Sindhis Beyond Sindh

Bina Ramani – A Multi-Faceted Woman of India

Born in Lalvani family in Karachi, Bina had to migrate to India with parents when she was just four years old.

Bina Ramani is a fashion designer, socialite, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, but more importantly, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a woman. Adoring brothers of their youngest sister had introduced ‘Binatone’ – the first ever cordless phone and TV in UK.   

The challenging episodes in the life of Socialite Bina Ramani, that she has braved through, with guts and gumption, are lesser-known and often overlooked.

Born into an affluent family of British India, that moved to Bombay from Karachi, Sindh after the tumultuous partition of India in 1947, one might expect her to have had a life nothing short of a fairy tale. Well, to some extent it was. However, past the magnificent façade of unicorns and rainbows, lies the story of a woman who braved through every hurdle life threw at her. We are talking about Bina Ramani – a fashion designer, socialite, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, but more importantly, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a woman.

Bina_RamaniComing from a conservative and illustrious Sindhi Sikh family, Bina Ramani, (born Bina Lalvani) was the youngest of 12 siblings, always protected from the evil side of life. Ironically, Bina’s later life has been nothing short of a sea of scary vortexes, in which she has often found herself trapped but eventually emerged stronger. While her various stints in the glimmering world of fashion are known to all, there still remain so many facets to her multi-layered persona, which are relatively unknown.

Reminiscing of her childhood, Bina describes herself as a tomboy who would blow the biggest bubbles out of her chewing gum. A young girl with untraditional dreams, she went on to participate in the national games for high jump in 1956. After school, she was sent off to Lady Irwin College in Delhi to study home science. Later, she secretly trained at one of the biggest modelling schools in London of that time and aspired to become a singing sensation at the age of 18. This laid the foundation for Bina’s dream of living an independent life full of glitz and glamour, something that eventually came to her as the years passed by.

Bina RamaniBina’s family was, (and still is) close to the Kapoor family, which led her to be close to the then-superstar Shammi Kapoor. “He (Shammi) had just lost his wife and had sunk into depression. Mrs. Krishna Kapoor, known universally as ‘bhabiji’, tried her best to arrange my marriage with him. Despite opposition from my family and Raj Kapoor himself, who didn’t approve Shammi’s wild ways, the two of us fell madly in love,” revealed Bina Ramani in an interview with The Times of India.

What followed was a whirlwind romance between the two, which lived for about a year, before Bina rushed into an arranged marriage at her family’s behest. “Before I knew it, my parents talked me into an arranged marriage within a week’s time, while Shammi was in the jungles on his annual trek. That changed my destiny overnight. My life in San Francisco, New York, and the incredible lows and highs shaped me as a person. Though today I wish I had questioned the decisions of my elders. I wish I had the guts to say ‘no’ to a loveless marriage arranged by my parents,” Ramani said.

Her marriage with Andy Ramani, an Air-India employee based in New York, fell apart 13 years later. However, by then, Bina Ramani was already a mother of two girls – Gitanjali and Malini. Along with motherhood came the responsibility of nurturing two young children, which became herculean post her divorce with her husband. The divorce didn’t come through easily either. It took four long years in the courts of Delhi, Mumbai and New York, and it was only after the eminent lawyer and a friend of Bina’s, Ram Jethmalani, stepped in that the divorce papers came through.

binaramaniAfter her divorce from Ramani, Bina, whose brothers had introduced Binatone cordless phone and TV in UK, returned to India and set up a business in order to survive. She took to exporting garments from India to the US, which gained her many contacts along the way.

In the same years, she also helped arrange the ill-fated marriage between actress Rekha and Mukesh Aggarwal, who manufactured cooking ranges. The marriage ended and Aggarwal, tragically committed suicide. Ramani, who had claimed credit for the match, skipped away, heaping the blame on Rekha in interviews given then.

She set up her boutique Once Upon a Time, which was later renamed the boutique as Ramani’s. She is also credited with discovering and setting up the Hauz Khas village, which is one of Delhi’s fashion hotspots, housing scores of designers and popular eateries.

Even though each of these ventures had been surrounded by controversy, Ramani succeeded primarily because she was able to cater to the entertainment-starved elite of Delhi. Her nightclub No Exit in the village, for example, drew huge crowds of teenagers to it until it had to be shut down for lack of the requisite permits. She then set up the Tamarind Court Cafe, a restaurant, where a model Jessica Lal was murdered.

Bina is also an author. A book on her memoirs – ‘Bird in a Banyan Tree: My Story’ was published in 2014. In an interview, Bina spoke on how she thought of writing memoirs.

Bina-book“I wrote the prologue about eight years ago when I landed in Tihar Jail. The injustice and the shock of it, I felt, had to be told. But then, the circumstances that followed somehow made me put it away in a safe box. Then, about four years ago, I started writing it again. This time I wrote about my personal life and it was almost therapeutic. I needed to learn who I was and why the trauma of the Jessica Lal murder had impacted me so harshly. This time, I wrote it all. My daughters were concerned that their lives would be laid open to the public. They had been through very traumatic periods in the early years of my marriage and they did not want a replay. So I shelved work on my autobiography once again,” she told to interviewer.

“But I did not stop writing. By then I had taken a few courses in memoir-writing in New York and I wrote some short stories. In 2011, I met David Davidar, the publisher, who convinced me that I just had to write my memoir because my story, the Jessica Lal incident in particular, would be of interest to the world around me”.

“After some amount of convincing, I decided to go ahead with it. My daughter, Gitu, in New York was apprehensive because she is a very private person. But both my daughters are fine with it now”.

Bina with daughter Malini
Bina Ramani with daughter Malini

In another interview, Bina talked about her birth in Karachi and migration. “AI lived in Karachi until I was four, when the partition of India happened. Any Sikh in the newly formed Pakistan was a target. My father went into hiding and through underground channels made arrangements for everyone to reach safety. My father was in the pharmaceutical business and had some contacts in India so we were able to exchange our home with an extremely wealthy Muslim merchant in Bombay. My parents had 12 children. Three had died – two as teenagers and one at birth – and I was the youngest of the nine left. We were packed off to India in twos and threes. I remember my sister, my older brother and I being on a big boat, people spilling out, and my mother on the dock getting smaller and smaller. I clung to my sister.”

“Initially it was just our family in this massive house. I have vivid memories of beautiful walls and bathrooms, the drawers full of beautiful Western clothes and high heels. The people who had lived in the house before left like we did, with just the clothes on their backs. Then other Sindhis started to pour into the city and moved into our house. There were about 80 people living in the house. In the last two years out of the four we lived there, our whole family was in one room. It was like a refugee camp,” she said.

The Indian media remains loaded with her Interviews, articles on her person, her photos, as in the past. Bina not only speaks openly recalling the violence and indignity to which she had been subjected, she also writes blogs.

Being 76 years old is not keeping her in bed. “My secret weapon is organic food,” she wrote in a blog, published on July 18, 2021 on a website.


Source: Business Standard, Rediff, Youth Ki Awaz, South China Morning Post, Femina, Pureecoindia   

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