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From India With Love


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
From India, with love

When Pretim Kour Sangha died at age 96, Victoria lost a pillar of the Sikh community.

A nurturing, hard-working and strong-minded matriach, Pretim Kour was small in stature but had a huge impact on those in her orbit. Her family says she had a talent for stitchery, hospitality and Indian cooking and overcame adversity without complaining.

Although she could barely speak a word of English, she was a tenacious woman who would spoke her mind.

Her daughter Sylvia Sangha, 57, laughed as she recalled one of her mother's classic episodes.

"You go," Pretim Kour once instructed a policeman who offered assistance when her vintage Renault was stuck on a hill on a snowy winter's day. The perplexed officer left but later returned, only to get the same no-nonsense command again.

"She was unnerved and afraid he might ask for her driver's licence -- which, of course, she did not have."

The incident reflected Pretim Kour's spunk and purposefulness, two of many characteristics that influenced her children.

"It was her tenacity and because of who she was that I don't think I ever understood that you couldn't do something," Sylvia, 57, said. "She always taught us, 'Where there's a will, there's a way' -- if you want something bad enough."

During her childhood in Hoshiaprur, India, Pretim Kour would hike into the fields of her family's farm to feed the workers and later cooked, cleaned, knitted, crocheted and cared for the children.

From there through her life in Canada, her work ethic defined her. That was especially true on her 40-acre farm on Durrance Road after her husband Maher died in 1956, leaving her alone to raise three children.

Her son Sarben lived with Pretim Kour, her mother and uncles for 12 years in India before moving to Canada. Their trip from their homeland to join Maher, a welder and sawmill worker who had lived in Canada since the late 1920s, typified her tenacity, Sarben, 71, said.

In 1950, Sarben and his mother embarked on a flight from New Delhi to Vancouver via Hong Kong. After a 10-day layover, she didn't want to travel alone on the plane to Vancouver because she couldn't speak English. So she cashed in her ticket and travelled with friends by ship, stopping in Honolulu en route to San Francisco, where she boarded a train to White Rock.

"She had fears and doubts about going to a whole new world she was unaccustomed to," Sarben recalled.

After living above a store on First Avenue in North Vancouver for two months, the Sanghas bought a home on 13th Avenue where daughter Mindy, now 58, was born. They later bought a small acreage in Gordon Head, and moved to Durrance Road in 1955.

Victoria yoga instructor Nancy Searing was only four when the Sanghas moved into the farming community.

Her family, the Duclos, have been friends with them ever since, said Searing, who remembers Pretim Kour working from dawn to dusk, and being taught to bake bread by her mother, Erla.

"I remember her riding her bicycle by our home as she went to work in the local strawberry fields, and returning home to take care of her children, cook meals and tend to chores on her own farm," Searing said.

Fortunately, Pretim Kour's father-in-law Pall Singh Sangha moved in to help her and her daughters tend the farm's cows, chickens, goats, and berry and potato fields.

It was farm life that prompted Pretim Kour to learn to drive, but it wasn't her forté.

"We'd repeatedly receive a slight whiplash," laughed Sylvia, noting it took several attempts for her mother to get her driver's licence.

One thing Pretim Kour would regret was skipping English lessons.

"She went through a game of charades with her banking and so on," Sylvia recalled. "We'd be her dictionary. She'd take us to the store and we'd ask what she wanted, and she'd say it in Punjabi."

In recent years, Pretim Kour became a big fan of Tony Parsons when he was anchoring Global TV's News Hour, and she was tickled by the knowledge they were related through family connections.

She invited the veteran broadcaster to the home at Arbutus Ridge she had moved into.

"It was a little family affair featuring East Indian food and a lot of fun," recalled Parsons, who presided over her funeral.

"Mrs. Sangha immediately 'adopted' me as her grandson and my wife Tammy as her granddaughter. She was a delightful lady with a great sense of family, equalled only by her sense of humour."

Welcoming guests into her home, greeting even strangers with hugs and feeding them, was one of her pleasures.

"If you came to visit you couldn't leave without eating," Sarben said.
She accepted everyone -- "rich or poor, despite their flaws" -- and served them roti, lemon pickle and dal. But she liked to keep her finger on the pulse to make sure things went smoothly, Sylvia says.

" 'I boss,' she used to say."

In honour of Pretim Kour's passion for food and her firm belief it should be shared, her family asked that those wishing to contribute in her memory should make a donation to Our Place Society, 919 Pandora Ave.

Pretim Kour Sangha was born Jan. 15, 1914, in Jandoli, Hoshiarpur, India, and died March 23, 2010, in Victoria.

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