Meet Sohna and Mohna, the conjoined twins who are bright, curious and pranksters-in-chief | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Meet Sohna and Mohna, the conjoined twins who are bright, curious and pranksters-in-chief

BROTHERS IN ARMS 14 years after conjoined twins Sohna and Mohna were adopted by Amritsar’s Pingalwara, Hindustan Times traces a day in their life to find that they have learnt to live together – two souls in a body

punjab Updated: May 12, 2017 08:52 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Sohna and Mohna paying obeisance at the Golden temple in Amritsar.
Sohna and Mohna paying obeisance at the Golden temple in Amritsar.(Gurpreet Singh/HT Photo)

“It’s not clean,” complains Sohna making a face as Mohna flashes a wry smile. They both seem taken aback that you’ve plonked yourself on a step without dusting it. Sheepishly, you get up to clean the topmost stair for them so that you can all sit down for a tete-a-tete. Even as you are mentally forming your questions, they fire their own: “Where are you from? What do you do? Which paper?”

Sohna and Mohna are like that – curious, bright, naughty and sensitive. The conjoined twins, who will turn 14 on June 14, are variously known as pranksters and the unofficial news channel of Pingalwara at Manawalan Kalan near Amritsar. “Whenever there is a prank played somewhere, the first question we ask is, ‘Did you see Sohna-Mohna nearby?’” says Yogesh Suri, who looks after the Manawala campus spread over 30 acres.

The twins, who have two hearts, two pairs of arms, kidneys, and spinal cords but a single liver, gall bladder, spleen and one pair of legs were born at Sucheta Kriplani Hospital in Delhi on June 14, 2003, and shifted to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), soon afterward. Doctors at AIIMS said separation would entail the loss of one twin, and vascular and neurological loss in the lower limbs of the survivor.

“You can’t really tell how long such twins survive as it depends on the condition of the twins and the kind of care they receive; however, here you have an example of 14-year survival. In their case, the liver is joined, which is not an easy resection, so there was no attempt to separate them surgically,” says Dr VK Paul, the head of the paediatric department at AIIMS. “These cases are anyway very rare,” he says.

LOOKING BACK

The twins were brought to the Pingalwara, a home for the destitute, in Amritsar when they were two months old after they were abandoned by their parents, Kamini and Surjit Kumar, a taxi driver. Their parents, who already had three daughters, gave up the twins for adoption saying they did not have the wherewithal to support them, and they would never ever stake claim on them.

The doctors at AIIMS contacted the Pingalwara and the babies got a home on Independence Day in 2003 where they were christened Sohna and Mohna by Dr Inderjit Kaur after the famous piece of historical fiction by Bhai Veer Singh. The first words they spoke were “bye” and “mama”.

The twins enjoying a light moment with Jatinder Singh, their warden, who also teaches them music. (Gurpreet Singh/HT Photo)

PRANKSTERS IN CHIEF

Malkiat Singh, the electrician, tells you how the twins love tinkering with electrical stuff. “They want to open up everything and see how it works. And they never forget what you tell them once.” Often, the butt of their pranks, he recounts, “The other day they opened the three-pin plug of a cooler, took out a pin and put it back. I had a hard time trying to find the fault.”

Broach this incident with Sohna, Mohna and they look embarrassed. “Pranks?” Sohna frowns while Mohna opens his eyes wide.

Tell them that girls in their class say they pull their pigtails and Mohna asks, “Who said that?” Your notebook is wide open in your lap and before you can shut it to protect the name of your source, Sohna points to her name and asks, “Komalpreet?” You know she is in trouble.

“They’ve quite a fan following,” smiles Ritu Sharma, the English teacher of the twins who study in Class 8 at Bhai Puran Singh Adarsh School. The teenagers, you see, did a recording with Punjabi film star and singer Diljeet Dosanjh for the movie ‘Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe’ on the life of Bhagat Puran Singh in 2015. This may explain why they are so blase about him. “Diljeet theek hai,” says Mohna, as Sohna pipes in with, “I prefer Honey Singh.”

But ask them to sing a number and they lower their heads before reciting a paean to Bhagat Puran Singh, the late founder of Pingalwara. “Maanavta da ashiq si jo, gyaani div gyaani, Bhagat Puran Singh varge logo milne nahi koyi daani...”

The twins pose for a photograph with their favourite caregivers in the hostels. (Gurpreet Singh/HT Photo)

NOT IN A ZOO

Col Darshan Singh Bawa (retd), the administrator of Pingalwara, gently points out how the twins have turned reticent since entering their teens last year. “Earlier, they used to happily recite poems and sing songs for visitors, but now they have started wondering if the attention showered on them is because they are conjoined. They don’t want to be treated like animals in a zoo,” says Bawa.

Dr Inderjit Kaur, president of Pingalwara, is clear that she will not encourage any interaction that may hurt the feelings of the twins or make them feel small. “They are like any other normal children. We want them to blossom to their full potential.”

