How Melbourne mother Ravinder Kaur Sandhu has embarked on a selfless journey after the loss of her only son.
It was a warm December day and Ravinder Kaur Sandhu was debating in her heart whether to go and spend a night with her close friend who had come from India. This was something she hadn’t done before. The thought of being away from her son Rehmat, even for a night, was something she didn’t particularly like. On his part, Rehmat too, for some unknown reason, was not in a mood to attend the Bollywood event he was invited to in the city. But in the end they both decided to go ahead with their plans and catch up over the weekend. Ravinder’s birthday too was coming up and Rehmat had arranged a few things for her including a night at the Crown from where she could enjoy the best view of Melbourne.
“We were talking so much that day,” recalls Ravinder. Just some weeks ago, Ravinder, a support worker at the Royal Melbourne Hospital suffered an injury at the lift when it plunged and hit the ground at the basement. It was an incident that shook Rehmat. “Mom, what would I do if something happened to you?” he had asked. To help her rejuvenate from this mishap, he had arranged a trip for her to the Hot Springs.
Ravinder had always been dependent on her 21-year old son if she was driving long distance particularly. This time Rehmat was constantly on the phone with his mother checking whether she had taken the right exit and arrived safely at her destination. By evening, they had texted each other good night.
Ravinder recalls being a bit restless that evening. Taking early leave from her friend after dinner she went to complete the prayers, 40 Sukhmani Sahib Ji Path, that she had started for Rehmat before going to bed. She woke up very early the next day. “I was a bit impatient,” says Ravinder. She picked up her phone and inadvertently typed a message to Rehmat’s friend, “Was Rehmat OK?” The friend asked for her address and texted back, “I want to come and see you aunty.”
After that, all Ravinder remembers is the police coming in.
The horrors that unfolded that Friday night – the only time that Ravinder was away from her son – is one that is hard to believe. After watching a Bollywood event at Billboards on Russell Street in the city, Rehmat went over to a friend’s Southbank apartment when he fell from the glass balcony of the 26th floor of the City Road Tower.
In the blink of an eye, Ravinder’s world came crashing down. Her only son and the apple of her eye was no more. She rues, “I had already predicted he was no more in that text message by referring to him in the past.” The message haunts her even now.
But in his death, Ravinder spurred on to do what Rehmat always believed in – helping others. They had in the past talked about starting a foundation. In 2015, a year after Rehmat passed away, she started the Rehmat Foundation driven by the motto that the “greatest worship is serving and loving humanity.”
Today Ravinder is absorbed deeply in the Foundation. “It is a lifeline for me,” she says, adding, “Rehmat and I wanted to do this together, but we didn’t know that we would be doing it this way – without him. I didn’t know that he would help me from the other side of the world. I am trying to do my best and with God’s grace, he has passed on his seva to me and I will keep putting in my best till I can.”
The Foundation is into everything that can make small or big changes in the lives of others. It began with blood donation on Valentine’s Day in 2015 with Rehmat’s friends showing up in numbers to fulfil this pledge. On his second death anniversary, several of his friends again met up and registered for organ donation. Every birth and death anniversaries are marked with campaigns and activities.
The objectives of the Foundation remains to educate and encourage blood and organ donation, to establish a home for widows and school for disadvantaged children in India, to raise funds and create opportunities for homeless youth in India and Australia, to provide support to isolated seniors and victims of violence and also to establish Bhangra clasess, something Rehmat was passionate about.
One memorable association that the Foundation has established is with Mata Baljit Kaur Ji of Shri Guru Nanak Yog Mission with which they have organised Gurmat camps from time to time. “Mata Baljit Kaur does mediation and peaceful living by developing a healthy body and mind, so our main focus is to spread joy and love for a happy life. We invited her over in 2016 where she ran some camps in Sydney and Melbourne which was very much appreciated, people loved it.”
