Old Is Gold! Living up to this and living it up literally too, is this woman of wonder, Captain (Dr.) Paramjit Dhanoa. At 91, this veteran woman is gracefully old, has retained her childlike enthusiasm to explore and learn new things, has nerves of steel and has a compassionate heart of pure gold. Myriad experiences of life intertwined with a zest for living, her journey is the perfect example of ’life lived to the fullest’! And one lived with dignity, gusto, a sense of purpose, selflessness and compassion. She inspires as much as she amazes!
Born in Lyallpur, Lahore, she, back in those days, overcame huge odds and gender barriers and worked tirelessly to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. Infact, she is the lone doctor in her family of four siblings. Neither of her parents were doctors too. “My dream was to wear a stethoscope and I worked very hard for it. I’m blessed that my assiduity bore fruit”, she says with a glint in her eyes. Her contemporaries remember how she was one of the three Sikh girls to have merited a coveted seat at the prestigious King Edward College, Lahore. At the time of partition she was in her third year of medical school and was staying in a hostel.
In the wake of India-Pakistan division, amidst utter turmoil, she was forced to relocate to India. Amritsar Medical College is where she completed her degree from. An MBBS degree and an internship later, she joined the Himachal Medical Service in 1951. While still in service, and posted in Pune, she got married to Captain (then) S.S Dhanoa. The daughter of a privileged and progressive family, Ms. Dhanoa in her own way defied the conservative social mores of her environment, in which girls from well-to-do families could go to school but grown up women were expected to run a house and raise a family, no matter how educated they were. Further waging war against powerfully set beliefs of those times, she joined the Indian Army in 1956. The fact that this move happened after she’d had her first child (daughter) and her very first posting was Jammu and Kashmir, makes it all the more remarkable. She was infact the first lady doctor to be posted in Jammu and Kashmir, and was visiting wards of TB patients in places like Udhampur, Samba, Nagarota and other parts of the valley. As she lucidly puts it, “a pioneer’s job is not easy. You’ve got to work for your passion and nothing else in the early phase”. It’s this very passion that goaded her on and gave her the resilience to stay on course. With her diligence and determination, she almost single handedly mutated a destitute community which was down in the dumps.
A couple of years later, when she was to have her son, Dr. Dhanoa began keeping unwell. An acute chest pain compelled her to undergo some tests, only to discover that there was a small spot of TB. Not the kind to get hassled, she fought her illness bravely. The fact that this could have happened because she was in close contact with TB patients didn’t bother the selfless doctor in her at all. The Army helped her undergo treatment in Amritsar. Despite her illness, she couldn’t resign as those were days of the Emergency. Patience and grit played her constant companion throughout this phase. These, with unparalleled support from her husband made her sail through her ailment. She finally left the Army in 1963 and joined her husband. As if life knew that she was strong enough to handle and endure a lot, it kept throwing curve balls her way. Immediately after she joined her husband, he got a field posting. She then shifted to Shimla and stayed put, with the idea of good schooling for her children.
Thereafter, she dedicated her life totally to her daughter and son, her prime focus in life being their education. Her husband retired in the year 1982 and the family moved to Chandigarh thereafter. While she lost her husband and quite a few dear friends along the way, but the optimism and buoyancy remained intact. This nonagenarian spends her time playing Mahjong and travelling. She’s widely traveled, has been to the U.S, United Kingdom, majority of Europe, Scandinavian countries, and is always enthusiastic about trying new things, exploring new adventures and meeting new people.
She does not have any lifestyle-related health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. She credits her state of health to her active lifestyle, staying happy, raising her children and later, playing a significant role in the care and upbringing of her grandchildren. Her advice to the current generation is to strive hard and stay focused on whatever one wants to accomplish. “I do not have any regrets in life. My husband and the Army have given me the best years of my life and I wish that in my next birth too, I’m married to an Army officer. From the very first day of my life, right up until this morning, I know there is nothing I would have rather done with my life,”, are her parting words to our team. Amen to that!