They were born during World War I. They stepped into adulthood as India won its third hockey gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. In their prime, they saw World War II. They bore the pangs of Partition as India and Pakistan became two nations in 1947. They lived through it all. Yojana Yadav meets members of Club 100 from the region as Hindustan Times salutes the eternal human spirit and never-say-die attitude
Life is beautiful, live it for today
Chandigarh: Iqbal Kaur Randhawa turned 100 on June 22. She was only 16 when she married MS Randhawa, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer who steered the Green Revolution.
“It would have been a crime in this century,” she says laughing. “My husband had asked for this photo when he was sent to London for the two-year ICS training in 1932. He had an eye for beauty. He loved to see me in blue and white,” says Iqbal Kaur, showing her photo in a blue and white frame.
Randhawa, who gave Chandigarh the epithet of City Beautiful with its flower-bearing trees, died in 1986. “Takleef toh bahut hui (It was painful). Of our four children, I’ve lost a son and a daughter. But one has to live. Uske marzi ke saath ladke bhi kya kar loge? Yaadon ke saath jeena hai (Can you fight destiny? I live with memories),” she says.
“My husband once said: ‘Agle janam mein bhi tumhara saath chahoonga (I would want your company in the next life too),” she says. That’s a compliment she treasures.
Embracing the future
“I choose to stay happy. I enjoy the company of my great grandchildren and grandchildren. Sometimes, it feels like another life. I love going out with my grandchildren for idlis or fish or anything that we don’t make at home,” she says, walking in the lush garden and appreciating her grand daughter-in-law’s passion for decorating it.
“Our family respects each member’s space but we have meals together. Harmony at home has been my purpose since marriage,” she adds. Some things won’t change in a 100 years.
Urdu poetry keeps him going
Chandigarh: How does it feel to be 100? “I didn’t think of coming this far but I’m fine with the way things turned out,” says Daljit Singh, who completed a century on January 5. “My father, Gulab Singh, lived to 104, but he was fitter,” he says.
Writing poetry in Urdu is his passion but the passing away of his friend, Assa Singh, six years ago left a void. “He coped with the deaths of my mother and youngest brother in the ’90s but his friend’s passing has been difficult,” says his son, Major General MS Chandoke (retd). “He used to walk from our house in Sector 33 to Sector 9 (6km) in Chandigarh to meet friends daily. He could hardly wait to share his poems. But now his failing sight prevents him from writing,” says daughter-in-law Harvinder Kaur. “I don’t see him worrying,” says Maj Gen Chandoke.
Pain of partition
Daljit Singh graduated from Gordon College, Rawalpindi, and remembers actor Balraj Sahni and brother Bhisham, who became a writer, as his seniors.
“I was 31 and posted as a horticulture officer in Srinagar when the riots broke out at my native Thoakhalsa village in Rawalpindi in 1947. My mother, Lajwanti, was among women who jumped into a well to save their honour. I never went home after that. Srinagar was also not safe so I took my family in a truck to a refugee camp in Delhi. We stayed there for a year,” he says. At the camp, he worked with freedom fighter Sucheta Kriplani, who later became the first woman chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Daljit Singh took up a job in the Punjab public works department in Shimla before shifting to Chandigarh in 1953. He retired in Patiala in 1974. “Wherever I went, my love for Urdu poetry stayed with me,” he adds.
4 samosas in life, 10 dates a day
Ludhiana: Multani Chand Sharma turned 100 on June 21. At his birthday party last Sunday, he said he has never popped a pill.
“I’m fortunate. I have good genes,” says Sharma, who retired as principal of the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College in Ludhiana in 1975. Regular exercise, simple diet and a clear conscience worked for him.
“I did a lot of swimming and played hockey at Government College, Lahore. After Partition, I moved to Ludhiana where I was regular with lawn tennis and trekking,” he says. Till two years ago, Sharma walked an hour daily but now he spends time in bed. He has adapted by cycling while lying down and stretching his limbs.
“Change is constant so adapt,” he says. “I go by the body clock, not the one on the wall. I eat only when hungry. I have 10 dates a day besides almonds, dal and milk with turmeric. I eat a chapatti if I feel like but I enjoy all fruits.”
