Dr JS Sambhi: O&G veteran who went beyond call of duty


By Mohan Singh Rendhawa | Tribute | Malaysia |

A Tribute to Datuk J. S. Sambhi Patron of Gurdwara Sahib Ampang Ulu Kelang

Datuk Dr. Jagjit Singh Sambhi, Patron of Gurdwara Sahib Ampang located Jalan Ulu Kelang suddenly departed from this world on 18th August 2021. Dr Sambhi and his family right from the time of his late father Gurbakhsh Singh have been very strong supporters of this Gurdwara . The new langgar hall was built with a generous donation of RM250,000 from the Sambhi family and later another RM 30,000 was donated to add 6 air-conditioning units in the langgar hall to convert it into a multipurpose hall. It was officially opened by Dr Sambhi in the presence of his whole family on 20 March 2011.

The community of Gurdwara Sahib Ampang today, thanks to Dr. Sambhi and his family, have been using this new facility for Gurdwara functions. The Gurdwara also encourages newlyweds to hold their wedding lunch receptions soon after the official wedding ceremony in this hall, where vegetarian lunch is served in a much enhanced fashion with formal seating arrangements. Many families celebrate birthdays with a darbar sahib program followed by a birthday lunch or dinner at his hall. This contribution of the Sambhi family will be remembered for a very long time.

I have been visiting this Gurdwara Sahib ever since I arrived in Kuala Lumpur 50 years ago from Penang to join the Royal Malaysian Air Force as a cadet officer. I have met the founder President of this Gurdwara Sardar Khundan Singh, he was the president for many years. Now his granddaughter Bhanji Karenjit Kaur d/o of Gian Singh is following her grandfather’s footsteps to do sewa for this Gurdwara.

The langgar hall was an open air kind of place with wooden tables and a temporary roof. Picture below shows the langgar hall before its redeveloped in 2011.

Dr Sambhi leaves behind a big family, wife Margaret Sambhi, two sons Kasheminder and Dr. Robinder, daughter Genevieve and their spouses Claire, Mari, and Paul and four lovely grandchildren Steffen, Naomi, Isabella, and Alexander. The whole family is going to miss him dearly especially the grandchildren. Dr Sambhi was born in Penang on 19th June 1931. That makes him 90 years of age.

Dr Sambhi’s father, Gurbakhsh Singh, travelled from India to Penang in the 1920s in search of better prospects. Once he established himself on the island, he went back to India to get married and returned to Malaya with his new bride, Amarjit Kaur. A year after Sambhi was born in 1931, his father moved the family to Kuala Lumpur and became the first Sikh to start a provision shop business in Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman). Dr Sambhi had his early education in Kuala Lumpur, at the Batu Road School and Victoria Institution where he first thought about becoming a teacher; he later took a teacher’s advice and chose medicine instead. He studied at University Malaya in Singapore.

After graduating in 1959, he worked as a junior doctor for a year at KL General Hospital (now Hospital Kuala Lumpur). He was then seconded by the Government to serve in Brunei for six months. From 1963 to 1966, he did his postgraduate studies in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) in Oxford. It was here in the maternity wards and delivery rooms of Oxford University Hospital in Britain that he met his beautiful wife Margaret Rowe. They married in 1967 in Penang his birthplace.

Dr. Sambhi’s had a simple philosophy in life was: “I want to encourage people to always do better and live a peaceful long life!” What I have admired personally over the years is his trademark white turban tied in his unique style. He is the second of eight siblings – five boys and three girls. He autobiography “Doctor on the Move: Life’s Journey” details the colourful life of this beautiful couple and their adventures.

