A determined, independent woman
Tribune News Service
She reinvented herself many times to face the changing situations and new challenges in almost nine decades of her existence. Adjectives like independent, gracious, forceful, liberal, kind and generous immediately come to mind when one thinks of Malvinder Kaur, who died in Chandigarh on October 29.
Born at Mussoorie on June 18, 1911, she was the youngest and 11th child of Rai Bahadur Narain Singh, one of the five prominent builders of Lutyens’ Delhi. She studied at Mussoorie and then at Modern School, Delhi, where one of her schoolmates was noted writer Khushwant Singh.
She married Sardar Bahadur Santokh Singh of Shahkot, near Jalandhar, soon after he returned home after studying at Balliol College, Oxford.
Holly Oak in Sanjoli, Shimla, became the couple’s home in the mid-1930, where they met and entertained prominent British and Indian leaders. A close friend of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Malvinder Kaur would relate many anecdotes of her encounters with Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and her friend Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
She graced Viceroy’s balls, but when an order was passed stopping Indians from walking on the Mall Road, Shimla, she rode horseback, an act of defiance that became the talk of the town.
The chaos of Partition saw many unwed mothers among the refugees. At a camp near Patiala, she led the effort to take care of the women and rehabilitate them.
After her husband passed away in 1964, Malvinder Kaur’s life took another turn. She took up an offer by Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi to become the first Indian housekeeper with the Intercontinental Hotel in Delhi. Eventually, at Dr Karan Singh’s instance, she joined Indian Tourism Development Corporation and became Executive Housekeeper, Ashoka Hotel, Delhi. Thereafter she played a key role in establishing Ashoka Hotel, Bangalore.
In 1972, she left ITDC to take care of her farm at Munshiwala, near Patiala, and became a progressive farmer. She was a leading advocate of mechanised farming. It was after a decade of farming that she shifted to a farm near Zirakpur and then at Kansal.
For many people in the region, Malvinder Kaur was an example of how a determined woman could live a full life on her own terms. She is survived by her son, auto-journalist H. Kishie Singh, daughter Amrit Kaur (Minna), grandchildren and great-grand children.
The obituary was published in The Tribune on November 1, 2008