31 January 2007


[Back to the mean streets]

This post is about Mani, Vini's son and Mai's husband, who was one of our men who achieved shaheedi in the Battle of Delhi, 1984. If we three were able to accomplish anything outstanding at all, it was from his good, loving, strong leadership. We believe he was one of the great people of the Twentieth Century, but, of course, we might be a little bit prejudiced in his favour.

He used to say that we had to be prepared for whatever might happen because 'anything can happen to anyone at any time.' How right he was! Among us, he was the one who believed in the necessity of Khalistan; until all this happened, the rest of us thought he was something of an alarmist.

Please read this gently, as it was very difficult to write.

Mai writing: All this happened many years ago, and this is how I remember it.

How can I write about my husband, knowing others will read it? He was, possibly, the most nearly perfect human being of our generation.

I married him in 1970, lived our whole life together, every single day, until he achieved shaheedi in November 1984. I have absolutely no complaints about him as a person or as a husband. I knew him literally from the day I was born, when I threw up on him, until that day. I had never had any interest in any other man. I knew him to be intelligent, self-disciplined, kind and a bit fastidious. I knew he would never be interested in any woman who didn't live up to the standard he held himself to, so I always kept a tight rein on myself. Dad was always afraid I'd get involved with some idiot boy at school. He had nothing to worry about. How could a boy interest me, when I had always intended to marry this man? He was ten years older than me, so he was settled and grown up by the time I was expected to start to notice boys.

This is also the chance to be introduced to my Dad, who was 67 when I was born and, fortunately, missed all the horrors of 1984, dying peacefully at age 97 in 1982.

One day, when I was 17, I went to Dad, and said, 'I want to get married.'

He looked at me a minute and said, 'Aren't you a little young?'

'No, I know what I want. After all, you taught me.'

'When a young lady comes to her father and says she wants to get married, I would assume she has someone in mind.'

I nodded.

He looked at me for a minute. I said nothing.

'Not one of those little boy fools you go to school with, I hope.'

I shook my head. 'I don't want to marry a child, damn it. I have a little more sense than that.'

'Anyone I know?'

I felt suddenly shy. I nodded again.

'Dare I ask who?'

A third time, I nodded.

'Princess, you're driving me mad. Who?'

In an uncharacteristically tiny voice. 'Mani.'

Bellowing, 'MANI??? You've got to be kidding. Why him?'

'I never thought of anyone else. I always wanted to marry him.'

Dad gave me the strangest look. 'Really?'

'Didn't you notice I never wanted to date or anything?'

'I just counted my blessings. I'm an old traditional Punjabi Sikh. I wouldn't have any idea how to handle a dating daughter.' (I have written a short fiction piece about this which I'll publish in a lighter moment)

I giggled at the thought. 'You'd scare the poor boy half to death.'

'I'd try, I'm sure.' He kept looking at me with that weird look.

'Why are you looking at me like that. Is he secretly my brother or something?'

Laughing, 'No, no, no. Nothing like that. Are you 100% sure?'


'I have absolutely no objections. In fact, if you'd let me find you a husband which is, after all, my responsibility, I would have chosen him.' In an uncharacteristically small voice, a bit sheepishly, 'In fact, his parents and I did choose him. We've been trying to figure out how to get you two stubborn, modern kids together for years.'

'Daddy!' I was appalled.

'Are you still serious? Do you really want to marry him?' He was staring at me.


'OK, I'll call his parents. How much have you discussed with him?'

'Not a word, but he's always wanted to marry me, too. I know you think I'm young and inexperienced, but I have always known. Especially after he sang at my sixteenth birthday party.' I mimicked him singing.
'Since you've grown up your future is sewn up. From now on you're gonna be mine.'

By that night we were informally engaged.

His family and ours had always been close. Dad had been the business partner of Mani's grandfather and of his dad. He was his parents' only child and also my youngest brother's best friend, so he had always been around. In fact, he was the first nonfamily member to meet me when I was born, and the reason I got the nickname, Mai. The way the ten-year-old boy and new-born baby looked into each others' eyes and then she threw up on him had become a favourite family legend.