His 27-year-old granddaughter Divya Sharma, a business-acquisition manager with Google in Gurgaon, says, “He has had only four samosas in his life! And we gorge on junk food. But he lets us do our thing. I love him for that.”
Sharma says a life without regrets can be lived by staying positive and busy. “Work is worship. A job well done is my prayer,” he says.
His positive attitude gave him the strength to cope with the death of his wife in 2007.
Love for languages
Unfazed by the video lighting and loud Bollywood music at the party, he sits surrounded by friends and family, spanning four generations. Wearing a white kurta-pyjama
and black shoes without socks, Papaji, as he is called, talks about his days at Heidelberg University, Germany. “My proudest moment was when I addressed my teachers in German,” he says. He loves Urdu couplets but English is close to his heart. William Shakespeare and John Milton are favourites.
Cut to the present
An announcement that the birthday cake will be cut is made. He looks at the vanilla cake with the floral icing in pink and green and cherry toppings. Cliff Richard’s Congratulations and celebrations plays in the background as Papaji obliges everyone by cutting the cake, and eating it too. He didn’t have anything else for lunch.
At 106, soldier sees futility of fighting
Chira (Kalka): Life has come full circle for Naik Sarup Singh, who turns 106 on July 15. He spent his prime fighting wars for Britain and later independent India only to realise their futility a century later.
“Ladaiyi barbadi hai. Kisi bhi mulk mein nahin honi chahidi (War is destruction, it should not happen in any country),” says the soldier recruited in 15 Punjab to fight the Japanese in World War II. “I took part in the Burma campaign. Our job was to cut the Japanese soldiers’ lines of communication and halt their advance towards India. We were surrounded, but survived,” he says.
His grandson pins the medals on his white cotton shirt that sags under their weight. “Fighting for the British was a duty but fighting Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir from 1947-48 was for honour. From Zojila Pass to the plains of Chamb Jaurian, I have fought on every morcha (front) in J&K,” he says.
The irony is not lost on him as he recounts the heroics 70 years on.
He came from a poor family in Kalka and was the fifth of seven brothers. The British were drafting Indian youth to fight their war and he was trained at 15 Punjab’s Ramgarh headquarters (now in Jharkhand). “Wahan toh maarna hi sikhate hain (They only taught us to kill),” says the veteran who retired in 1959.
He married Naseeb Kaur, 20 years younger, when he was on the verge of retirement. “I saw her for the first time when I went to look up her ailing father at a Patiala hospital. Her sister was married to my brother,” he says. The couple had six children of which two are no more.
“My grandfather gets emotional when we talk of family members and friends who have passed away,” says Gurdeep Kaur, 26, a mother of two daughters. “At his age, it’s more about the mind than the body. He prays twice a day. He helps around the house and is a vegetarian. He enjoys barfi (a sweet) at times,” she says.
Sweet 108, loves sugar
Jhajjar: “Maa tu Jeevni hai... tu khoob jeeaygi (Mother, your name is Jeevni... you will live long),” Maha Singh would say before he died of old age a few years ago. Living up to her name, Jeevni Devi, remains alive and kicking at 108.
Born in 1908 (her family celebrates her birthday on February 2) at Amboli village in Rohtak (now Jhajjar) district, this farmer’s daughter was married at 16 to freedom fighter Prahlad Singh, who died in 1986, aged 83. She lost four of her nine children early, while Maha Singh, her eldest son, lived up to 2010. She now lives with her youngest son, Khajan Singh, and daughter-in-law, Krishna Devi, at Haryana’s Dadri Toi village.
She spends most of her day under a neem tree, enjoying cool breeze, blessing all visitors by caressing their foreheads with both hands. Her son has never seen her sick or even catch a cold. Jeevni Devi is still able to walk and, except eye drops, takes no medicine. Her cast-iron stomach allows her to savour traditional sugar items such as ‘halwa’ and ‘churma’.
When Morarji Desai was prime minister, she even went to Delhi’s Tihar jail for seven days for protesting against the acquisition of farmers’ land. She tells visitors stories of the British rule, Partition, the “soothing” years of Independence, and the horrific time when she was 10. “I lost 17 loved ones to ‘kartik-wali bimari’ (flu pandemic) in 1918,” she says, “I think they gave their years to me.”