Founding head of The Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust Mrs. Shakuntala Bhatia, who passed away on December 20, 2018, was a devoted wife, loving mother and tireless social worker fondly remembered by her family, friends and many admirers.
Mrs. Bhatia was 81 when she started collecting and compiling her husband Mr. Prem Bhatia’s newspaper articles, subsequently published in two volumes as ‘Witness to History’ and ‘Reflections Along a Political Journey’. Mr. Bhatia died in 1995 and it was because of Mrs. Bhatia’s tireless personal efforts that a trust was established in his name to give annual awards to deserving journalists.
Born Shakuntala Ram, she was the daughter of a successful Mirpur- (now Pakistan) born lawyer, Dewan Sant Ram, who was educated in Cambridge and London before returning to India where he set up a successful legal practice in Gurdaspur.
Mrs. Bhatia, one of 11 children, graduated from the prestigious Kinnaird College of Lahore before taking up teaching jobs, first in Lyallpur and then at the Lahore College for Women. It was at Lahore that she met her future husband who was in the process of moving from the Civil and Military Gazette, famous for its association with the writer Rudyard Kipling, to All India Radio in Delhi. During the Second World War Mr. Prem Bhatia spent three years with the army in Burma, Iraq, and Egypt, but the couple was inseparable for more than 50 subsequent years.
Mrs. Bhatia was always at Mr. Bhatia’s side wherever he served, both as a journalist and as a diplomat, working from Kolkata, Moscow, Lucknow, Delhi, Ambala, Nairobi, Singapore, and Chandigarh. She was always his loyal support, but at the same time never lost sight of her own personal identity that shone through the unpaid work done for numerous social causes such as the Khairati Clinic in Old Delhi, the Defence Colony Women’s Association, anonymously supporting the education of Kenyan orphans, backing the Kenyan Women’s University Organisation, helping to found the Asian Women’s Welfare Association in Singapore and throwing her energy behind the Indian Council of Child Welfare in Chandigarh.
In between, she also raised three children who survive her, Pratima, Anand, and Shyam, maintained a personal passion for tennis, learned to play bridge and golf, and always relished the company of close friends and relatives. Those who celebrate her life remember Mrs. Bhatia as a dedicated, hardworking lady determined to work endlessly for the causes in which she believed and more than happy to serve the wider community.