Remembering my 'Jewel'


It was the dark, dreary night of first of November last year in Delhi. I was awake, while the world around was asleep. Calm and tranquility prevailed; the atmosphere was serene, somber and sanguine. In a philosophic reverie, I strongly felt that while all life, sentient or insentient, grows and matures, yet it falls and fades and perhaps is finally forgotten even.

In a jiffy, as it were, a flashback appeared on my memory screen of what had happened on the same date exactly sixty-seven years earlier on November 1, 1947 on a similar cold wintry day in Srinagar, the capital city of India’s northern State of Jammu & Kashmir. It was the auspicious day when I had got tied in nuptial knot to a beautiful, chubby, 18-year-old college-going girl. Her name was Chuni, which in our native language means ‘Jewel’.

Our wedding bells tolled at a time when tribal invasion on Kashmir from across the border had assumed ugly proportions. The Indian army was fighting the invaders barely four to five miles away from the venue where the auspicious marriage ceremony was being performed. Nuptial mantras were being chanted amid the sound and fury of the exchange of gunfire between the Indian troops and the Pakistani invading forces.

Romance on the Battle-front

Since the invaders had plunged the war-torn city of Srinagar into complete darkness by snapping the supply of electricity from its source, the main Power House at Mohra, we had to spend our first-ever night together under candlelight in which we were hardly able to recognize each other’s faces. Yet, the night was blissful inasmuch as it transformed our solitude into unforgettable moments of bliss and filled the recesses of our hearts with lots of love and ineffable joy.

For the newly-weds like us, it was a romance on the battlefront. There was no honey nor any moon, for the night belonged to the dark half of the lunar month of Kartika when moon rises in the sky for an insignificantly brief period. Of course, one could not think of going anywhere for honeymoon in the then prevailing political situation when the two newly independent States of India and Pakistan were locked in an armed conflict following the uncalled for tribal invasion on Kashmir ordered by Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Within two weeks of our wedding, however, I left Srinagar for Delhi to seek work, now that I was a family man. Thanks to Dr/ Balwant Singh, the well-known surgeon of those days in Kashmir, I was able to avail of a free passage to Delhi in one of the Indian Air Force planes returning to the Indian capital after bringing in military reinforcements for ground troops engaged in war with Pakistan on the soil of Kashmir. Dr. Balwant Singh could arrange it as he happened to be a close relations of the then Defense Minister of India, Baldev Singh. I was excited, of course, for it was my first-ever travel of my life by air. I had to go alone as my better half had to complete her four-year Bachelor’s course first in Sri Pratap college and then in Amar Singh Degree College, Srinagar.(1946-50)

Chuni finally joins me

It was in December 1950, a little more than three years after wedding, that my dear wife, Chuni, finally joined me in Shimla where I was working in the Monitoring Services of All India Radio. The only link between us during this long period of separation was provided by the exchange of love letters, hers outnumbering those of mine.

I had a lot to tell her about myself, good, bad and indifferent. Knowing too well that she possessed a serene and sober temperament, I blurted out more than was perhaps necessary. But, the way she reacted to my occasional failings revealed the breadth of her mind and the nobility of her spirit. Her magnanimity overawed me. I soon realized that her beauty was not limited to the long silky hair that had infatuated me when I had seen her for the first time three years back, but it lay in the virtue and purity that surrounded it. I cursed the dark night of our first meeting after marriage that had hidden from my eyes not only the chiseled contours of her beautiful physical frame, but also the intensity of her love and sincerity of her heart.

Suave and Unassuming

Chuni Raina was no leader, no orator, no writer or a career woman. She was but a good soul, noble and gentle. A woman of few words, suave and unassuming, Chuni was quite affectionate, genial and friendly. The sweetness of the soft words that usually trickled down from her gentle lips was music to the listener. One could not encounter a more warm and kind-hearted person. She did not bear any malice toward anyone, including her detractors. She always wore a benign, winsome and magical smile on her face. No one would go away without being touched by the innocence of her soul.

While she possessed a sophisticated temperament (she would in normal course change three times a day), a dignified and graceful demeanor, she was so simple, so polite and so humble. With an eye for the elegant and the beautiful, she was fond of good dresses. She had a marked weakness for sarees. Purse permitting, she would often go in for new varieties and fabrics available in the market.

She had a passion for cleanliness and could not stand any sort of dirt, whether of body or mind. Meticulous to the core, she abhorred lethargy. A strong believer in action, she planned her activities well in advance. In personal dealings, she was upright and honest. A great lover of nature, of trees, plants and flowers, roses in particular, she would be seen watering the plants in her backyard even in failing health during the last few months of her life.

Orthodox and deeply religious, she took great interest in the study of scriptures-the Bhagwad-Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Swami Vivekananda's writings made a great impact on her thinking. The advent of the saint of Shirdi in our lives in 1962 gave her a new meaning and purpose. She started keeping fasts on Thursdays which continued almost till the end of her earthly journey.

