The Mohans provide an outstanding example of an ebullient husband-wife team bursting with energy and with a never-say-die approach, as is reflected in the work they do and the respect they have earned for their remarkable achievements. The unrelenting endeavour to put one’s best foot forward under any and all circumstances is what keeps them going.
In a quiet residential suburb of the city lies an institute that offers human dignity and hope of a better life to children with special needs. Its campus is laid out like a cross, a metaphor for the cross its students bear. Making their burden lighter is Promila Chandra Mohan, who credits a turning point in her life in 1986 with being inspired to embark on her noble mission.
“I strongly feel that my meeting with Swami Chinmayananda made me realise it’s never too late to do something you have always wanted to do,” said the 83-year-old founder of the Society for Rehabilitation of the Mentally Challenged (SOREM): “He told me I was meant to ease the burden of these souls and I had perhaps found my calling.” A national-level athlete and a former mathematics teacher, Mohan initially worked with a few mentally challenged children at Bhavan Vidyalaya in Sector 27. Having been actively involved with the Northwest Zone Special Olympic Society, she came to realise the need for a separate space to train children with special needs.
Driven by the concept of ‘tan, mann, dhan’ and mankind’s duty to give freely to this world, there was no looking back for Promila. Modest that she is, she says it’s God’s blessings that made it possible for her to “create” something. She made sure the institute was centrally located so as to provide an independent living lifestyle to the students at SOREM, which was opened in Sector 36 in 2008.
Promila’s unwavering commitment to the task at hand is amply evident in her conversation. “Most students seemed averse to the subject I myself loved. So I began making toys at home that would help them grasp basic concepts of mathematics and allow them to enjoy learning a subject they had earlier dreaded,” she said.
SOREM is currently the only centre for special children in India that works with the Global Autism Project, whose members train SOREM’s staff in the latest teaching techniques. The campus has an outdoor skating rink, basketball court and a basement for activities such as table tennis, carrom, yoga and dance classes with a labyrinth being the most recent addition to inculcate functional learning among mentally challenged and autistic children.
“I’ve always been able to do what I wanted to,” says Promila, who never lets her age be a hindrance in doing anything in life. Rain, hail or storm or be it fever, just about nothing can stop the octagenarian from reaching her workplace at 8:45 sharp every morning, even if it she might have slept at 4 am after watching the FIFA2014 final with her husband. She feels blessed that her husband always gave her the freedom to pursue all that she wanted to.
81 YEARS AND STILL GOING STRONG
Overflowing with zeal and still young at heart, Chandra Mohan refuses to call it a day even though he is well past his prime of life. With innovation as his consistent focus, he designed India’s first indigenous tractor – the Swaraj — from scratch in the 1960s and later founded Punjab Tractors, the country’s first large-scale tractor manufacturer. The company later diversified into the automotive industry.
Among the several awards conferred on Chandra in recognition of his contribution to technological advancement and entrepreneurship are the Padma Shri in 1985, the National Gold Shield and the Sir Walter Puckey Award in 1978, the IMC-Juran Gold Medal in 2001 and the Rotary Changemaker Award in 2012. He is also the author of ‘Making Entrepreneurs: Lessons from Life’, which was released only last year. “I’ve also chartered PTU (Punjab Technical University) and am currently engaged in formatting and redesigning a unique educational institution called Nalanda School, which will have a very practical approach in teaching rather than focusing on theoretical knowledge,” he tells us. He earlier wrote a book, ‘From Zero to a Bluechip’, on the university’s growth story.
A man of few words, Chandra, who is now 81, mentors many youngsters and helps them in shaping their careers. “I think it’s only self-belief and an unshakeable faith in one’s ability to get things done that enables a person to overcome life’s hurdles and achieve great things. It’s only you who can chase your dreams and turn them into reality. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but be wise. There’s only place for intelligence here,” he smiles. Although he continues to strive tirelessly to guide young entrepreneurs, Chandra prefers to leave work at work. “Promila often likes to talk things though with me but I prefer to keep our work and personal lives separate. We both derive strength from each other and maybe that’s the reason why we’re convinced retirement and age are no deterrents in attaining our goals!”