Memories of jewellery
My father was a diplomat so I didn’t grow up in India.
Because we were overseas a lot, the culture of dressing up and being so adorned wasn’t as grand as it is at home.
The way we bedeck ourselves with jewellery is at a different level from the rest of the world.
Having said that, whenever my mother had to attend formal functions in her capacity as a diplomat’s wife, she would be dressed in a saree and jewellery.
I remember my mother getting dressed for dinner parties– wearing bangles, earrings and a necklace— and for Independence Day and Republic Day functions.
Favourite piece of jewellery
I am half Tamilian and half Kashmiri.
I remember my Tamil grandmother, my Dadi, wearing those typical Iyengar diamond nose rings with seven diamonds on one side and nine on the other.
And then on my maternal grandmother’s side, my Nani wore a dejhoor.
Kashmiri Pandit families do not have a traditional mangalsutra as a sign of marriage.
She wore a long thread that was pierced and sent through her inner ear with a chunky gold earring in the bottom.
Both these pieces of jewelry were so symbolic of who they were and representative of the culture that they came from.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
I was born in Hong Kong. And then we move to mainland China because my father is a Mandarin speaker and that is his area of expertise.
We were in China during the Cultural Revolution.
We then returned to Delhi in the late 70s. In 1980, my father was posted to our mission to the UN in New York.
Back then New York was still gritty and grim – not the gentrified family friendly city it has become today!
The subways were full of graffiti, violent crime was an issue, but my sister and I had a great time there.
From 1983 – 86 we lived in Delhi – it was a wonderful time to be in the capital. The city was still sleepy and small. I remember the day Mrs Gandhi was shot and how awful it was for those weeks afterwards. We didn’t go to school for two weeks I think.
In 1986, we moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, where I finished high school. The culture of jewellery is more over-the-top there than it is here in India. I would go to these weddings in Pakistan – the big Punjabi ones especially – where the women would wear these big, elaborate hair ornaments, plus big nose rings, heavy earrings and necklaces. Next to them, I looked like the hired help! Diamonds, pearls, gold, colored gemstones, Pakistani women wear all of it with aplomb.
What was your first experience with jewellery?
My ears were pierced when I was three months old.
When I was born my maternal grandmother gifted me 24 karat round gold earrings.
They looked like huge peas.
I couldn’t wear them will I was in my 20s though!
As a little girl, small gold hoops and studs were what I wore daily.
What jewels of your mother’s did you admire?
My mother herself is quite westernized in her outlook to life. She grew up as a tomboy and she’s a no fuss kind of gal.
As a Kashmiri, she never had her inner ears pierced for example for the dejhoor. I had it done when I was older and my mother couldn’t understand why!
I went through a phase where I thought I wanted a nose ring and she put her foot down. During her wedding, her parents gifted a beautiful Rani Ka haar, seven string pearl necklace with a heavy gold pendant in the bottom. She wore that with matching pearl earrings with gold and colored stones in the bottom. Her parents also gifted her gold, which she seldom wears. She also had this beautiful diamond set that was given to her by my paternal grandmother because that’s what you give a bride in South India. She also has a beautiful coral and gold set given by her in-laws.
Are there pieces you got from your family that you love?
When I got married, my mother gave me this lovely gold set that was given to her by her mother.
It is very ornate with filigree work.
When I first got it, I thought that I would never wear it. But now I love it.
I don’t think I had the capacity to appreciate it when I was young.
Thank God I didn’t melt it and make it into something else because I don’t think you can get this kind of jewellery that was made 50 years ago.
What is your jewellery wearing “style” if any?
I like wearing earrings with a maang tikka more than a necklace.
I have these dull gold and diamond earrings with an antique finish that I wear with a maang tikka quite regularly.
I also have some polki sets that became very much on trend a decade ago.
Any particular pieces you adore?
When I got married, my mother made me a Rani ka haar set because I loved hers so much. So I have that but I don’t wear that often because it is very dressy.
My mother-in-law gave me a few diamond pendants that are very pretty.
Even though I don’t have much occasion to wear them, it is nice to know that I have them.
My mother-in-law also had a whole necklace made of gold coins of King George V or whoever. I love that necklace.
I can wear that with western clothes as well. Even though it is gold, it is very contemporary.
I cherish that because it is one of the few pieces of my mother-in-law that I have. She has passed on.
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