With profound sadness our family announces the passing of our mother and grandmother, Kanta Khipple, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, at the age of 95.
Our mother, Kanta or Kanta Ji to some, Kanti to her late husband (and our Papa), Roshan Khipple, was simply Mummy to us, her children, Pam, Ranjana, and Shel. Friends, colleagues, and journalists have used the words community leader, activist, trail-blazer, and role model to describe her. To these we would add courageous, hard-working, compassionate, generous, selfless, and loving.
Mummy was only 31 when she sailed from India to Sweden to study Public Health Administration and Social Welfare. The year was 1958, my sister, Ranjana, and I were small schoolgirls, and our brother, Shel, was not yet born. Mummy was a novelty in Sweden. Swedish newspapers wrote articles, accompanied by photographs, on this brave young woman from India, who had travelled to their country to advance her studies. We received letters and photos of our beautiful mother in her bright red lipstick and always clad in a sari, surrounded by curious white-skinned people, with snow in the background.
Her trip to Sweden set the stage for future endeavors abroad. Intercontinental travel would be no barrier to her passion for learning, for educating and helping the underprivileged, and for adventure. She knew she could rely on a very supportive husband (our Papa) and other family members for the care of her children. In fact, this eulogy could not have been written without a folder prepared by Papa, who had left for us meticulously archived documents detailing the major events in Mummy’s life. Such was our parents’ mutually supportive marital partnership and love for our family.
A few years later, in 1964, Mummy was bound for the U.S., this time on an airplane. She had received a scholarship from the Watumull Foundation for a Master’s degree in Public Health. She already had a Master’s in Social Work from Delhi University, had studied Public Health Administration and Social Welfare at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, and had worked in Family Planning projects in Delhi.
With a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan, Mummy began a long career, working at various institutions and building upon her educational and practical backgrounds. This included the Planned Parenthood Association of Chicago, as Director of Family Planning training programs in the 1960’s. This was followed by a Fellowship at the Adlai Stevenson Institute in Chicago, with responsibilities that included review and preparation of Family Planning programs in the U.S. and abroad. She was subsequently appointed as a Health Education Specialist by the Pan American Health Organization of the World Health Organization. Here she was involved in development, implementation, and monitoring of projects in a number of Caribbean countries, funded by the UN Fund for Population Activities.
In the blink of an eye nearly 30 years passed since Mummy first set foot abroad. During this time, Papa left India to join her in the U.S., and the rest of the family subsequently moved here also. Ranjana, Shel, and I went to university, established careers, got married, and started families of our own. With our expanded family, which now included our spouses (Tom Mulligan, Shanawaz Khan and Lucia Khipple) and our children (Vikram Khipple Mulligan, Anjali Khipple Mulligan, Tariq Khan, Rajiv Khipple, and Ajay Khipple), the family’s roots had now been anchored in North America.
Mummy’s natural inclination towards public welfare was not limited to her professional work. Outside of her official duties, Mummy, along with Papa, provided financial, material, and mentorship support to countless people. They helped educate and provided accommodations in our home in Delhi to numerous relatives from both sides of the family. They helped friends and family members find work and life partners, opened our home for marriage ceremonies, and continued to counsel and give financial support to many a young couple long after they were married.
While part of our upbringing occurred in Mummy’s absence, Ranjana, Shel and I know that we were dearly loved by our mother. And Mummy’s love for our own children, Vikram, Anjali, Tariq, Rajiv, and Ajay, and for our spouses, Tom, Shanawaz, and Lucia, was equally deep. She was there for our graduations and wedding ceremonies, took great pride in our academic and personal achievements, showered us all with gifts, and never forgot our birthdays or wedding anniversaries. Our mother was equally devoted to Papa. The fact that they remained married for nearly seven decades, in spite of long periods when they lived on different continents, is a testament to their commitment to each other and to our family.
Mummy retired from the WHO in 1986, but soon felt a restless need to continue to be involved with the community. A brief stint at Asian Human Services in Chicago as a mental health coordinator opened her eyes to women victims of domestic abuse and violence, and it was here that the seeds for founding a shelter for such victims were planted in her mind. Together with four other professional women, Mummy helped found Apna Ghar, or Our Home, a shelter for abused South Asian women and children. As a founding executive director, Mummy was instrumental in helping secure funding for this fledgling shelter and its programs. Today Apna Ghar is a thriving organization for Asian and non-Asian women who are victims of domestic and gender-based violence and abuse. It provides a wide range of services, including shelter, counseling, and legal advice and enables women to become self-sufficient.
For Mummy, this was perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling achievement at personal and professional levels. It represented a culmination of her educational and professional backgrounds and the pinnacle of her lengthy career in social welfare and family health.
Our mother was and became who she was because of many influences. First, she was influenced by her own mother, Shanti Devi, who was a teacher and a school head-mistress, this at a time when a woman’s place in a traditional Indian society was largely restricted to her home. Mummy was further influenced and supported by Papa, an educated and progressive man, and a strong proponent of women’s rights and equality. Mummy, like Papa, was also inspired by Indian leaders, such as Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru. These leaders worked not only for independence and self-reliance, but also for human rights, including women’s rights. It was due to such influences that Mummy’s work began in the villages of India, then expanded to include the larger global community, where their need was no less.
Mummy’s achievements have undoubtedly had an influence on us, her children and grandchildren. Ranjana, for instance, holds Master’s degrees in Sociology and Public Health, has worked in the health management field, and has been a board member of Apna Ghar. Shel is a doctor who takes time out from his busy practice to make house calls, supports political figures with a social conscience, and advocates for equitable and affordable health care. Vikram is a scientist with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, advancing higher education and scientific research. Anjali is a speech pathologist who works with autistic and developmentally challenged children, and raises funds for organizations that support these children. Tariq is an industrious, focused and astute young man, recently married to Eleanor Hermanson and working in the financial sector in New York City. Raj is caring, thoughtful, and independently minded, and his younger brother, Ajay, is a diligent student, planning to go into the medical profession.
Our mother leaves behind an astounding legacy of educational achievement and humanitarian work on the international stage, with a strong commitment to advancement of girls’ and women’s rights and welfare. Equally importantly, she was a loving mother, grandmother, and wife. We are extremely proud to be her descendants, and we will always remember her with our love and admiration.
Visitation, Sunday, April 16, 2023, from 1 to 3 p.m., at HABEN Funeral Home & Crematory, 8057 Niles Center Rd., Skokie.
Funeral info: 847.673.6111 or habenfuneral.com to sign guestbook and to leave a condolence message.
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