Strong Aesthetic Sense

Imbued with a strong aesthetic sense, she was extremely sensitive to good music, both light and classical. Among the contemporary vocalists, the late Kumar Gandharva claimed her greatest attention. All work would stand still when the famed musician would be on audio or video. She would avidly listen to good film based and other music, ghazals and bhajans. Meaningful lyrics like those of Kavi Pradeep would send her into ecstatic mood. Besides Saigal, Lata, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhonsle, Mukesh, Rafi and Kishore, she took intense delight in listening to Jagjit Singh, Talat, Hemant Kumar and Reshma.

The songs of Meera and Kabir, couplets of the sage-poetess of Kashmir, Lal Ded, and of sufi poets and saints, Sai bhajans, the musical rendering of Ramcharitmanas and the hymns of Sikh Gurus formed almost a regular part of her food for soul.

Marital Life

Her quiet nature and sober temperament, that had inspired awe and respect for her at college, rendered our married life very happy and blissful. Both of us cared a lot for each other. Not that we would not differ, rarely though. Mutual understanding, accommodation and adoration characterized our relationship. She never swerved an inch from what I said and wanted; she never allowed suspicion to make a dent in our relationship. Implicit trust in me was her watchword.

A pious, cultured and a gentle soul, she was an epitome of fortitude and forbearance. Her philosophic composure, wise counsel and calm and cool disposition invariably proved a source of strength and inspiration to me in the hour of strain and stress.

Being one of the few educated women of her time, she wanted to pursue a teaching career, but preferred to be a house-wife and a dedicated mother. To be fair to her, by taking this decision she, in fact, respected my view at that time that a woman need not take up a job at the cost of welfare of children and family. She bore five children, three sons and two daughters, though in her heart of hearts she wanted equal number of sons and daughters. She raised them in a disciplined manner and saw to it that they grew and matured on right lines. She took a personal interest in their studies and their general welfare. Her eldest son, who has retained her maiden surname Ganju, is the editor of Shehjar.

Untimely Death

Alas! I lost that Jewel to the dreaded disease, cancer, on 16th of August, 1995, when she had just turned 67, thus bringing to an end nearly 48 years of unbroken marital relationship, marked by mutual love, appreciation, cordiality, confidence and trust.

Her untimely death broke my heart and affected my poise. Without her I really felt lonely and lost. I literally gave myself up to dismay and despair and for days together after she shed her mortal coil, I would retire to my room, ruminate and quietly shed a tear or two. Every morning, I would take a sheet of paper and stare at it throughout the day with a brief interval for lunch. So vacant was my mind that when evenings would come, the sheet of paper would still be blank. And this state of affairs continued for nearly two months before I penned down the agony and anguish of my grieving heart in an open letter in her name.

About five years later, the poet in my grandson, Nihar, gave my feelings a poetic expression when he wrote his first-ever sonnet on Time:

“Why did you have to leave me stranded here?
Why did your life, your each breath cease?
Your memories make me feel you’re still here.
Calming my heart day by day to its ease,
Sometimes these memories make me weep!
Sometimes I think about you in my sleep.”

Her Parting Gift

Truth is stranger than fiction. What happened on the day my ‘Jewel” was cremated proves the veracity of this axiom. As per the Hindu custom, the dead body is given a bath and dressed properly before the start of the last rites. While all this was going on in a separate room in the funeral home, our daughter-in-law, Chandra, came running, saying that mummyji’s body looked incomplete without her eye glasses which had been left behind in the Hospital at the time of her death. I handed her my own reading glasses to do the needful.

On way back home after the cremation, Chandra drove me straight to an eyeglass shop to buy new reading glasses so that I do not find any difficulty in Bhagwad Gita recitation in the evening, a practice we had started from the day of my wife’s exit from the world three days earlier.

The evening came and family members and friends began the usual recitation of Gita. I too joined them without my eyeglasses. The new set of reading glasses purchased earlier in the day for this purpose were lying in the purse of Chandra who got busy in the kitchen. Bur, to my utter surprise, I was able to read the Gita very clearly without the aid of any reading glasses. And, wonder of wonders, I have not had to use them since.

It was a sort of a miracle that I got my eye-sight back and did not feel the need of reading glasses which I had been using for at least 20 years before. And all this happened after my reading glasses were used by my wife Chuni's body just before cremation. This has been the greatest parting gift I got from her!

Philosophic Reverie

The body no doubt dies but the big question is, are we the body? When the body is crippled or mutilated, for example in an accident, it pertains to its physical form but it certainly does not diminish the spirit within. The secret of Death, therefore, is found in the Soul within which is subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest, eternal and everlasting. It does not die when the body perishes. It is the Self dwelling in the innermost heart of all beings, the one Eternal Reality among the changeable appearances.

Science may have established mastery over outer space and given us unprecedented control in technological and other fields, yet all our achievements are reduced to nothingness by Death, the greatest leveler which accompanies us like a shadow. One moment, our body pulsates with life and in the next moment, it lies inert like a log of wood.

