I will start with a photograph. The first photograph.
Sitting in my mothers lap pointing in the direction of my father saying:
“ Ooo – Gay!” ‘There – Gone!”
My father, Baldoon Dhingra, was a poet, and named me Meera, after a poet he loved and admired. And I remember calling myself Meera. A few years later my mother Kamala, changed my name to Leena after her friend Leena Sarabhai whom she loved and admired and who had named her son, Kamal, after her.
That’s the story.
But in the picture the baby isn’t yet ‘me’. She is baby, her parents’ darling, who says ‘Ooo – Gay!’ every morning, when her father goes off to Government College. It is a blessed time in Model Town, Lahore, snapped in a photograph. A professional photographer, a bit of stage management and delight when baby got it just right.
Three years after the photograph, that world would vanish with Partition.
I would be in a boarding school in Musoorie, my parents temporarily in Paris with suddenly nowhere to return to.
‘Exiles wander in the world carrying in their heads a picture of a perfect universe.”
I have no pictures in my head, but I have many, many stories, mostly in my mother’s voice. In this photo there is the house she designed and built, fulfilling a childhood dream, the ring with fourteen blue diamonds my father designed emptying his bank account. The first was lost with Lahore, the second was stolen.
And Meera? What happened to her? Lost with Lahore?
‘Ooo – Gay!’