Manjit was born in 1938 on the eve of Christmas as the first child in a lower middle class Sikh family. As a small child she had developed ‘double-pneumonia’ (inflammation of both the lungs); so severe was this episode that her breathing became very shallow and infrequent. A wise Muslim allopathic doctor was summoned from Old Delhi to her home for opinion and treatment. After putting the stethoscope on child’s chest at various points he gave a grim prognosis and said that chances of survival are nil. The available antibiotic (was it penicillin?) was administered, but gradually the breathing became worse, irregular and at times not even noticeable. The whole night her grandmother put her in her lap next to a room heater waiting for the morning to break. Just at daybreak thetoes of one foot moved and overtime she exhibited movements of other parts of her body. The good doctor was re-summoned. He pronounced that she would live through!
Manjit had spent her early childhood at Simla – where the family would move during the summers as per the protocol of the British Administration which had employed her father at a lower rung of bureaucracy at a monthly pay of Rs. 45 or so. One day an elderly woman from the neighbourhood came to their house and requested for a few pieces of pickle; Manjit’s mother was wary of this woman and told her that there was no pickle in the house, whereupon Manjitrushed to the kitchen and produced a small bottle of pickle for the neighbour. Manjit’s mother was embarrassed but later gently explained to the child why she had lied to the neighbour.
Manjit was about to finish her graduation when her marriage was solemnised with TrilokJi, who had just joined the erstwhile Indian Airlines.Manjit was a dutiful Daughter-in-Law,who stayed in a Joint family and served her in-laws, till they were alive for over four decades.She bore three children. The third child was born through a Caesarian delivery even as the mother and foetus were in distress and the chance of survival of both was poor. The mother was bleeding when she was wheeled into the operation theatre; the child was born premature. In that precarious medical situation, her maternal Uncle, S Rajinder Singh Sabharwal, donated his blood and the medical emergency could be tided over. Both were nursed back to good health over the next few weeks.This premature child nicknamed Mickey (later rechristened Sukhvinder) went on to become an airlines pilot and then a commander.
Manjit, A proud mother
When Mrs. PratibhaPatil was the President of India her helicopter narrowly escaped a disaster at Mumbai airport. Sukhvinder who was commanding another plane Air India A321,maneuveredand put the brakes on his plane in a split second effort to ensure that the President’s helicopter escaped any damage. This was done at a great risk but Sukhvinder’s presence of mind and fast display of reflexes and judgement ensured that the President of India escaped unhurt. As a mother Manjit was proud of Sukhvinder’s deed. It is another matter that the Government of India did not recognize or award the crew members for their presence of mind as also for reassuring the passengers of the plane which had maneuvered to stay clear of the President’s helicopter.Media reports highlighted: “Pilot Saves 170 Passengers’: and Prez Convoy Chopper”.[*]
Struggle against all odds
Manjit’s second son, H.S. Kohli a Colonel in the Indian army had an impeccable and unblemished record of 24 years of service. Yet he went through a harrowing time later as gross and grave injustice was meted out to him at the hands of the senior officers of the Indian army lasting over a period of a decade and a half. The entire mainstream media – both print and visual – gave biased, prejudiced and one sided reports; only the army’s version got dutifully reported. Manjit, an ordinary housewife with extraordinary energies rose to the occasion and petitioned/held meetings with senior officials of the Indian army, defence minister and senior bureaucrats in the defence ministry (mother of an army personnel is allowed to petition in such situations). Not once did it occur to her to see her name in print; such was her humility. She was more concerned about ensuring justice for her son. The family went through financial crises as Colonel Kohli’s remunerations and other benefits were denied to him all these years. The legal battle to get justice itself took over ten years during which lawyers had to be paid handsome fees. Manjit was the unifying force in the joint family where the two daughters-in-law, Guneet and Apneet, chipped in their emotional, financial and physical energies to ensure that justice would get done at the hands of the Indian army. It was only in 2015 that the Delhi High Court was instrumental in providing a measure of justice to Colonel Kohli. The Court’s order is in the process of being implemented. During these years of struggle Manjit would visit her only daughter based in Amritsar. The company of her grand daughters, Megha and Barkha, alongwithdaughter Simi and son-in-lawRanaSher Singh,would soothe her stressed mind. She would then return to Delhi reenergized for the next part of the struggle.
Manjit was fortunate to have had the privilege of having held in her arms, her great grand children, Arzoi and AekasBir. She had recently visited London to spend time with her grand daughter Megha and was now preparing to visit the other grand daughter Barkha in Singapore shortly…But, alas that was not to be …
Onto her 79th year she weighed 50 kgs, but walked upright; mentally alert and derived her strength from religious-spiritual pursuits. On 8th of February this year Manjit breathed her last. She had fallen down, injured her forehead and nose (which was bleeding). When nearby residents and family members reached the spot she was pulse less; she was declared brought dead at the hospital. The possibility is that she may have had a heart attack or a brain stroke, became unconscious and fell down injuring her forehead and nose with the severe heart attack/ brain stroke taking away her life instantly; or she may have slipped accidentally and fallen down with injuries on the head causing brain haemorrhage leading to sudden death. Just minutes before her death Manjit had finished her day’s prayers. Mother nature assured that her exit from the world was instantaneous without the travails of going through a long drawn trail of chronic care and management in hospital and at home – a wish which most people aspire for but few are lucky enough to get it fulfilled. Days before her death she was looking forward to her 80th birthday on the eve of Christmas towards the year endhoping that justice would eventually not elude the family anymore. Her Colonel son’s honour and dignity had to be restored.
Her legacy will be carried forward by her children, daughters-in law, grand children, Megha, Barkha, Shobhit, Hargun and Simrat, and great grandchildren, Arzoi and AekasBir …!!
(Dr. P.S. Sahni, brother of Manjit Kohli, is a member of PIL Watch Group. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)