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  • Writer's pictureAkanksha Damini Joshi

Yog Bir Handa : #LivingHistories

The board outside Room number 12 of the old age home reads YB Handa.

Yog Bir Handa. Better known as Handa Uncle. Born 3rd Sept 1922.

"I have lived nearly a century, Beta! Many things have changed. And many things will change. You see these dry fruits?! Soon there will be a time when the dry fruits will be showcased in museums, like we see swords of PrithviRaj and Shivaji. People will say, This is how an akhrot looked!"


Handa Uncle has seen the second world war, participated in the Quit India Movement, witnessed partition, then independence, and then built India, for over 40 years working as an engineer with Larson and Toubro.


The Handa family hails from Lahore, East Punjab. He was a young man in 1947, and his memory - at 96 years - is still sharp. He tells me at that time in most British owned banks, Indians were working only till the level of head clerks. The higher positions, accountants, managers, were all occupied by the Englishmen.

His father Chunni Lal Handa was a #banker. Back in those days, being a banker for any Indian was a BIG DEAL. You had to be of a certain status, belong to certain culture to be accepted as one.

Chunni Lal Ji hailing from an illustrious family in Lahore became a banker with the National Bank of India.


Now, many of us may not have heard of NBI. But it was one of the foundational banks in India. A little easy #economic #history.

NBI was formed in 1863 as Calcutta City Banking Corporation, soon renamed as #NationalBankOfIndia. The bank had four Indian and three European directors.

In 1866, its head office was transferred to London. The Company was registered under the UK Companies Act. Now the National Bank of India had no Indian directors at all! It was a foreign bank!

Just around the first world war, NBI was the seventh largest of the London-registered overseas banks. But substantial change was to come after the Second World War. In August 1947 India was granted independence. Partition happened. Turmoil ensued in the Bank’s main market.

Thats where we connect back to Chunni Lal Ji, banker in the Lahore branch of NBI.


Chunni Lal Handa was one of the few people who stayed back for a whole year after partition ... because, of course, he never wanted to leave. Not just his land, but the 60 men working under him. He would risk his life, but no leaving till the men also had a place to work in the new nation!



NBI was soon to merge with Grindlays Bank. In 1948 it purchased the smaller Grindlays Bank Ltd, renaming itself National and Grindlays Bank Ltd some ten years later. Following further acquisitions, its name was shortened to Grindlays Bank in 1974.


After a year in Lahore, Pakistan, Chunni Lal ji shifted to start a branch in connaught place, New Delhi, India. His home, his office, with his 60 men strong staff of course. Them he wouldn't leave for anything!


1948: Indian businesses were growing. Indian government was taking more charge. And there wasn't a single bank in Lutyen's Delhi! This was the right space for the NBI to step in.

Uncle Handa tells me, this being the centre of the capital many businessmen like Atlas cycle's Rai Bahadur Janki Das Kapur, Escort's HP Nanda wanted a branch in CP desperately.

It was to fill that need his family migrated to New Delhi, the capital of India. Chunni Lal ji established the National bank of India branch in H block, outer circle, CP. The first bank in Lutyens Delhi. Started by our own, Handa Uncle's father!


There are many juicy stories that uncle promises me from those time. Those, god willing, will be heard, shared. But for now, our own Uncle Handa.


Handa Uncle tells me about #partition that perhaps reflects his own spirit. "सारा जाता दिखे, तो अाधा दीजिये बाँट!" If you see all going. Share!

His own family home is in one of Lutyen Delhi's posh localities. I wonder what made him leave? "Independence." He says. "Here i get a chance to serve so many people!"


That, i will vouch for. For years uncle has been looking after the many residents of the old age home. He goes to ask each person's welfare, keeps them smiling with his jokes, and builds courage in them to face life. This, despite being one of the oldest there!

Recently he fell and broke his hip bone, that is in the process of healing. He makes sure it does. The right way to sit, stand, lie. The right way to tell stories. And yes, the right way to laugh!

We are getting late, the taxi is waiting. Uncle asks me to let the driver go. "I have this, you can go in it!" he says, pointing to a little model aircraft next to his TV!


If. We reach 96. If. By then we can retain this clarity of mind.

If. We remember how to tell stories. If. We have people to listen to our stories.

If. We can still laugh as Uncle Handa does.

I'll say, BALLE BALLE to us all!

Meanwhile for now, here is one BIGGEST BALLE for uncle!


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