who has lived to tell the tale of her homecoming.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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