Though I have heard her name in school (while learning about the Indian Independence struggle and the role of INA), it is not until I got married into a family which knew her personally that I began to take interest in her. Subsequently, I learned about her activities and had come to regard her as an important player in the Indian Independence movement.
Captain Lakshmi got married to P K Sahgal, who was an officer at the INA, and they settled Kanpur. She continued to live in the 'Manchester of the East' and continued her social service activities. She was also a Rajya Sabha MP (represented the Communist Party of India - Marxist) and was even nominated for the post of President in 2002. Her social activities included organizing various relief camps (in Calcutta) and providing medical aid for the Bangladeshi refugees. Moreover, her clinic in Kanpur was a refuge to the poor and downtrodden people of this erstwhile industrial city. Befittingly, it was in Kanpur that she breathed her last.
One of the most memorable stories about Captain Lakshmi Sahgal was the one I heard from a family friend of mine. Once, she (my family friend- lets call her chechi) and her husband was travelling to Kerala from Kanpur by train. In those days, there were no direct trains from (or to) Kanpur and so, one had to get down at Jhansi and catch another train to Kerala. To chechi's irritation, an elderly lady in the same bogie was giving her instructions like aisa karo, aisa na karo (do this, don't do that) continuously. Our Chechi, who was pregnant at that time, was very much irritated with this lady's unsolicited advice. She expressed her displeasure in her mother tongue (Malayalam, which a Hindi speaking lady wont understand) to her husband. In spite of this, the elderly lady continued to give them her advice.
Soon the train halted at Jhansi and Chechi went to the washroom to freshen up before the change of trains. As she entered the dirty washroom with wet floor, guess who she sees? Yes, the same elderly lady. As chechi ignored her and proceeded towards the toilet the lady says - സൂക്ഷിക്കണം, വഴുക്കലുണ്ട് (take care, the floor is slippery)!!! Chechi got the shock of her life and didn't know what to say!!!
It later turned out that the elderly lady was none other than Captain Lakshmi Sahagal. When she had advised the young couple, it was not because she liked to interfere in other people's lives, but because she was qualified to do so as a gynecologist and because she was genuinely interested in the welfare of others.
This incident taught me two lessons - lesson no. 1 is that just because one think that the other person cannot understand what one says, one is not at a liberty to say anything about another person. Lesson no. 2 is that people may not be what they seem. A person whom we think a nuisance might be a blessing and vice-versa. So, it would do us good to remember that appearances can be deceptive.
This incident also show us how caring and thoughtful Captain Lakshmi was. It is no wonder then that even at the ripe old age of 97, she used to go to her clinic in Kanpur where she provided medical aid to the poor and needy.
She was the messiah of the poor and I do hope that her life story will inspire the generations to come, to work for the upliftment of poor and needy...