I was surprised to know that he was born a premature baby. “I weighed just a little over 1kg at birth and was so tiny that my parents could hold me in one hand. I was put in a little box with hot water bottles to keep me warm. In those days, even the big hospitals did not have the modern facilities we have today for premature babies, hot water bottles were used for preemies as there were no incubators,” Dr Sambi recounted over lunch at the Selangor Golf Club one day. I was told by my parents that the doctor told them that I would only survive a few hours or a few days. The good doctor also told my parents that if I survived three months, I would survive until adulthood. My mother told me, when I was very tiny, I cried so much like I wanted to live and did not want to die,” added Dr Sambhi

He also shared with me that he wanted to study O&G, but he drew strong opposition from both his parents. They were not objecting to his medical profession but his chosen field of specialization. He told me that his father tried to get his other friends to indirectly persuade him not to do the specialization he had chosen. His mother said “ Billoo You will starve to death as a doctor if you study this. Look at me, I have had 8 children and I did not need a doctor to help me. The midwives did a wonderful job.” Billoo was his nickname at home and he is known by this nickname among his siblings and close family members. Lucky for him, he stood his ground and completed his specialization. He said “I find obstetrics to be more interesting. You see the miracle of birth in this field.” This passion spurred him to achieve so much in his lifetime.

Dr. Sambhi did not only focus on his primary job of being just a gynaecologist, he contributed to society in many other ways. But let us first explore how the Heart Foundation was set up. The idea for the formation of a Heart Foundation was first mooted by him in 1982. It was registered two years later by his right-hand man Datuk Gurbakhash Singh, who is a lawyer by profession, and he was also responsible for drafting The Heart Foundation of Malaysia charter. Thanks to the vision of these two people and other team members who shared the same vision, The Heart Foundation is now at the forefront of campaigning for good heart health. It also maintains a halfway house for families of heart patients who come from outstation to KL for treatment.

Later in the years, I read somewhere that during his career as a gynaecologist he delivered 6,995 babies in his maternity centre. Dr. Sambhi also had other associates working with him and together they recorded more than 17,000 deliveries. Yes, he kept records of the date, time, and type of delivery, and every baby’s weight, gender, and length! My 2 daughters would be in the list, as well.

The other big project by Dr Sambhi when he was president of the Kuala Lumpur Rotary Club (1981 to 1982) was to set up the Research Fund under the KL Rotary Charity Foundation. As founder and chairman of the fund, he was still actively involved in its work. In 2011, he was conferred the Malaysian Medical Association’s Outstanding Public and Healthcare Service Award in recognition of his contributions to healthcare and related services.

He believed in the adage, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. He played golf as often as he could – he made time for other things in life too, from being the chairman of the Philharmonic Society of Selangor to the president of the Malaysian branch of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, the prestigious international gastronomic society. Although Dr Sambhi enjoyed fine dining, at the right place and right time he still loved his traditional Punjabi food. For this, he relied heavily on the supply of his childhood traditional Punjabi dishes on his sister Jago, who knew his likes and dislikes.

In another first, Dr. Sambhi was sent by the Government to Sarawak, where he served from 1967 to 1970. During his service in Sarawak, he observed many local traditional practices of the Penan Community. Dr. Sambhi’s most unforgettable experiences were when working with the natives in interior Sarawak. He remembers operating in 1968 on an Iban woman to remove what turned out to be the largest tumour in Malaysia, weighing in at 34kg! The ovarian cyst had to be placed on a trolley to be moved away.

He was very impressed with his encounters with the Hakka women back then in Sarawak. He observed that during delivery of a baby they had the shortest labour in the world – between one and four hours only. They were predominantly pepper farmers and toiled in the fields and the ladies were physically very fit.

He was also fascinated with the traditional Penan birthing practice. He said “The Penan men assisted their wives when they gave birth. They would build an elevated wooden bed two feet from the ground. The bed had a circular hole in the middle for the mother-to-be to place her bottom and deliver her baby.” “When the baby crowned, gravity would push it through the hole. Under the hole, there would be a large pile of dried leaves to help cushion the baby’s arrival.

It is time to say farewell to our beloved Dr. J.S Sambhi. He will be remembered for a very long time by Gurdwara Sahib Ampang, Jalan Ulu Kelang.

The author, Lt. Col (Rtd) Mohan Singh Rendhawa, is a retired officer of the Royal Malaysian Air Force and lives in Kuala Lumpur


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