Amritsar’s Tehmi Bhandari: 100 years and going strong


September 19, 2006

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100 cheers to Amritsar’s pride

Tehmi Bogga Bhandari — the only pure Parsi left in Amritsar — turned 100 on August 15. Born into a rich conservative Parsi family in Amritsar in 1906, she was the first woman to introduce “hospitality business” to the city when she converted her palatial home into a “guest house”, which was visited by many foreign dignitaries, diplomats and Hollywood icons.

Although the business started due to a personal adversity, says her daughter Ratan Bhandari, Tehmi ran it like a professional. Twice married, she lost both her husbands early in life. She not only had to fend for herself and her three daughters and a son but also had to face her family’s ire for marrying outside the community twice.

Sharp-tongued but with dollops of humour, Tehmi braved the hard times in her business during the wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971, the Emergency and during the decade-long period of terrorism in Punjab.

Her parents along with family of Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, the first Field Marshal of India and hero of the 1971 war, were actually heading for Lahore during the British times but fell short of energy after a tedious journey from Bombay and decided to make Amritsar their home in the early 1900s. Tehmi’s father, Adeshwar Bogga, owned ice factories.

The border city suffered the brunt of the gory Partition, testing many a strong spirit and helping evolve “brave-hearts” like Tehmi. She inspired and helped feed hundreds of refugees.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten, wife of the first Viceroy, Sir Edward Mountbatten, “acknowledged and praised” Tehmi for her relief work for Partition-ravaged refugees in a letter written on January 19, 1948, and later invited her to Simla.

Incidentally, the famous ‘Bhandari Bridge’ was named after her illustrious first husband Padam Chand Bhandari, the man behind the mutli-laned bridge connecting the walled city with Civil Lines.

Tehmi’s indomitable spirit was evident quite early when she became the first woman to complete her Master’s in English, and ‘own’ and ‘drive’ a car — a Lincoln 12-cylinder car with a soft top. And, perhaps, was the first to have a love marriage in those times and defy widowhood to marry again.

In keeping with her flair for style, a beautiful and memorable dinner was organised by her daughter Ratan on her 100th birthday. Though wrinkled and frail, Tehmi does not take a single pill even today, says her granddaughter Shirin Tehmi Bhandari.

Tehmi had responded well when The Tribune profiled her four years back, but this time she sat silent and unresponsive in her wheelchair. Her birthday get-together was attended by her family, friends, acquaintances and guests from countries like Germany, UK, and the US. The occasion saw handsome donations by guests for a school for the wards of drug addicts in Maqboolpura.

Keeping aloft the flame of fire worshippers in the city, Tehmi’s birthday cake displayed the words: “You made it, Mrs B”.

Original article in the Tribune