KOCHI: When the young Venu Rajamony, former ambassador of India to the Netherlands, joined Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi as a student of international relations in the early 1980s, Saroj Thapa was already an active member on the political scene.
Propelled by a motivated group of students who called themselves the ‘Free Thinkers’, Venu, fresh out of his stint as the chairman of the student’s union at Maharaja’s College, Kochi, decided to contest as the vice-president for the student body elections at the premier institute. It was at one of the meetings of ‘Free Thinkers’ that the two met. Saroj was a year senior, from Darjeeling, and was pursuing Master’s in history. Despite their different fields of study, it didn’t take long for the two to discover their shared interests, nor did they need a reason to meet.
Amid the backdrop of a liberally-spirited politically-charged JNU and a fast-changing India outside its gates, Saroj and Venu fell in love. The decision to get married was concomitant but it was hardly easy. Venu found himself back in Kochi studying law while Saroj left for Darjeeling after completing MPhil. But the distance was far from being the central hurdle.
With their relationship crossing cultures, languages, states and regions, the couple were aware of the retribution they would face from their respective families. “It was very difficult to communicate. Telephones were not yet popular and letters would take weeks, so the fastest way was the telegram which was expensive,” says Saroj.
Almost two-and-a-half years after they bade farewell to each other at JNU, the resolve to get married was made on telegram. Saroj, who was then in Guwahati, travelled to Kolkata, Chennai and then to Kochi without the knowledge of her parents. The wedding took place on January 5, 1986, at a temple in Tripunithura with only a few of Venu’s friends in attendance.
“By then, I was working as a reporter with The New Indian Express (then The Indian Express). We moved into an apartment in Kaloor arranged by a friend. Although our stay in the city lasted only eight months, we were fortunate enough to have received help from many quarters. A number of friends would come to visit us in the mornings and our house became a base,” says Venu.
An illustrious career in the Indian Foreign Sevices followed Venu and Saroj found her true calling in the field of education having worked for accessibility for children with special needs. The couple who made multiple countries their home is back in Kochi after Venu’s recent retirement. On Tuesday, the couple celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary by visiting the very place where they wedded. Their story is extremely poignant for the India of today rife with the discourse around love jihad and intolerance.