Ravinder has also reached out to youngsters who are victims of domestic violence. This is an issue close to her having herself suffered the same. “I am so fortunate that all the families and couples we have dealt with so far are very happy. Some have children and send me Mother’s Day wishes, it gives me a lot of happiness. That’s what Rehmat wanted to do – give joy and happiness.”
Since having started the Foundation, Ravinder says her family is growing. Driven by the fact that Rehmat always wanted to start an orphanage in India, the Foundation has entered into a partnership with Anglicare, Victoria’s family welfare agency that was launched in 1997.
Ravinder has already donated her Melton house to Anglicare and is undergoing training for foster care. “I am just the carer here and this house is for foster children after I pass. If I qualify the training, I might have some children here and look after them, this will be their home. Anglicare can decide other children they want to bring in. Everything that is here is theirs.” A plaque outside her door is in the name of Rehmat Anglicare.
Ravinder is a marvel in this role – tender and caring, kind and spirited. In fact, last year she was rightly bestowed the title ‘Melbourne Mother’ by SBS Punjabi radio. “That was amazing. Even though the loss is very big, I have got so many children now. I am becoming a grandmother too and I do a bit of shopping for the small kids,” she smiles.
Asked how she manages the funds to run the projects, Ravinder candidly says there are few people who consistently support the Foundation. “I have got no idea from where the money comes but everything happens smoothly. All my salary goes towards it. We have never ran short of money, and Rehmat’s friends are always there.”
She did have to go through a gruelling experience though to get Rehmat’s superannuation which was lying with REST, as he had not nominated anyone. She fought for it, hired a lawyer and won the case. “I didn’t get much out of it at the end but I wanted to set the example so that no other person goes through the same ordeal.” Now she is using that money for rescuing animals in India.
Part of her charity work is spread over in India. Recently she went there with a nurse friend after some fund-raising at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where both work. “We sponsor 15-16 children in India where we provide them with fees, books and school uniforms. We also taught the children oral hygiene, got them toothpaste and brushes,” says Ravinder.
This year the Foundation was contacted by World Cancer Care run by Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal, a British businessman recognised for his efforts and devotion to eradicate cancer. “We raised a camp in our house in Jalandhar which is Rehmat’s house. We called it Rehmat Cancer Centre, where check tests were done free and medicines given to patients. It ran very well.”
But home now is Australia for Ravinder, who came here with Rehmat after Rehmat’s father abandoned them. With the money that she got out of her divorce settlement, Ravinder came to Sydney to study with a young Rehmat in tow. “I am so blessed we are in Australia, especially Melbourne. I don’t think I would have been honoured, loved and cared the way I am here if it was in India. I feel blessed to be here. When I go to India I just want to be back home. Rehmat loved Melbourne, so I am so thankful to Australia, it’s all Waheguru ji’s blessings.”
But losing Rehmat has been her second great loss, and one more protracted. The rest of her time is spent in praying and meditating. “Rehmat loved listening to the kirtan (Sikh hymns) and would tell me to keep it on because even the walls echo with that chant, he would say. I
At times I get low but then my prayers and meditations lift me up.”
The conversations lapse easily into memories of Rehmat. She recalls how his friends and acquaintances loved him as he spread so much joy in the short time that he was alive. “I am thankful to Waheguru ji for giving me Rehmat for 21 years, 11 months and then nine months in my tummy. It’s been a real happy journey together. We were always together, we loved each other. I would love to have him in every life, if I ever have a life again.”
Asked where she derives her energy from working for the Foundation, Ravinder quotes her father who tells her that Rehmat must be thinking of giving her some more work from above. This way of life, she philosophises, is what in Guru Granth Sahib ji means panna (duty). “I have to obey happily. If we are depressed and crying then that we are not obeying God. I have to live with it… But I just live with Rehmat’s name. I still live for him. I have not accepted his death as yet, I am still in denial. I think the day I accept it I might not be what I am today, so I just take one day at a time.”
Rehmat means blessing. Ravinder’s story is ultimately about seeking blessing even in tragedy.
By Indira Laisram