THE REIGN OF SOHNA-MOHNA

It was on Independence Day in 2003 that the twins came to Pingalwara from AIIMS. Old-timers remember the warm reception they received. “Biji (as inmates call Dr Inderjit) designated a special room in the guest house for them with four nurses looking after them in shifts. Doctors at AIIMS told us they had to be handled sensitively, so we were careful,” says Col Bawa. The first birthday of the boys was a grand affair with many in Amritsar also joining in the celebrations. “Their room was full of teddy bears and Biji herself cut the cake in the shape of two interlinked hearts.”

The precocious twins enjoyed lording over their nurses — stories abound of how they would get anyone who did not follow their diktat sacked — and charming the guests, says Hartejpal Kaur, the warden of the junior boys’ hostel. Renu Suri, who teaches at the deaf and dumb school on the campus, recalls how the two came to invite her for the evening ‘rehras’ prayers, when she was staying at the guest house on an exploratory trip. “They saw my son, who was throwing a tantrum, and got him to simmer down by threatening to send a ‘bhoot’ (ghost) to him at night,” she laughs.

Little wonder then that they were distraught when they were shifted to the junior hostel at the age of nine. “We wanted them to bond with other kids, which was not happening in the guest house where guests would just end up spoiling them,” says Hartejpal. The twins reacted by throwing a grand tantrum and staying off food for two days. “They demanded that we call Biji,” she recalls, adding how it was a week before they settled in.

To date, the room in which they lived for nine long years is called “Sohna Mohna da kamra’.

Their room may have changed but their best friend remains the same. Harpreet, the quiet boy with a crew cut and serious expression, commands the affection of both. “We’ve been together since nursery,” explains Harpreet, a scout. The classmates, he tells, admire them because they are bright. “No one is ever mean to them,” he points out as Navdeep Kaur, who has also been studying with the twins since Class 1, nods. Any grouse? “Not really but chuntiyaan bahut katde ne (they pinch a lot),” she grins.

The teachers are not complaining either. “They are attentive in class, score well in exams, and do their homework diligently,” says Pooja Sharma.

Bright and naughty, Sohna and Mohna are a hit with both their classmates and teachers at Bhagat Puran Singh Adarsh School in Pingalwara at Manawala Kalan. (Gurpreet Singh/HT Photo)

SAME, SAME BUT DIFFERENT

The twins are a team – one starts a sentence and the other finishes it. They also move in sync, taking turns to shift the weight from one side to the other. So it’s no surprise that both call Rose Garden in Chandigarh their favourite place. “We liked the flowers and the trees,” explains Mohna. Ask them if they have any issues about one wanting to sleep and the other wanting to stay awake and they chorus, “No, we sleep at the same time.” They also have identical tastebuds – both tell you how they can live off ‘rajma-chawal’ and ‘bhindi’ though Mohna has a thing for rasgullas.

They may be a tighly-knit pair, but it doesn’t take long to notice the differences in their personality. Sohna is more dominating of the two. He knows how to parry your questions, often giving vague replies with a bored expression unless convinced of your earnestness. An elderly well-wisher jokingly shares how the twins are the “biggest badmash” of the campus and you can see his shutters coming down. That he has really taken offence to the comment made in jest is apparent in the evening when his warden broaches the issue.

Mohna is the docile one, who looks to Sohna for a cue before answering questions. The quieter of the two, he is more trusting, flashing you a shy smile from time to time, ready to strike a conversation but wary of his brother’s reaction.

Sohna also takes the lead in studies. When teacher Ritu Sharma asks the twins to write a statement on the board, it’s he who does the scribbling while Mohna holds the book. Maths teacher Randhir Kaur thinks Mohna needs a push in mathematics but Sohna is doing very well.

Their interests also differ. So Sohna tells you he’s always been keen on music, while Mohna says he got hooked last year. Now he has learnt a bit of tabla.

But despite their differences, best friend Harpreet says the twins have never had a serious fight. “Once in a while, they squabble over insignificant things that is all,” he says.

Other differences aside, the brothers are disciplined in their daily regimen. They rise with the sun and do Japji Sahib prayers that they have learnt by heart. Inquisitive, they browse at least one paper, ‘Ajit’ being the daily of choice. “We scan the headlines every day,” explains Sohna. The campus news is also their specialty. Yogesh Suri tells you how they are clued in to all the goings-on at Manawala. “They keep tabs on everyone,” he laughs.

Weekend fun for them is a dose of comedies and cricket. So ‘Carry on Jatta’ and ‘Hera Pheri’ are high on the list of favourites.

Ask them if they’ve thought of a career path, and they shake their heads. “We are still thinking,” Sohna speaks for both. But music is definitely on their mind even though everyone says they are mechanically gifted.

Back in the hostel in the evening, dressed in identical parrot green T-shirts, they speed out to give an instruction in the kitchen as the warden, Jatinder Singh, wheels himself in. “They are naughty alright, but caring,” says Singh, telling you how they rush to his rescue if anything goes wrong. “The other day the welding of my wheelchair broke. They made sure they got it repaired post haste.”

As you say your goodbyes to the twins, there is no escaping the lingering question in their eyes, “Why this interview? Why us?” And you find yourself telling them how lovely it was to meet them, and how wonderful they are.

That is the truth.