15:56, March 06 278 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-06 15:56:04
Other lives  Mary Tandon obituary

My mother, Mary Tandon, who has died aged 82, undertook many roles as a lawyer, writer and campaigner. Her life was punctuated by flights from her home because of political violence – and fresh starts in new countries.

She was born in Malacca, British Malaya (now Malaysia). While Mary was at a tender age, she and her mother, Fong Ah Soo, were the sole survivors of a Japanese bombing raid in which the family home and the rest of her extended family were killed.

Her mother remarried and, with the guidance and encouragement of her stepfather, Gabriel Chelvam, Mary did well at school. At the age of 20 she boarded a ship for a three-month voyage to London, where she studied at Lincoln’s Inn.

In 1962 she both qualified as a barrister and married Yashpal Tandon, a Ugandan politics student at the London School of Economics. I was born, and they moved to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where Mary practised as a lawyer.

Sitting as a magistrate, she brought compassion into the court room, issuing warnings to juvenile delinquents rather than fines or prison sentences, and in 1965 was appointed a high court judge. Meanwhile Yash helped to write the constitution of the newly independent country and became an adviser to President Milton Obote.

In 1970 my brother, Vivek, was born, and the following year Idi Amin seized power. Mary organised our family’s escape across the border to Kenya. Books, piano and worldly possessions were left behind. In 1972 we moved for a year to London, where Mary worked as a legal clerk and to support Ugandan refugees. The following year we moved to Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, and Mary taught law at the university.

When Tanzanian troops ousted Amin in 1978-79, Yash joined the new political leadership of Uganda and our family returned to Kampala. The sojourn was brief. When a military coup ensued after just 68 days, Mary again packed up our belongings in haste and fled to Kenya.

Finally, in the late 1980s, Mary accepted a new job as legal draftsperson in the newly independent Zimbabwe, where Yash became a consultant and writer. Harare offered 23 years of calm and security.

Mary nurtured African orchids, fruit trees, vegetables, dogs and ducks. She co-created the Women’s Action Group, was a co-founder of the Zimbabwe Women’s Writers Association, published poetry and prose, and simplified texts for women on their legal rights.

But times changed under the Mugabe regime. In 2002-03, concerned for their safety, Mary and Yash moved again, this time to Geneva. In 2009, they retired to Oxford to be closer to Vivek and his family.

Mary is survived by Yash, Vivek and me, and her grandchildren, Yasmin, Sanjay, Ayesha, Aiyana and Kushal.