I forwarded a few days ago information about Partap’s passing away. Yesterday, I had a call from his cousin, Dalip Singh (Sohinderjit’s father) describing the circumstances surrounding his demise and some details about the family. Later in the evening I received information about the final rites, which I communicated at short notice, and some of us witnessed the last few minutes of the mortal remains of Partap before he was cremated. It was a dignified but sad event.
These occasions are usually sad but in this case there is greater sadness surrounding a life that experienced serious barriers constantly. The man heaved them aside and lived with impressive dignity. His stunning responses were courageous. He was stout-hearted and he grappled with every adversity, fearlessly. He extracted our admiration.
Partap was lodged at the Revera Living & Long Term Care Centre under a Canadian government funded programme. He had been there for several years after he became virtually incapacitated. He had fallen off his wheelchair and his mobility almost extinguished after that accident necessitating housing in a long term care institution. Those years were more unhappy because his requests or cries for assistance were never adequately entertained. He was helpless.
Partap reported on November 19, 2020 that there were thirty cases of Covid at Revera and two days later he was infected. A doctor attended to him and diagnosed it as a mild case of the virus. A week later he was recommended intubation and medicines. He declined the oxygen and his condition deteriorated rapidly until he passed away on December 2, 2020. His medical condition had sunk significantly about 6 months prior to this event. His blood pressure fluctuated wildly and he suffered frequent and severe headaches. I contacted the Centre and a doctor subsequently visited him but Partap’s medical condition remained poor if not worse judging by the conversations he frequently had with me and certainly with G S Anand & Badal.
From what I can piece together of this life, Partap was rustic at heart. He was blunt and candid, never mincing words or his feelings. The personality was akin to tempered steel but in this case you could not then employ it for any other purpose not amenable to a change of shape, except marginally, or any kind of surface polish. You could keep beating it and it would withstand any kind of pain with courage, without complaint, but its strength remained consistent and lasting. The years at BCS reinforced those basic attributes and perhaps hardened them because they strengthened the core in abundant measure preparing it for the difficult life that was to follow. Polish and finish were not part of the structure of his character. He was not the snobbish, refined, elegant public school product. Style or smoothness was not for him He was the son of a man who lived the earthy existence. Being a heartland Punjabi, he was exceptionally generous, often robbed and cheated.
Partap was the youngest in a family of seven brothers and two sisters. He yearned for his mother who died when he was still very little. He spoke of her with feeling and with emotional warmth about anyone else’s mother.The mother’s absence he suffered and felt it all his life. He often spoke about it. The father, a wealthy landlord who had made his assets in Burma, built a gurdwara in his wife’s honour and it bears her name Mai Nand Kaur Gurudwara in Ludhiana. I have photographs of the gurdwara under construction.
After the father’s death, the family began migrating to Canada and in the process sold large parts of their property in India. The land assets were fragmented, shared and disposed from a capital that was rapidly depleted. Partap came to India a few years ago, after a gap of 30 years, to transfer land from his name to others so that ownership would hold no issues for the beneficiary at any later date. For this transaction he reverted to the original name that we all knew him by, Kanwarjit Singh Grewal. He changed it to S Partap in School for reasons I do not recall but most of the time he was known as Partap Grewal.
Memories rush back because I knew him from 1954 (he had joined School in 1953). Partap did not seem any different from the other boys at that time. His closest friends were largely Curzonians or those who belonged to his dormitory. His was not an exuberant personality but nor was he the quiet type. He did possess resolute determination and that was his one major attribute that enabled him to distinguish himself from any of the others. The other person I can recall with similar grit is Guljit Kochhar.
To be recognised in School you had to be an outstanding sportsman. Academic achievement got you a thirty second applause in the Irwin Hall when Form Order or Half Yearly results were announced by the Headmaster. The career path in those school years to become a prefect or being a popular figure centred entirely around sporting ability. Partap excelled in all the major team games, cricket, hockey and football, winning his colours.
His individuality, however, shone as a long distance runner, especially the marathon. Right now I am unable to fetch that picture from my collection but that victory in the 1963 marathon is etched in my mind to this day. Mr Arjun Advani, his House Master is standing right there to congratulate him. I can still see those images so clearly as it happened that day. He had practiced hard for the event and Govinder who came second in that race recalls being beaten handily. Those would now be the few times when the use of his strong legs were a cause for such an applause. It would now be for just another year when those limbs would support this long distance runner. After 1964 this man would run any exceptional distance but only on the strength of an indomitable spirit. His running legs would be of no consequence after that year.