Time, they say, is the best healer. And as days passed by, I came to terms with her passing into eternity. Realization dawned on me as to how helpless we are in the vastness of the Universe, how human existence oscillates between the two metaphysical postulates of joy and sorrow. It is not for nothing that Lord Krishna spoke of equanimity so that we remain untouched by extremes of happiness and grief. Life, undoubtedly, is both a Tear and a Smile and there is a very thin line separating the two.

We are but helpless prisoners of what we call Fate or Destiny, for want of a better word. As puppets in the hands of the Unknown, perhaps Un-knowable too, we must meekly submit to its Supreme Will. The celebrated Omar Khayyam put it so succinctly when he said:

“The Moving Finger writes, and having Writ,
Moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it”.

True, one cannot cancel even one-fourth of a line already written by the Moving Finger! Kahlil Gibran too was right when he said, “Life is eternal and love is immortal and Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight.”

The greatest Indian tapasvi of the 20th century India, Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvanamalai would say, “Sleep is temporary death and death but a longer sleep. When you sleep, the body and the world do not exist for you. These questions do not worry you and yet you exist.. It is only when you wake up that you have a body and you see the world. If you understand waking and sleep properly, you will understand life and death.”

Agony continues...

The 20th death anniversary of my ‘Jewel’ this month has given birth to poetic expression of my agony for the first time:

Chuni, my dearest, my jewel,
Tears in my eyes still swell.`
Years moved on, losing the sense of time,
I still adore you and you are always mine.
To fulfill my promise, I stayed behind,
My job is now done and tired is my mind.
How much do I miss you, if only you knew!
Counting the days which may now be but a few
Your death in one cruel stroke did us apart,
My death will join us again in a sweet new start. (gnr)

*A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to study of religion from very young age. It was Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school. By the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russell.

After retiring from Indian Information Service in 1983 after completing 35 years as an editor and a correspondent in All India Radio, he edited AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March '91-Oct '95), Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004), He has since been writing on various aspects of Hindu thought, particularly on saints and sages. Presently he lives in Miami spending his time writing personal memoirs.

Amazing Article! Keep going papaji.
Added By Salil Raina
Papaji, This memoir left me in meditative silence. I expressed smile, anticipation, loss, goose bumps and finally wisdom while reading. Please keep writing and teaching us. Her glasses improved your reading and her teaching spirit is now imbued in you.
Added By Arun Koul
What can I say, or anyone else for that matter, for a very expressive writing in the memory of a beloved partner. I am only surprised that it took you 20 years to open up and share your thoughts and feelings with the rest of us. You were in love and still remain in love with a soul that is near you all the time. Just reach out with your hands and feel her, she is there.
Added By BL Dhar
While reading Raina Sahibs article, I got so engrossed that I felt that nothing but truth is flowing down the river Ganjes and I am bathing in its serenity
Added By Omkar Kaul
While reading Raina Sahibs article, I got so engrossed that I felt that nothing but truth is flowing down the river Ganjes and I am bathing in its serenity
Added By Omkar Kaul
What an amazing article it is!! It was just like we are living your life. It got tears into my eyes.It feels great seeing the love you have for your soul mate and my dadi ji.What iam writing is not enough.I'am so proud of myself that Iam your grand daughter.Love you so much.Respect you alot.
Added By jigyasa raina
Your article makes mom's memories fresh again & whenever we miss her tears come out silently. Some time hearts need more time to accept what your mind already knows. But on the other hand we feel blessed that your hand is there to comfort us & at the same time we all feel proud of you.
Added By Aditi Mahajan
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful 'Jewel' whose purity and sheen is still there in our hearts.Each and every word of the tribute is woven so as to form a beautiful 'pearl string'.While going through each phase of your life so beautifully expressed, I got lump in my throat and I could feel the pain of losing a soul-mate.
Added By suman raina
That pain, of course, is now a sweet memory cherished by all of us. I particularly loved the description of how the two souls were being united in a bond of LOVE amid the sounds of gun fire.
Added By suma raina
Thank you for recalling the earthly journey of our mother. We all miss her in our lives. A soft spoken person like her own mother Kakni, she did everything possible to raise us on right lines at the cost of her comforts. I wish I could follow her footsteps!
Added By Reeta Kampasi
Dear Papaji Very well written Papa ji. Your Feelings to ward your "LOVE" has made you poet now. But your work is not done. You still have to give this world and especially young children your writings. You still have to publish few books. I am looking forward to celebrate your 100th birthday!! Rajni
Added By Rajni Shah
I think I stopped breathing, I was so touched. Your love is eternal & everlasting with no boundaries. Very few people are so blessed to find a soul mate. you are a passionate writer. miracles happen that is amazing you talk about her parting gift to you. Tears roll down my eyes just thinking about it.
Added By Mala Khilnani