A true daughter of five rivers: Child of Punjab’s composite culture looks back at age 94
Born to Bahai Irani parents and adopted at four by a Sikh couple in Lahore, Oshima Raikhy has devoted a lifetime to activism in Punjab defying the very concept of borderpunjab Updated: May 26, 2017 08:44 IST
She was born as Oshima Zaranghez Samandari in the city of Qazvin to Bahai Iranian parents, but fate brought her to Punjab as foster daughter to Vidyawati and Pritam Singh. Her admirers see her as the grande dame of Left-wing activism who gave her very soul to help women, as president of the Punjab Istri Sabha.
At 94, she witnesses on Friday the release of her memoirs titled ‘Looking Back with a Twinkle’ as told to Kanwalpreet, who has spent a decade on the project interviewing Oshima, researching and then penning with love this unique story of love and faith that defied all borders.
“I enjoyed writing this extraordinary story,” says Kanwalpreet, a lecturer of political science in DAV College, Sector 10, Chandigarh, “Written in first person, it is, however, a biography narrated to me lovingly over umpteen cups of tea, long hours of recording, questioning and making notes.”
The rare tale of cross-border adoption had its roots in the Bahai faith in which both her parents and foster parents believed. The Bahai faith has it that all bounties have to be shared and when an American Bahai woman Victoria Bedekin learned that Pritam Singh had no children she suggested adoption. Many families from the US and India who had several children offered to share a child with a fellow Bahai. Pritam Singh said he would adopt a girl child and that too from Iran as its culture was closer to India. As many as 14 Irani families offered a girl child and a group photograph was taken. Oshima recalls, “My father told me that it did not take him a few minutes to decide as my mother Vidyawati put her finger on my picture.”
Oshima arrived first in Kanpur where her father was a college lecturer and later they moved to Lahore. She did her Senior Cambridge from FC College, Lahore and it was here that she got interested in politics.
“The mood of the times was such that I could not but join the freedom struggle and started mobilising girl students of leading colleges of Lahore for meetings and strikes,” she says.
An activist was taking shape and she eventually enrolled herself as member of the All India Students Federation (AISF), youth wing of the Communist Party of India. She did not wish to marry and wanted to devote her life to social change. But a wealthy landlord, Brij Raikhy, was so smitten by Oshima that he married her on her terms. She was free to pursue her activism and politics. So she did while living with him and after him too, as he died early.
Partition was a great tragedy and Oshima migrated to Kartarpur in Indian Punjab with her husband’s joint family and held it together through the difficult times. She went onto become one of the pioneers of women’s rights in Punjab while playing a vital role at the national level. She set up the Aruna Asif Ali Trust in Chandigarh as she moved to the city in the early 70s.
What is Oshima’s dream today? “I dream of a society where there is a just and equitable order. As I sit and ponder at life gone by, I feel I worked every day to achieve this goal and I am satisfied that I gave it my best.”