Saturday, May 6, 2006

stamped impressions
Special touch
Reeta Sharma

Pramila Mohan and Chander Mohan
Pramila Mohan and Chander Mohan

More than half a century ago who could imagine a young girl from Ferozepore going to Uganda on a teaching assignment? Those were the times when this girl was not even allowed by her mother to represent the state at the nationals in long jump because boys were competing. She, however, managed to persuade her parents to allow her to go to Uganda in 1954.

Pramila Mohan, this girl, was assigned a class of Asian students from 15 to 50. She taught mathematics and English literature so well that the principal gave her the more challenging class of the most troublesome students. Within three years Pramila got the senior scale and by the next year she got a scholarship, in addition to her salary, for a one-year course in School Administration from Reading University, UK.

When she took a break after five years to meet her parents, marriage cropped up. When Chander Mohan’s name was suggested, she had quipped, "But he is so short". Pat came the reply, "But he is so tall as far as brilliance goes". The decision was stamped in a minute. After marriage, she returned to Uganda to fulfil her commitment. On return she joined him in Lucknow.

Within three years she became a mother of two children. "Chander was obsessively involved in work and always brimming with ideas. I took charge of the children and home. I never burdened him with domestic hassles," reveals Pramila. Today, 47 years later, they agree that they stood by each other yet retained their independence.

Chander Mohan had a IIT degree and was working with the Railways Research Centre. He resigned and joined the Council of Scientific Industrial Research of India (CSIR) which had 40 laboratories in the country. It was at the Durgapur CSIR that he got involved in designing a tractor. This design attracted Tajinder Khanna, the then Managing Director, Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC).

The Punjab government immediately took the license from CSIR with a rider that only Chander Mohan would set up the plant at Mohali. The four crore project was in the offing when the state government developed cold feet and offered only Rs 45 lakh, while the remaining Rs 3.5 crore was to be raised by Chander Mohan individually. He succeeded in this "because of Pammy’s unflinching moral support."

"When the Punjab government withdrew, I did not know how I would pay the engineers’ salaries. I asked Pramila if she would sell her plot in Delhi to keep the fire burning in the homes of the engineers, she firmly uttered, "Go ahead", he recalls Chander Mohan. That Punjab Tractors was an unprecedented success story is now history.

Her children told her on her 50th birthday that Pammy deserved an year off. "They asked me what I would like to do and I promptly said ‘theatre’", recalls Pramila. She joined the one-year course at the Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University. She also started a chapter of the Prithvi Centre for Performing Arts with Jennifer Kapoor as the Chairperson. A couple of English plays were brought to Chandigarh under this banner but the peak of terrorism was a dampner.

At this juncture Pammy decided to work for the mentally challenged. She wrote to the National Institute for Mentally handicapped, Secunderabad, where they called her to train. She took over the Special Cell for the Mentally Challenged at Bhavan Vidyalaya.

In 1989, R.C. Khanna, the then Chairman Special Olympics for the mentally challenged persuaded her to open a North-West Zone chapter. For the first sports meet, she received 125 children. While Milkha Singh led the march past, while his wife Nirmal hosted a dinner for the children. Since then, this is an annual affair.

The NGO, now named ‘Special Olympics Bharat Chandigarh Chapter’ has been allotted a 1.5-acre plot in Sector 36. The special children are given vocational training in stitching, weaving and block printing. Twelve teachers have been trained and toys designed for development of motor skills, hand and eye coordination, self-help and speech.

She wants to raise funds to provide education, skills, sports etc. to mentally challenged children along with hostel facilities, all under one roof. Knowing Pramila, she will surely succeed.