MARY OLIVIA TANDON (nee CHELVAM) (1938-2020)
Mary Tandon, wife to professor Yash Tandon , passed away 25th February 2020 aged 82. A war child in Malaysia, Mary chopped wood, sold cakes to Japanese soldiers and dressed as a boy to hide her female vulnerability. Overcoming incredible odds Mary, at the tender age of 20, took a 21-day voyage to study law at Lincoln’s Inn in London.
Upon completion of her degree, Mary got married to Yash Tandon, a Ugandan student at LSE, who had moved to England from Kampala, Uganda. In 1965, she was appointed to Uganda’s High Court, bringing compassion into the courtroom, issuing warnings to peasants or juvenile delinquents rather than issuing out fines or prison sentences. In 1970 Mary had a son Vivek, just as Idi Amin took control of the country. Mary organized the family’s escape across the border to Kenya crammed into a car. Books, piano and worldly possessions were left behind. What followed was a period of limbo – a tumultuous time eventually moving to Dar es Salaam/Tanzania where Mary taught law at the University while completing her Master’s thesis. Ten years later, Mary packed up the family a third time to seek refuge in Nairobi/Kenya.
In 1978/79, Tanzanian troops ousted Amin, and Yash returned to Uganda. These were dangerous times; the country was in political turmoil and under military curfew. Mary packed up again and returned to Kampala. The Sojourn was brief, the government was over thrown while Yash was in England. Once again, Mary gathered belongings, Vivek and chartered a flight back to Kenya. This was the second time she had to abandon everything and, heartbreakingly, her dogs.
In Nairobi, Mary kept things together before accepting a position as legal drafts person in the newly independent Zimbabwe. Harare offered 23 years of calm and security that many take for granted. In the first home she could really call her own, Mary nurtured African orchids, fruit trees, vegetables, dogs and ducks. She co-founded a consulting practice with Yash, empowering rural citizens. She co-created the Women’s Action Group, was a co-founder of the Zimbabwe Women’s Writers Association, published poetry and prose, simplified texts for women on their legal rights; and edited Yash’s writings. But times changed. In 2002/2003 – Mary lost friends, the home was broken into several times, and personal safety was a serious concern. They reluctantly decided to leave, Mary put the dogs down and never looked back.
Mary was a truly extraordinary woman and a trailblazer in so many ways. She was cautious; alert to all possibilities but also fearless and took immense risks on behalf of her family. She leaves behind a legacy of brave-hearted children. She will be terribly missed and tenderly remembered. Mary is survived by a husband professor Yashpal Tandon, children Vivek and Nidhi.