ROUNDABOUT: Remembering Rama Sharma, a woman of substance
Yes, that was Rama Sharma for you, a pioneering PR woman and journalist, who paved the way for the likes of us of the next generation to join these professions which were once men’s bastions.
It is with love and warmth that one remembers this wonderful person who passed away at 85 in her sleep at dawn on May 30 in Mohali. Her only daughter who had been taking care of her for the past many years as her health declined was by her side.
Rama was yet another example of a daughter of Partition joining the Indian workforce and excelling at her job. She was a familiar figure for me because like her I came from a huge clan that had migrated from West Punjab in 1947 and had daughters who went for higher education and then made careers for themselves. Born eight years after Partition and though considered a child of free India, my trail too followed the ones tread by people like her and my older sisters.
Just recently my cousin Kamla, who excelled both as a scientist in the United States and a poetry and fiction writer, penned a poem to the girls of the 1960s in the city named after Goddess Chandi.
Recalling a season of suicides as ‘mothers of Partition’ turned upon daughters not pretty enough to fetch a well-placed husband or born instead of the much-awaited male child, the poetess writes about the survivors: “In vengeance, a large number of daughters of the city/Became doctors, engineers, magistrates, teachers and some journalists!”
Born in 1935, Rama accompanied her lawyer father, mother and three brothers from Lahore to Moga. Witness to the devastation of Partition and the violence against and disowning of abducted Hindu girls by their own kin, Rama’s parents made her aware of the importance of education and a career. “You have to depend on yourself and no one else,” they told her.
After doing her master’s at DM College Moga, first in Hindi literature and then in English Rama got married to a banker. Even though her husband and his family were not very keen on her taking up a job, her mind was made up and she started with teaching before taking up the position of a public relations officer in larger Punjab, stationed at Shimla.
Those were times when PR was an all-male domain. Rama would recall with glee the time when she was sent to Kinnaur and the team welcoming her there enquired where the officer was. “I told them I was the officer,” laughed the woman whose forte was wit and repartee till the end.
When we joined journalism in the late 1970s, her Himachal Tourism PRs office opposite the Sector 17 Bus Stand was the meeting place where journalists of the likes of Shekhar Gupta and Vipin Pubby, among others, met regularly for coffee and conversation.
And then, even after retiring from her government job, Rama, not the one to sit at home, became the Himachal correspondent for Navbharat Times, thoroughly enjoying her stint at journalism.
An upright reporter and a woman of strong beliefs, Rama was never afraid of speaking out her mind. She literally reigned over Shimla and a trip to the Himachal capital was never complete without a cup of coffee with her at the club. Once I recall we got late and it was drizzling. She just made a phone call and lo! a couple of policemen appeared with umbrellas to escort us to the car!
Education for girls remained Rama’s prime concern and it was with tears that Sanju, her domestic help, remembered her. “She personally took interest in educating me and it was a day of joy for both of us when I completed my BA!” Fiercely independent, she lived on her own as long as she could till her journalist daughter Aruti Nayar brought her to the tricity to live in the same complex as her, but in another flat with a caretaker.
For Aruti it is a big loss as Rama had been her only anchor after her father had passed away when she was in school. However, what has been comforting for her is that she was with her mother till the end, taking care of her every need.