These achievements on the games field he accomplished with constant practice. To ensure a place in the football Ist XI he began practicing the kick with the left foot until it was a formidable salvo. He wanted the position of left wing because all the other team slots were or would be filled by players who would be stiff competition or were visibly better players. Determination, will power, resolve and the ability to punish the body is what he had most. He exploited it to the fullest.
Post 1963 I lost contact with Partap. I got to hear about his presence in Canada about 20 years ago when I located him and literally drew him out from being a recluse. After that he was in regular contact with the internet making it all possible
On one occasion I discovered he was in New York and that was our first meeting after School which was about 13 years ago. He came to my hotel. I was aghast to see him in a wheelchair. but certainly excited to see him again, I greeted him by thumping his shoulders. He quickly resisted and then informed me about the weakness in that area that had occurred as a result of standing up, folding the wheel chair, lifting it into the vehicle before hauling himself to be able to drive himself around. The wear and tear of the shoulder bones had caused damage impairing his ability in the use of fingers and his hands.
Partap had been afflicted with polio, usually a chance of one in a million, at the age of 18 straight after School in 1965. The absence of medical facilities, which must be delivered within 24 hours of the problem, in a snow bound village, resulted in permanent damage. Some medical attention was administered at PGI, Chandigarh, a few weeks later. Improvement did occur until the treating doctors moved away causing his condition to regress. Thereafter the damage became irreparable.
Young Partap then focussed on academics and graduated from the distance learning course offered by Delhi University. He would arrive by train and live those few days for the examination near the Delhi railway station. He then went on to qualify in a computer science course offered by institutions that held some repute. Back home in Ludhiana, he suffered neglect and consequently moved to Nainital to live with Dalip, his cousin, where he spent 11 years. When Dalip and his family migrated to Canada, Partap followed them. Arriving in Canada the only skill he had to offer was his computer knowledge but the Indian qualifications were not acceptable. He qualified again but this time in Canada.
Partap then went to work with IBM as a programmer and he would be showcased by the corporate from time to time as an example of a differently abled person delivering results. Some years later the effects of shoulder damage caused by constant hauling of the wheel chair, referred to earlier, affected the use of his hands. This resulted in an operation, the cost of which resulted in him declaring himself bankrupt. The exact details are blurred even though he had medical cover but the insurance company reneged on some technical grounds caused by an insufficient or inaccurate declaration.
Helpless again, Partap then did accounting and computer support work for a school in the New York area which is when I met him.
The high point of his existence was his visit to India a few years ago after a long gap of three decades. He was excited.While I collected him from Delhi airport that night, Billy Gill hosted him in Chandigarh while Dr Santokh Singh organised his visit to the Golden Temple. To Partap this trip was a long time dream fulfilled. Several of you met him and the dinner evening at R S Sodhi’s remains a memorable one. He never forgot it and he thanked each one whenever he would recall that trip.
The last few years as I have recounted proved difficult but that did not dissipate his strength or his spirit. His correspondence was, when the occasion arose and he felt strongly, spirited, feisty and assertive. It would take time to sober him down because what he felt strongly about had to be communicated bluntly and without inhibition. That was also the manner at the Revere where we tried to force his opinion. Unfortunately over time such efforts fatigued him and his zeal began to flag. Age and the will to live began to diminish. The last few months eventually took their toll. He gave up at the end but on his terms because he had nothing more to live for.
We will remember this great and wonderful man as the embodiment of determination, persistence, courage and most of all fearless in face of any hardship and suffering. He never gave up when he knew he had to win. God bless, you dearest Partap. You are an inspiration. He was a Cottonian in spirit and in deed. He lived by the motto “Facta Non Verba” His deeds we will remember.
G S Anand has suggested we hold an akhand path for Partap. I am making arrangements to organise it at a gurdwara near where I live. Anyone who would like to assist with this effort is welcome. It is our last initiative and homage to a soul that we all recognised, respect and will remember with affection.
My kind regards
P.S. I am sending as attachments to this mail pictures of Little Partap in 1957 with him standing outside the entrance to the Remove dormitories. In that picture are (left to right) Ashok Dinanath, Jaspal Sawhney, Mathew Zachariah, with Partap at extreme right and Vijay Pawa immediately behind him. In the other group picture with Mathew Zachariah standing on the left of picture, Partap is the guy second from the right in the last row in between Atwal and Jatinder Randhawa. In the line up at Sanjauli for the 1961 marathon, Partap is eighth from the left in between RS Sodhi (C) and Manmohan Singh(C)
Govinder Singh has been kind enough to forward pictures of Partap in various team photographs and the line up for the 1963 marathon has Partap, seventh from the left right next to B M Singh (C). We confirm he was the Sportsman of the Year 1963
P.P.S. You see how proximate and friendly he was with the Curzonians!! No complaints.