EXCLUSIVE: Inheritance of Style: Nonita Kalra

The multi-hyphenate tastemaker & former editor of Harper’s Bazaar India & Elle India takes us through her treasure trove—both of memories and natural diamond jewels

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All images photographed by Gorkey Patwal

My relationship with jewellery has always been linked to memory. To what a person means to me, the stories they leave behind. For me, jewellery is the same—it is not an object but a memento. A meaning.

My grandfather Lt Gen J S Aurora was a war hero. The famous Instrument of Surrender between India and Pakistan in 1971 – effectively creating Bangladesh – was signed by Lt Gen Niazi and him. But the joke in our family was that he may have been ‘General Saab’ to the world, but at home he followed the orders of his wife. Lovingly referred to as ‘General Ammiji’, my Nani was sharp, forthright and didn’t suffer fools lightly.

A Masters in Literature, she stitched her own clothes, traded in the stock market and could drive a car and ride a horse with equanimity. She had the biggest heart, was the kindest person I knew and had endless reserves of compassion for those she loved and even for those she didn’t know. She was my hero. And, I spent all my time watching, learning, and hoping that I could be her.

One of the things that I admired most about my grandmother was her ritual of getting dressed. Nine minutes. That was all she gave herself. From filling her giant brass urli with khus khus-scented water to draping her saree. From the metal crimps she used to part her hair into gentle waves to her red lipstick and homemade kohl. Even her shoes – in every shade from white to ivory—had to be an elegant kitten heel. Her art deco dressing table with its tri-sided vanity mirror was a study in military precision. And yet every time she reached out to her jewellery box, she stopped and stood still. And there lay her secret. Most days, my Nani’s hand reached out for the same pair of delicate floral inspired diamond earrings. With every outfit. Over and over again. Exceptionally beautiful, they were complemented by the most beautiful filigree work on the back. The earrings were perfectly balanced, much like my grandmother.

Every time I wore these earrings—and my Nani gifted them to me very soon after I became an adult—I was reminded that true style is set on repeat. So much like General Ammiji, I too wore the earrings every day. And everywhere.  

Many years later, when I met my partner, I know he noticed this. We spoke of my grandmother, her style, her aesthetics.  And yet when he gifted me a pair of diamond earrings for one of our anniversaries I was taken aback by his thoughtfulness. Delicate studs, with four carefully chosen baguettes, arranged in a perfect square, they were deliberately designed to be worn every day. For the first time in a decade, I set aside my grandmother’s earrings and decided it was time to tell my own story. To find my own style. So, the next time I was gifted an eternity band, again with baguettes (possibly my most favourite cut for its sheer simplicity)—I paired it with some of my heirloom pieces. At times with my mother’s jali ring, sprinkled with diamonds, and on other days an old floral cluster ring.

The last piece my partner gave me changed his role in my life forever. After 15 years of being together, he became my husband. On our journey together, we realised we had forgotten to get married. So, while the proposal was simple—“Let’s do this,” we said to each other as we lay in bed wearing fleece pyjamas—the ceremony was a magical celebration of love and friendship. As we stood surrounded by family and friends, reading our vows to each other, I knew he knew me. And that this ring was the repository of our love story. A new chapter in my life punctuated by a diamond that had been chosen by him, designed for me, to be worn always. I had found my moment of stillness.