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When Sonia saw her own wedding card in Rae Bareli

Last updated on: May 12, 2014 13:43 IST

When Sonia saw her own wedding card in Rae Bareli

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com in Rae Bareli

'Sonia was here for around 15 minutes. We pulled out a photo album which had pictures of Indira Gandhi and my mother-in-law and we spoke for a bit.'

'We believe in God and I know nothing bad will happen here as long as the Congress is in power. I was born in Rae Bareli, I am the third generation of Nathans from this place,' Basil Nathan, whose mother Victoria was a member of the AICC and close to Indira Gandhi, tells Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Under the pretty porch of the Nathans' 100-year-old house in Rae Bareli, the conversation was about mothers-in-law.

Meena Nathan about Victoria Nathan and Sonia Gandhi about Indira Gandhi.

It was the Congress president's first visit to the Nathan home and the occasion was sombre. Dr Ernest Nathan, Meena's brother-in-law, had passed away in May 2013 and Sonia, who was in Rae Bareli for an inauguration at the railway station the same month, had dropped at the Nathan home to pay her condolences.

"She was here for around 15 minutes," says Meena who shows us a picture of the meeting. "We pulled out a photo album which had pictures of Mrs Gandhi and my mother-in-law and we spoke for a bit. It was really nice talking to her. She is very soft-spoken."

Indira Gandhi, explains Meena's husband Basil Nathan, was a frequent visitor to their home because his mother Victoria was a member of the All India Congress Committee. So each time Indira, a three-time (1967, 1971 and 1980) MP from Rae Bareli, came to her constituency she dropped in to meet Victoria. The conversation was both personal and professional, Basil remembers.

Indira Gandhi would sit on the lawn and talk to Victoria, and each time, she left with a rose from the Nathans' garden. "She loved roses and my grandma loved picking out a big one for her," says Preeta, Basil's niece.

In February 1968, Indira sent Victoria a card. Her son Rajiv was marrying Sonia Maino on February 26, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.

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Image: Basil Nathan poses with the wedding invitation that Indira Gandhi sent his mother Victoria in 1968.
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

The card is still in mint condition. Printed on handmade paper, the card opens with a shlok in Sanskrit and is written in Hindi and English, it reads:

To celebrate the wedding of Rajiv and Sonia,
Smt Indira Gandhi invites Victoria Nathan to a reception at 6 pm on Monday, February 26, 1968 at Hyderabad House, New Delhi.

Stapled on the card: You are requested not to send any presents.

Victoria did not attend the wedding. She was unwell and since it was addressed only to her, the family didn't attend either.

Meena says Sonia went quiet when she saw the card. "She may not have been aware that my grandma was invited to her wedding. It was an odd moment, but there was something intimate about it," adds Preeta and remembers the time she had given Rajiv a rose.

"He met us when he had come to Amethi, but did not step inside the house," recalls Preeta. "He just spoke to my grandmother at the door and left."

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Image: A close-up of the Sonia Maino-Rajiv Gandhi wedding card.
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

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When Sonia saw her own wedding card in Rae Bareli

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Priyanka has driven past during a roadshow, but the family hasn't seen Rahul.

Basil says the family has always voted for the Congress. "Whoever the candidate is from the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or any other party, he or she will not win," he says. "I don't know how the party will do anywhere else, but here Mrs Gandhi will win because she has done a lot of work for Rae Bareli."

"You have no idea what the Gandhis mean to us. If I may say so, we feel they are like family," adds Basil. "Indira Gandhi seemed so relaxed when she came here and she always came without an entourage."

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Image: Victoria Nathan, seated on Indira Gandhi's left, at the All India Congress Committee headquarters in New Delhi.
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

In this idyll arrives news of a BJP wave, a Modi wave. "Yes, there is fear, if the BJP comes to power at the Centre. But in Rae Bareli at least, it will be the Congress," says Basil.

The family, Meena says, trusts in God. "If they (the BJP) win, I would welcome them, but they should take care of us also. They are trying to show they are now secular, but it's difficult to believe that. Remember, what happened in Odisha," she says referring to the 1999 murders of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons -- burnt alive in the jeep they took shelter in from a mob.

The family is running late for Sunday mass at the Pentecostal church, which is located a few metres from their garden.

"We believe in God and I know nothing bad will happen here as long as the Congress is in power. I was born in Rae Bareli. I am the third generation of Nathans from this place. My great grandfather came here around 1885," says Basil.

"I don't know why he settled in Rae Bareli or where we are from originally, but Rae Bareli has always been home to us."


Image: Meena Nathan with Sonia Gandhi at the Nathan home in Rae Bareli.
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

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