August 2001

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Vol. I Number 2

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Bimla with her husband Basdev Saran

Bimla Sehdev is a remarkable young woman of 80, whose birthday was recently celebrated by all her near and dear ones. The celebration came to her as a complete surprise; and she, normally a very self-controlled woman, could not help bursting out in tears at the sight of such huge family get-together. And it was the whole extended family not only her own but even that of her late sister and the brother who is a retired Brigadier from the Indian Armed Forces. They came one and all, to pay their homage to her. The credit for all this goes to Bimla herself, who has always been a source of strength to all the family members whenever and wherever she feels the need for any kind of support, emotional or otherwise. In turn she is loved and cherished by her sons and brothers along with their wives, a rare phenomenon indeed, and almost all relatives and friends.

Bimla is a cherished daughter of the well-established Masson House of Lahore. Her father was a doctor, as well as a magistrate.  He had been granted the title of Rai Bahadur  by the British Government in the days of their colonial rule in India as a  mark of appreciation for the services rendered by him in Tibet where he worked for six months in a year. For those six months the family residence would shift to Simla, and he proceed to Tibet with a retinue of six to seven attendants, all in the right royal British style.

Bimla was born in Thikriwal, a suburb near Lahore, Pakistan, on the 24th of March 1921, and raised in ideal circumstances of love, friendship and understanding. She reminisces: "I never witnessed any kind of discord, or even a difference of opinion in my family. I did not even know that such things could ever take place in a house. Ours was a perfect household; full of love, affection and complete understanding of each other."

She was married in 1937 when she was hardly 16, but in those days this was considered to be the ideal marriageable age. Her husband also came from a very well placed family in the Jind state of the Punjab where her father-in-law worked as a wazir to the then ruler. Her husband, Basdev Saran was a responsible accounts officer in the bank. As time went by, she had children, all boys, which must have, further, raised her status in the family.

In the societal value system of those days, the women who gave birth to daughters were generally considered to be unlucky because a daughter meant economic drain-off in the then prevalent dowry system.  Moreover, the status of the bride’s father stood at a level much lower than that of the groom’s. Thus Bimla passed the ultimate test of an ideal wife and a revered daughter-in-law.

Meanwhile, Rai Bahadur Kanshi Ram had retired. He had managed to build a grand mansion as his permanent residence in Lahore, and a summer resort at Jagjit Nagar, in Simla Hills. Every thing went fine till the holocaust of the partition of India, with the loss of property and resources at Lahore.

Bimla’s family, however, was not affected because they lived, first in Sangrur and then in Patiala situated on the Indian side of the Punjab. But the merger of states in the Indian Union, and the growth, as well as the desire for the proper and productive education of the children did impose certain financial constraints on the family resources.

In due course, one of Bimla’s sons Satish, qualified as an engineer, and migrated to USA. His wife Indira, a doctor, accompanied him too. When the couple had a child, a son, they needed Bimla’s help to look after the house as well as the baby.  So they planned to have the parents over, and Bimla and Basdev Saran migrated to US. Another son was born to Indira, and the older couple became a permanent part of the household.

Back home in India, one of Bimla’s nieces used to hold exhibitions of her paintings in various art galleries of New Delhi. Bimla used to watch her paint and yearned to do so herself. But she never got the favourable conditions required for going ahead with her urge for painting. Moreover, she did not know sketching. She was convinced that she would never be able to dabble with colours.

But opportunity did knock at her door in New York ten years ago, when she was already 70 years old. One day, her daughter-in-law, Indira, got hold of some flyers, advertising three-month summer courses in swimming and painting. Indira wanted to learn swimming and asked the mother-in-law if she was still interested in joining the painting classes. Bimla had some reservations about jumping at the offer because she did not know driving, and did not expect anybody at home to be able to find time for dropping or picking her up if she joined the classes. Indira solved the problem for her by making the appropriate schedule for her swimming lessons.

And thus Bimla set out on the program of fulfilling her lifelong desire. She started with that particular course, and then went on and on attending classes whenever or wherever they were available. Till now she goes to her teacher in all earnest, paying her double the amount in order to get double the time for herself. Now it is her grandson who drives her to and fro.

Today Bimla’s persistence has paid off. She paints still life, as well as a lot of landscaping in breathtaking colours. All her children are the proud owners of her beautifully framed, lovely paintings. Now, her children are planning to hold an exhibition, and we here wish her the best of luck in the new ventures.

- Portrait by Dr P. Suri