By the time we got engaged, he had been to medical school and was a fully certified physician. He was also a devout Khalsa, which he would put before being a doctor or a husband or a father. It was the only thing, in fact, that he put ahead of me, which was fine. That came before everything, even wife, even child, even his own life, everything.

I think I can describe him in that one word: Khalsa. Pure. A true son of Guru Gobind Singh, if I can sound a bit cheesy, from the moment we woke up before dawn and took those horrible cold showers to when he fell asleep at night. He never tried to force me to do as he did, like those pre-dawn cold showers but in a true marriage, it's natural to stand together. He admitted to me after some years, that he didn't like those cold showers any more than I did, but he did it out of love and also as self-discipline.

I would like to say something about him that doesn't involve being Sikh, but that was so much of him that there is nothing else to say.
I remember once I asked him,"What do you think you would be if you weren't Sikh?'
His answer tells it all, "Someone else.'
Maybe a physical description. Tall, athletic, kind of light brown skin in winter, darker, of course, in summer, as we spent a lot of time outdoors, rather bushy eyebrows, thick, curly black eyelashes (why do the men always have those?), a nose slightly too large for American tastes, but perfect for an Indian, steel grey eyes, courtesy of his Kashmiri mother (That's me, Vini!) and all that hair. He wouldn't even let me see it until after we were married. I told him he was as bad as a Muslim virgin, but he just laughed at me. It was thick and straight and longer than waist length and was as black and shiny as obsidian. I felt almost naked with my dark brown, rather thin hair. At least I could match him for length in those days. His beard did have just a touch of red in it, maybe again from his Kashmiri side. I enjoyed looking at him, and he could hardly take his eyes off me. We were the most perfectly matched couple I have ever seen. We had fourteen incredible years together, and would have had many more, if he hadn't been killed.

I don't feel like describing that day again, so let me jump to immediately after the mob had left and I had regained consciousness. As it turned out, at that time he was also still alive.
Whatever kind forces exist in the universe, whether Waheguru or Guru Nanak Dev Ji or some other benevolent being or just the universe itself, we had a few peaceful minutes talking together before he died. Most of that conversation was so intensely personal that I can't write it down. I will only mention three things.

First, I pulled lightly on his beard and asked him, 'Has it all really been worth it?'
He said softly,'Yeah.' Then he breathed in deeply, and said in his strongest voice, 'Yes. Hell, yes! People don't even dream of living the kind of life we've lived because they could never believe it's possible. Too short, I guess, but better too short and too good, than longer in the hell most people seem to live in. And, you know, for me there's really no better way to die. Given the choice, this is what I'd choose.'

Then he insisted on a promise from me that I would remarry, so as not to spend the rest of my life in useless grieving for him. As if marrying another man would end my grief! But I have done as I promised, and my current husband treats me like a queen, and I have come to love him deeply, too.

Then he asked me to sing the last verse of How Can I keep from Singing?, an old Quaker song. My singing voice is between a crow and a foghorn, and I can't carry a tune, but I complied.

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death
knells ringing,
When friends rejoice, both far and near,
How can I keep from
On gallows high or dungeons vile,
Our thoughts to them go
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from

As Mani lay in my lap dying, he looked into my eyes and said, 'Good-bye for now, love.' Then he closed his eyes and, holding onto my hand said his final pronouncement, in a loud, clear voice, slowly, syllable by syllable, a battle cry and an affirmation:
Wa...he...gu...ru...Ji...Ki...Fa...teh!! '
As the final sounds came out of his mouth, he opened his eyes and looked, first at me, then beyond me. An expression of astonishment and pure joy (ananda?) came over his features.
'A glimpse of gold in the iron grey, the proof of all you never dared to
His hand went limp in mine, but I held it for I don't have any idea how long, until I dropped it, closed his eyes and kissed his forehead. It all sounds so romantic now, the fallen martyr soldier-saint, the grieving, loving pregnant widow, herself nearly fatally injured, the lull in the battle. At the time, with the signs of violence all around us, I, paradoxially, felt a deep inner peace. I lay down beside his body and passed out/went to sleep. That is the end of his story.

Do not seek Death. Death will find you. But rather
seek the road that makes
Death a fulfillment. Dag Hammarskjold

To any man reading this, just a suggestion. Try to be a man your wife would write so lovingly about. You can do it and she'll be most grateful, I'm sure.